My Little Collection — Postcards Featuring ‘Little People’
Princess Ann traveled with carnivals throughout the U.S. during the 1960s and ’70s. She worked in her own “single-o” tent, where she chatted with visitors (who paid an admission price) and sold postcards like this one. Some of her cards were pitch cards (which don’t have a postcard back). Valued at $5-10.
My favorite postcard collection involves “freak show” performers, who appeared in circuses and carnivals. And the cards I show most often are those of little people.
Tiny people, whose proportions are just like ours, have always been a source of amazement . . . and sometimes amusement. Circus impresario P.T. Barnum coined the term “midget” when General Tom Thumb joined his circus; now that term is now considered politically incorrect.
Dwarf, on the other hand, was a term that referred to very short people who had disproportionate short arms, legs, or heads, and some facial features in common. Today, the more polite terms are “little people,” referring to adults standing less than 4-feet, 10-inches tall.
Because jobs for little people have always been hard to come by, many have traditionally turned to show business in one form or another. That involves everything from exhibiting themselves in fairs, carnivals, dime museums and circuses to appearing in movies (like “The Wizard of Oz” and it’s spoof, “Somewhere Under the Rainbow”) or on television (as in “Fantasy Island” or the more contemporary, reality show “Little People, Big World”).
Midgets posed with giants are popular postcard subjects, as are performing midget troupes of singers and dancers, little families, midget weddings and weddings between giants and little people.
Many people claimed to be the “smallest man in the world” or the “world’s tiniest woman.” If they knew that others were smaller, they might tout themselves as the “smallest married couple in the world” (Mr. et Mme. P. Nichol of Montreal), “smallest perfect man on earth” (Baron Paucci) and even the “smallest perfect Moose man on earth” (Baron Capitan Nicu de Barcsy, who joined the fraternal order to make the boast).
Here are “postcard portraits” of some better-known little people:
Ricardo Montalban and Herve Villechaize.
Herve Villechaize made the phrase “De plane! De plane!” part of American culture in his role as Tattoo in the hit TV series “Fantasy Island” (1977-84). As Mr. Roake’s (Ricardo Mantalban) sidekick, Tattoo would thus announce the arrival of the week’s guests to the island, before crazily driving his pint-sized go-kart to see the newcomers.
Born in Paris, France in 1943 to average-sized parents, Herve enrolled in art school at 16 and is the youngest artist with a painting in the Museum of Paris. His father was a surgeon and his three brothers were a banker, a politician and an actor/director. His adult height was 3 feet, 11 inches. Changing careers from painting to acting, Herve played the evil Nick Nack in the James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun.” He married Camille Hagen—the willowy 5-foot, 8-inch stand-in for Kate Jackson on “Charlie’s Angels”—in 1980, winning her heart when he painted her portrait, though the marriage didn’t last.
In his later years, Herve became part owner of a restaurant and retired to his 1.5-acre San Fernando Valley ranch where he worked as a volunteer, helping abused children and sick animals. As a result of depression due to health problems he committed suicide in 1993 at the age of 50.
Herve Villechaize—the first little person to get star billing as a regular in a TV series—always insisted on being called a midget and unfailingly rejected any parts where he was treated as a child or put on display.
Lya Graf got her 15 minutes of American fame in 1933, when she was photographed sitting in the lap of financier J.P. Morgan in the Senate Caucus Room. This was a publicity stunt by quick-thinking press agent Charles Leef.
“Gangway!” he cried. “The smallest lady in the world wants to meet the richest man in the world!” and he plunked Lya into Morgan’s lap. Morgan benefited too—after the famous photo of his conversation with the smiling 22-inch-tall lady, his public image changed from that of a greedy, ruthless political enemy of President Roosevelt to a benign old man.
Born Margaret Furthmann into a Jewish family in 1913, Lya Graf worked in circuses and sideshows in her native Germany before moving to America to travel with circuses during the 1920s and 30s. In spite of her shy, sensitive nature, she became a popular Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus attraction, and loved going sightseeing as she traveled the country.
After her “meeting” with Morgan, she worked at Coney Island, charging visitors a quarter to hear her tell of her adventure in Washington. In 1935, her family returned to their native country—but it had changed. The Nuremburg laws had taken German citizenship away from the Jews and in 1937 Lya was arrested as a “useless person.”
In 1941 she and her family were taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and they were never heard from again.
The Doll Family.
The Doll Family, also known as the Earles, was a group of three sisters and their brother who performed in sideshows and circuses in the U.S. from the 1920s to the 1950s, when they retired to Sarasota, Fla.
As pictured here, the Dolls were:
Tiny, 2’6”: Born Elly Annie Schneider in 1914; died at age 90 in 2004
Harry, 2’8”: Born Kurt Fritz Schneider in 1902; died at 83 in 1985
Daisy, 3’: Born Hilda Emma Schneider in 1907; died in 1980 at the age of 72, Daisy was often billed as the “Midget Mae West”
Grace, 2’7”: Born Frieda A. Schneider in 1899; died at the age of 71 in 1970
From Stolpen, Germany, the Dolls had three average-sized siblings and average-sized parents. Sometime after Harry and Grace became “Hans and Gretel” and started performing in sideshows, they were “discovered” by Bert Earles, who brought them to the U.S. to tour with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1914.
Grace and Harry lived with the Earle family in California, and during the 1920s Tiny and Daisy joined them. Over their 30 years with Ringling Brothers, they rode horses, sang and danced. They also appeared in movies, acting in comedies with Laurel & Hardy, appearing in Tod Browning’s “Freaks” and become Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz” (Harry was featured as a member of the Lollipop Guild).
Daisy was married briefly in 1942 to a normal-sized man, but the marriage lasted only a year. Otherwise, the siblings always lived and worked together, appearing in traveling sideshows until their retirement in 1958. Their new modular home in a gated community, called the Doll’s House, was completely furnished with small furniture, and the entire family lived there their deaths.
Michu was born Mihaly Meszaros in Budapest, Hungary. You may remember him as the alien Alf in the popular 1986-1990 television show of the same name. At 2’9”, he wore a furry body costume whenever a full-length shot of Alf was shown.
Among his other show businesses appearances were roles in “H.R. Pufnstuff,” and “Look Who’s Talking.” Michu was in the horror film “Waxworks” (he was Hans, the butler) and the cult film “Freaked” (he played George Ramirez, the mutant). He also appeared in “Big Top Pee-Wee” and “Warlock: The Armageddon”—as circus midgets, of course.
He is shown here, before his TV and movie career, at the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, where he performed in countless weddings with his “wife” Juliana during the 1970s.
In a show of dubious honor, Hawthorne, Calif. named its shortest street “Michu Lane” in the 1980s. Last known to live in Beverly Hills, Michu’s hobbies included smoking giant cigars. He is rumored to have died in 2006.
This postcard of Michu is not difficult to find, and is valued at $5-8.
Postcards of little people generally range from $5 (for contemporary performers) to $60 (for pre-20 cards of lesser-known people), averaging $20-30. Offshoot collections include cartes de visite and cabinet photos from the 1800s, which are generally more expensive.
Occasionally, a vigilant collector can even find tiny twins, such as Dolores & Shirley (at 28 inches tall and 15 lbs), featured on postcards.
Mike & Ike, known as the “boxing midgets,” are refereed by Little Lord Leo here. These unusual real photo postcards are worth $25-35.
Condition is less critical than with other postcards, since collectors often seek midgets and dwarfs that are new to their collections, or want to collect every single postcard available of a particular person or family. More important is that the card is identified, showing the name (preferably the full name) and some personal history, since many little people used stage names.
Don Robbins, 40 inches tall. The hand-written message reads “We see this little fellow most every day – he is ass’t City Marshall of Belfast,” which makes this postcard a treasure. Postmarked 1911, it is valued at $25-35.
I hope that this peek into the lives of these remarkable people has peaked your interest in sideshow postcards!
Bonnie Wilpon, the author of “Postcard History of Sarasota and Bradenton, FL,” and “Postcard History of Hollywood, FL.” (published by Arcadia Books), is a Worthologist who specializes in postcards.
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