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Book Shelf History Recommended Reading List Variety Arts Vaudeville

Abide by the Little People ~ A Book Review by Frank Jogler Jr.

 

 Nowadays it is with frequency that we encounter much in the way about “multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion.” Yet, paradoxically perhaps, it is in the realm of the theatrical firmament that what is offered for exhibition before our collective eyes is circumscribed, in scope delimited. 

In yesteryear – but, in fact, actually not too long ago – theatergoers avid for both excellence and novelty had an array of choices for their entertainment pleasure that we today, simply do not have, alas. 

For those studying the actual timeline of vaudeville, variety, and ancillary cultural attractions presented in various public venues, we may comprehend, from our distance, the nostalgic, pining away for now once regnant theatrical forms once upon a time loved by the masses, fairground exhibitions of ‘human oddities’, and other novelty acts and performers, all of which audiences and spectators valued immeasurably and with enduring sincere thankfulness: this period in our cultural life was a beholder’s paradise, and now superannuated by sensibilities our forebears might not find to be, in fact, of  a truly progressive arc.

 Comes now, a further, evocative and contextual addition to our imaginative resources by which to re- examine this cultural time of the past, and theatrical glory, of a unique sub-set of talented people: the new book, Roses Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville, published by Vaudevisuals Press with essays by Trav S.D.

 In the books’, well-written pages, we encounter theatrical heroes and heroines, small in stature by the measuring-stick of biological normies yet obvious cultural giants, whose very existence and talents were recognized as true testament of the transcendency of our in-common human condition.

If P.T. Barnum’s featured attraction, the diminutive General Tom Thumb ever needed similar dimensioned phalanxes to lead, then these small Vaudevillian troops of midgets might well have become his troops and legatees.

The new book allows readers to luxuriate in fascinating mini-histories and profiles of the little people and of producers who showcased their marvelous ways and artistry of all sorts. For the pages are replete with extracts from published souvenir programs, lavish poster lithographic studies, photo ethnographic documentation of this Lilliputian subculture; Bravo to all: Trav S.D. essays, Jim Moore, publisher, and James Taylor Foreword author and freak-lorist. 

On stage in their specialty-numbers, and their dancing, song, skits, comedy routines, instrumental playing and acrobatics, etc., they regaled spectators with phenomental virtuosity, similar to that in normal Vaudeville time in variety circuits across the land.

It’s illumitive to behold this unique slice of humanity and, as well, since these people are, in photos adorable, one wishes one could pluck them from out of the pages, and cradle them in the crook of one’s elbows!

As the French author La Fountain, compiler of fables, wrote, centuries past, when you throw the goose out the front door of the house, it waddles back in from the back of your house; so filmmaker Spike Lee in ‘Bamboozle’ felt that Minstrealsy had come back this time repurposed as gangsta-rap. 

Apropos of this, perhaps other past theatrical forms – including those we are reminded of in this book under review here – may. too, be resurrected, but, unlike Mr. Lee’s example, with more salubrious, and of transcendent purpose.

Just as a character on TV, Archie Bunker, said “Those were the days,” and, most probably, those were quite better days culturally, and the currently vogueish shibboleths of the “cultural studies” mavens cannot gainsay the actual cultural excellence displayed by our brassy show-biz inheritance including midgets and all; minstrelsy and all; freaks and all…

Available here in both softcover and Limited Edition Hardcover/Color

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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf: “Ghostly Men” by Franz Lidz

A true tale of changing New York by Franz Lidz, whose Unstrung Heroes is a classic of hoarder lore.
Homer and Langley Collyer moved into their handsome brownstone in white, upper-class Harlem in 1909. By 1947, however, when the fire department had to carry Homer’s body out of the house he hadn’t left in twenty years, the neighborhood had degentrified, and their house was a fortress of junk: in an attempt to preserve the past, Homer and Langley held on to everything they touched.
The scandal of Homer’s discovery, the story of his life, and the search for Langley, who was missing at the time, rocked the city; the story was on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. A quintessential New York story of quintessential New York characters, Ghosty Men is a perfect fit for Bloomsbury’s Urban Historicals series.

From Publisher’s Weekly

When 65-year-old Homer Collyer, blind and crippled by rheumatism, was found dead in his dilapidated, junk-filled Harlem brownstone in March 1947, the discovery made all of New York’s newspapers, as did the subsequent hunt for his younger brother, Langley, whose body was finally located under piles of debris. In this slim volume, part of Bloomsbury’s Urban Historicals series, Lidz, a memoirist (Unstrung Heroes) and senior writer at Sports Illustrated, examines the Collyer brothers’ intriguing, baffling lives. The compulsive hermits came from a respected, well-to-do family and were educated at Columbia, Homer as a lawyer and Langley, who was a talented pianist, as an engineer. They became part of New York lore in August 1938, when the World-Telegram wrote about the pair and their once-fashionable house on Fifth Avenue and 128th Street, which was crammed full of pianos, other instruments, bicycles, chandeliers, clocks and thousands of newspapers, “strewn in yellowing drifts across the floor.” In addition to deconstructing the brothers’ descent into their own world of squalor and isolation, Lidz shares recollections of his Uncle Arthur, an eccentric hoarder who was a featured character in Unstrung Heroes. Arthur amassed everything from magazines and bus transfers to socks and shoelaces and lived “nested inside his walls of junk.” “My junk was like a friend,” says Uncle Arthur. “Sort of freedom, it was. I’d saved it in my own way.” These words help make sense of men like Uncle Arthur and the Collyers, whose stories Lidz captures vividly, with humor and compassion.

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“The Collyer Brothers made compelling reading then, as they do now in this short, captivatingly detailed book.” Adam Bernstein- Washington Post

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I found this book to be a wonderful read and a nice compliment to E.L.Doctorow’s ‘Homer and Langley‘s book. The author’s vivid description by his Uncle Floyd of the great Times Square ‘Hubert’s Museum‘ and all the characters that performed there is worth the read alone.

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