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“Ask Hovey” ~ A talk about midgets featuring Rose’s Royal Midgets book.

On Monday night I watched the wonderful Bindlestiff Open Stage Quarantine edition and was pleased to see the “Ask Hovey” segment (featuring circus historian/teacher/performer Hovey Burgess) where he talked about ‘Midgets’ and mentioned the Vaudevisuals Press book “Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville“. Here is the video excerpt from the show.

And if you want to read more about the book visit the great review from Circopedia‘s founder/director Dominique Jando here.

You can get Rose’s Royal book here!

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“Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville”. A Review by Dominique Jando.

In the first half of the twentieth century, performing troupes of Little People ⏤ then popularly known as Midgets ⏤ were undeniably, in Europe or in the United States, the main drawing cards of any variety or circus production that featured them. After their appearance in M-G-M’s “The Wizard of Oz,” the Munchkins’ everlasting fame has been a testimony to their timeless appeal. “Midgets” were not to be confused with Little People victim of achondroplasia: unlike the latter, they were perfectly proportioned, looking like amazingly gifted children who had just fled Neverland. Endearing to their audiences, they were also genuinely talented performers, and if only for that reason, their place in show business history is indeed worthy of attention.

“Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville,” published by Vaudevisuals Press, justly gives them the long-overdue attention they deserve as performing artists: the very short bibliography appearing at the end of the book sadly shows how little has been written about them, unless they appeared under the generic denomination of “freaks” in a few books related to carnival and circus sideshows — an even more derogatory term than “Midgets,” especially for the true performers they often were.

Trav S.D., American vaudeville’s foremost historian and keeper of the flame (whose book “No Applause, Just Throw the Money” is a must for anyone curious about vaudeville), tells us in a well-researched essay the history of Ike Rose and his Royal Midgets company, which forms the backbone of the book and benefits from precious documents in the personal collection of Karen McCarty — whose grandmother, Gladys Farkas, was a member of Rose’s company. Besides rare photographs, reproductions of contracts, advertising booklets, and programs give us a wonderful insight into the life of the troupes of that era.

In another well-illustrated essay, Trav introduces us to other famous Little People, from P.T. Barnum’s Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) to the Doll Family (born Schneider) and many lesser-known individuals and troupes, with biographical notices that finally take them out of the shadows. The book opens with an essay by James Taylor (author of “Shocked and Amazed! On & Off the Midway”) on performing Little People’s reaction to the much too frequent use of the derogatory terminology that usually describes them, whether or not in a professional context. It ends with a gallery of Charles Eisenmann’s photographic portraits of Little People (from the Syracuse University Library’s Ronald G. Becker Collection) dating back to the 1880s.

Edited and published by Jim Moore, photographer to the circus stars, “Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville” is a wonderful tribute to bona-fide artists who, notwithstanding the special appeal of their physical peculiarity, were by and large talented actors, singers, dancers, comedians, and circus performers who certainly deserved more than a quick footnote in the history of show business.

Dominique Jando ~ Circopedia

Ike Rose and his troupe visiting the White House in 1926.
A review of Rose's Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville by Circopedia's founder/director Dominique Jando.
Dudley Foster photographed by Charles Eisenmann.
From the Charles Eisenmann section of Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People of Vaudeville.
Courtesy of the Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs

To purchase the book click here!

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American Circus Circus Photography Sideshow

P. T. Barnum: America’s Greatest Showman

P.T. Barnum and Tom Thumb

“In 1842, [P.T. Barnum had a chance encounter with] that miniature concoction, who was to make him rich beyond belief and famous beyond his wildest dreams. Four-year-old Charles S. Stratton was no bigger than a doll. All at once, at seven months, measuring 25 inches and weighing 15 pounds, the child had simply stopped growing. … Sherwood Stratton, the boy’s carpenter father, was only too happy to rent his little son out for a trial month at $3.00 a week plus room and board. … Barnum whisked the youngster away to New York City,  where speedily printed museum posters testified to the thorough Barnumizing Charles Stratton underwent; the four-year-old carpenter’s kid from Bridgeport had been transformed overnight into General Tom Thumb, an 11-year-old marvel just arrived from Europe and engaged at ‘extraordinary expense.’ … Barnum himself was the schoolteacher, training his small charge, first in manners, then in memorizing little quips and speedy comebacks, finally the words and actions for a number of dress-up roles he would play. … Tom, who was a natural mimic, would strike poses and in other ways imitate well-known individuals, including Cupid, Samson, a Highland chieftain, Hercules, an English fox-hunter, Frederick the Great,  and Napoleon. … From later-published scripts we know [how their routines] started off: ‘You being a general, perhaps you will tell us what army you command?’ ‘Cupid’s artillery,’ the General would reply. . …

“Instead of being bitter over his littleness, Tom seemed to glory in it, almost as if it were his own special blessing. He loved to strut out on the stage and show what he could do to an audience. … Of course, Tom’s childhood suffered from his full-time occupation as an adult. At five he learned to drink wine at meals, at seven to smoke cigars. … He loved money and hoarded it. … At the start of 1845, Barnum allowed the Strattons to become full partners in the Thumb adventure [and they became] ‘absolutely deranged with such golden success.’ …

“By 1862, Barnum was watching his wealthy Bridgeport neighbor Charles Stratton (alias Tom Thumb) sail his yacht and drive his thoroughbreds and smoke his imported cigars. … [Barnum soon added as an act] Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump [who] was a 21-year-old beauty from Middleborough, Massachusetts, [and] only 32 inches tall. … Tom Thumb took one look at the museum’s dainty addition and fell head over heels in love. … [Sixteen years later] in 1878, Lavinia’s sister Minnie died painfully while giving birth to a full-sized baby, not the miniature child she and her husband had expected. … [After this and another friend’s tragic death], Tom Thumb was never the same. … [In 1883] Tom died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 46.”