Archive for Little People

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Littlest Lovers: Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Little People, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA, Valentine's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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“There’s someone for everybody” goes the old matchmaker’s expression, and perhaps no words rang truer on February 9, 1863, the day that professional little person Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church, New York. (I believe that’s Lavinia’s sister Minnie Warren as Maid of Honor; and Commodore Nutt as Best Man). This little stunt, the “Fairy Wedding” by the press, lightened people’s hearts during the depths of the Civil War. We present it to you in the same spirit today.

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It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, however; the two were a real couple. But even so, their boss P.T. Barnum was probably not too unhappy when the big event resulted in coverage like this:

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“I love you completely, my own, my all. But above all, I love this front page coverage in Harpers!”

Klinkhart’s Troupe of Midgets

Posted in Circus, German, Little People with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2016 by travsd

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I stumbled across this image the other day and got curious. I could only find a few facts: this troupe of little people was managed by German born Oscar Klinkhart (ca.1897-1975). They were with with the Al G. Barnes show between 1926 and 1931. According to some sources, they were later with Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and got stranded near Riverside, California ca. 1936, where they founded one of the many legendary “Midgetville” communities. Later Klinkhart retired to Logsden, Orgeon.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People

Posted in BROOKLYN, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, ME, My Shows with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by travsd

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Today happens to be the birthday of both Fleming W. Ackerman (a.k.a “Colonel Speck”) and Major Edward Newell (a.k.a. “General Grant, Jr.”). (Click on the links to learn more about these illustrious Little People.

If the odds of a Little Person being born are small, and the odds of a performing Little Person even smaller, think how small the odds of TWO performing Little People being born on the same day! Seems to me an auspicious time to announce here my upcoming talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, entitled More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People. 

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For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, I will trace the historical ups and downs of very short-statured entertainers from medieval times through the era of P.T. Barnum and dime museums, to side shows and circuses, to vaudeville, to movies and television. Along the way, we trace the evolution of the Little Person’s image in popular culture, from one of cruel derision in the age of the court jester…to one of glamour, as personified by sex symbol and Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage…to a virtual return to carny days on reality tv.

The talk will take place Monday August 22, 2016 at 7pm at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Ave, Brooklyn. Tickets are $8

More info and tickets are here: http://morbidanatomymuseum.org/event/more-than-munchkins-a-history-of-performing-little-people-an-illustrated-lecture-with-trav-s-d/

Fleming W. Ackerman, a.k.a “Colonel Speck”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People with tags , , , , , , on July 27, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Fleming W. Ackerman (1863-1946), known professionally and informally as Colonel Speck. Amazing, but true, he shares the same birthday with General Grant, Jr! Someone should take a look at their mother’s horoscopes!

The son of a prosperous Moravia, New York businessman, Ackerman was normal sized until he reached the age of four years old, whereupon his growth slowed down considerably. His tallest height in adulthood was four feet four inches. Extremely gifted at music he began singing and playing in local amateur theatricals at around age 8 or 9. His first professional engagement was at a local theatre in Owego with the Tremaine Brothers in 1875. He undertook a regional tour with one Mademoiselle Leon the following year. In 1876 he received an offer of work from P.T. Barnum (he had not yet reached his full height). The family turned it down because the boy was only 13. In 1878 he attended a music conservatory in New York City. While there he not only studied, but he performed professionally and became friendly with the happy quartet of General Tom Thumb, Lavinia Warren, her sister Minnie, and her husband Major Newell. 

This association was fortunate, for the following year Warren engaged him as a performer with the Liliputian Opera Company, which toured all over the U.S. and Canada. In 1882 the company folded when their unscrupulous manager fled with the box office take, stranding them in Chicago. They played another season as the Pigmie Picnic Party [sic] under new management and then disbanded. Following this, Speck worked for several months in solo engagements, but overworked himself to the point that he permanently blew out his voice and was forced to retire from show business.

Fortunately he had inherited his father’s acumen as an entrepreneur, and became a successful local businessman in Moravia and surrounding towns operating a photography studio, a telephone exchange and a bus line. He also kept a hand in performing as the Drum Major of a local brass band, Huff’s Cornet Band, which played parades, fairs and other events.

For all the information you will ever need on this interesting character, I recommend The Drum Major of Company A: A Biography of Fleming W. Ackerman a.k.a. Colonel Speck by Frank S. Foti, which may be purchased here. 

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #251: Billy Barty

Posted in Comedy, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Italian, Little People, Music, Television, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2010

America’s most famous and respected little person (of the twentieth century) began his career as an even littler person. William John Bertanzetti was only three years old when a Hollywood talent scout spotted him standing on his head, a favorite tricks of his as a child. The fact that he was smart and agile, but resembled an infant, made him the perfect person to play certain specialty parts, particularly in comedies. He was like a special effect. That moment in an old black and white comedy when the baby reaches out of the carriage to beat someone over the head with a rattle – that was usually Billy Barty. His first role was in the 1927 silent Wedded Blisters.  He was in a scene that was cut out of the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1933), he played the baby that turns into a pig in Alice in Wonderland (1934), played Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (1934) after Eddie shrinks when staying in the steam room too long, and was also in Gold Diggers of 1933, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Midsummer Nights Dream (1935), wherein he played Mustard Seed).

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Perhaps because he was getting older, his father decided to put Billy into vaudeville. The year was 1935—hardly an auspicious time to do so. The act was called “Billy Barty and Sisters”, and featured Billy’s two average-sized sisters playing piano and violin ,while Billy played drums and did impressions. The family travelled around to gigs by car, and did so until Billy was old enough to go to college—1942.

Barty majored in journalism at school, got the degree and was even offered a job as a reporter, but the call (and probably the money) of show business was too great. The 3’9”, 80 lbs adult Barty began working night clubs. In 1952 he joined Spike Jones and His City Slickers, the comic novelty band for such records as “Der Fuehrer’s Face” and “Cocktails for Two”. Billy’s schtick with the band was similar to what he had done with his sisters, but now he had a wide audience on television, on records, and in live performances.

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He stayed with Jones for about ten years, and for the rest of his career concentred in acting in film and television. In the 60s, he was in films like Jumbo (1962) and the Elvis pictures Roustabout (64) and Harum Scarum (1965). In the 70s, he worked for Sid and Marty Krofft, on the popular children’s programs PufnstufThe BugaloosSigmund and the Sea Monsters and Dr. Shrinker. 

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In the mid 70s, he went from playing bit parts to actual acting roles, in movies like Day of the Locust (1975) W.C. Fields and Me (1976) Foul Play (1978) Hardly Working (1981), to name just a few. He was very mindful of his position of responsibility as America’s best known little person, and did what he could to educate people about midgets and dwarves by founding The Little People of America in 1957, and The Billy Barty Foundation in 1975. He passed away in 2000.

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. To learn about silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Francis Joseph Flynn a.k.a “General Mite”

Posted in BUNKUM, Circus, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People with tags , , , , on October 6, 2013 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Francis Joseph Flynn (1872-1898), professionally known as “General Mite”. Born on a farm in upstate New York, his birth weight was two and a half pounds and his height in adulthood was never more than 27 inches (although he was exhibited as an “adult” when still a child, when he was obviously much shorter.)

He was first exhibited by his father at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Billed as the “Smallest Man in the World” he was taken on tour by promoter F.M. Uffner along with fellow little person Lucia Zarate. In 1878-79 they appeared at Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion, Coney Island. From there, it was on to England, where for publicity purposes the General was “married” to English little person Millie Edwards (despite the fact that he was all of twelve years old). In the 1880s, he appeared with Zarate again in the sideshow of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. When Zarate died in 1890, Flynn and Edwards moved to Australia. Flynn died there 8 years later at the age of 26 (his liver and kidneys had been steadily failing). He is now proudly remembered in both Greene, New York (the place of his birth) and Broken Hill, New South Wales (the place of his death).

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Happy 150th Birthday, Colonel Speck!

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, Music with tags , , , , on July 27, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the 150th birthday of Fleming W. Ackerman (1863-1946), known professionally and informally as Colonel Speck. The son of a prosperous Moravia, New York businessman, Ackerman was normal sized until he reached the age of four years old, whereupon his growth slowed down considerably. His tallest height in adulthood was four feet four inches. Extremely gifted at music he began singing and playing in local amateur theatricals at around age 8 or 9. His first professional engagement was at a local theatre in Owego with the Tremaine Brothers in 1875. He undertook a regional tour with one Mademoiselle Leon the following year. In 1876 he received an offer of work from P.T. Barnum (he had not yet reached his full height). The family turned it down because the boy was only 13. In 1878 he attended a music conservatory in New York City. While there he not only studied, but he performed professionally and became friendly with the happy quartet of General Tom Thumb, Lavinia Warren, her sister Minnie, and her husband Major Newell. 

This association was fortunate, for the following year Warren engaged him as a performer with the Liliputian Opera Company, which toured all over the U.S. and Canada. In 1882 the company folded when their unscrupulous manager fled with the box office take, stranding them in Chicago. They played another season as the Pigmie Picnic Party [sic] under new management and then disbanded. Following this, Speck worked for several months in solo engagements, but overworked himself to the point that he permanently blew out his voice and was forced to retire from show business.

Fortunately he had inherited his father’s acumen as an entrepreneur, and became a successful local businessman in Moravia and surrounding towns operating a photography studio, a telephone exchange and a bus line. He also kept a hand in performing as the Drum Major of a local brass band, Huff’s Cornet Band, which played parades, fairs and other events.

For all the information you will ever need on this interesting character, I recommend The Drum Major of Company A: A Biography of Fleming W. Ackerman a.k.a. Colonel Speck by Frank S. Foti, which may be purchased here. 

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

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