For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, author and performer Trav S.D. traces 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.
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.
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.
Luca lives in Naples, Italy, and has been performing Quick Change for quite a few years now. He has written a book on the topic which I am listing here for your consideration. Translated from Italian with all the wonderful nuances found in that process.
Not your ordinary ‘performing arts’ history book! A wonderful look at an early 1900’s theater company that toured the USA for many years entertaining thousands at theaters, fairs, carnivals, circus and vaudeville. They were ‘Little People’ with Lots of Talent!
Penned by author/blogger/actor/producer Trav SD with a terrific Foreward by “Shocked and Amazed” publisher James Taylor. Illustrated with personal photographs from an original member of Rose’s company and vintage postcards of the company and other performers.
“Without pandering nor passing judgment this book documents in detail the performers, producers, the stage routines themselves and the various venues from those straight up and upscale to others shameful and shady. This book probes both the Dark and the Dazzling sides of the American Imagination. Only rare books like this seriously confront our more bizarre past and allow the new generations of show folk to revise to reinvent to reform American Theater.”
Dioramas and panoramas, freaks and magicians, waxworks and menageries, obscure relics, and stuffed animals–a dazzling assortment of curiosities attracted the gaze of the nineteenth-century spectator at the dime museum. This distinctly American phenomenon was unprecedented in both the diversity of its amusements and in its democratic appeal, with audiences traversing the boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and class. Andrea Stulman Dennett’s ‘Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America’ recaptures this ephemeral and scarcely documented institution of American culture from the margins of history.
Weird and Wonderful chronicles the evolution of the dime museum from its eighteenth-century inception as a “cabinet of curiosities” to its death at the hands of new amusement technologies in the early twentieth century. From big theaters that accommodated audiences of three thousand to meager converted storefronts exhibiting petrified wood and living anomalies, this study vividly reanimates the array of museums, exhibits, and performances that make up this entertainment institution. Tracing the scattered legacy of the dime museum from vaudeville theater to Ripley’s museum to the talk show spectacles of today, Dennett makes a significant contribution to the history of American popular entertainment.
“The book should prove interesting to readers of American social history, and particularly enjoyable for museum and entertainment professionals.”
“This book was a great read and provided the information I was hoping to learn about nineteenth-century dime museums. All the information on the subject seems to be scattered about and often lacking. This book ties it together in a succinct yet informative text.”
“Weird and Wonderful is a well researched and very readable account of the (mostly) 19th-century phenomenon commonly known as dime museums. While they were themselves short-lived, the influence of dime museums extends far and wide throughout our culture – from Discovery Channel programming and blockbuster museum exhibits to freak show revivals and viral videos.”
Why do so many people care so much about celebrities? Who decides who gets to be a star? What are the privileges and pleasures of fandom? Do celebrities ever deserve the outsized attention they receive?
In this fascinating and deeply researched book, Sharon Marcus challenges everything you thought you knew about our obsession with fame. Icons are not merely famous for being famous; the media alone cannot make or break stars; fans are not simply passive dupes. Instead, journalists, the public, and celebrities themselves all compete, passionately and expertly, to shape the stories we tell about celebrities and fans. The result: a high-stakes drama as endless as it is unpredictable.
Drawing on scrapbooks, personal diaries, and vintage fan mail, Marcus traces celebrity culture back to its nineteenth-century roots, when people the world over found themselves captivated by celebrity chefs, bad-boy poets, and actors such as the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), as famous in her day as the Beatles in theirs. Known in her youth for sleeping in a coffin, hailed in maturity as a woman of genius, Bernhardt became a global superstar thanks to savvy engagement with her era’s most innovative media and technologies: the popular press, commercial photography, and speedy new forms of travel.
Whether you love celebrity culture or hate it, The Drama of Celebrity will change how you think about one of the most important phenomena of modern times.
New documentary film on BusterKeaton by Peter Bogdanovich opening Oct 5th.
A loving tribute from one legend to another, the latest film from Bogdanovich (subject of a comprehensive retrospective at the Quad Sept 28 – Oct 4) offers an insightful and highly entertaining look at famed comedian and filmmaker Buster Keaton. Featuring footage from Keaton’s visionary silent comedies (freshly restored by the Cohen Media Group and showing at the Quad October 5 – 11) and interviews with Mel Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, Werner Herzog, Dick Van Dyke, Johnny Knoxville, and many more, Bogdanovich—one of our greatest film historians and directors—traces the life and art of “The Great Stone Face” with a wry sense of humor and generous critical eye. A Cohen Media Group release