Saturday, May 16, 2020

Rose's Midget Revue, part 4: Miscellaneous photos

Altoona Mirror, March 14, 1947

Altoona Mirror, Feb. 22, 1947

In 1947, several members of Rose's Midget Revue were injured in the Red Arrow train wreck in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

For a history of Rose's Midget Revue, see part 1

Undated newspaper ad

Statesville Landmark, Nov. 15, 1932

Undated newspaper ad

Ike Rose, first wife Saharet, and daughter

1945 Billboard tribute to Ike Rose on the 10th anniversary of his death

Rose's Midget Revue performer and fashion designer/dressmaker Hansi Herman

Racine Journal Times, Apr. 7, 1933

Trade ad

1937-39 program of "interesting facts about little people"

Billboard, Aug. 14, 1954

Rose's Midget Revue, part 3: Newspaper and trade ads

Times Signal, Feb. 7, 1925

For a history of Rose's Midget Revue, see part 1

The Tennessean, Feb. 5, 1932

Decatur Daily Review, Jan. 30, 1927

Marion Star, Apr. 17, 1931

Hammond Times, Nov. 22, 1938

Lima News, Jun. 4, 1929

Hammond Times, Jun. 3, 1933

Pittsfield Berkshire Evening Eagle, Apr. 2, 1948

Charleston Gazette, Feb. 21, 1950

Bridgeport Telegram, Mar. 9, 1951

Fitchburg Sentinel, Jul. 3, 1933

Fitchburg Sentinel, Jul. 22, 1933

Findlay Morning Republican, Jan. 13, 1927

Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Oct. 24, 1937

Zanesville Signal, Nov. 15, 1937

Winnipeg Free Press, Sep. 12, 1929

Rose's Midget Revue, part 2: Postcards

For a history of Rose's Midget Revue, see part 1

Rose's Midget Revue, part 1: 1920s-1950s

Rose's Midget Revue was the "Biggest Little Show on Earth," an artistically diverse all-midget variety show that performed at fairs and theaters in the United States and Canada in the 1920s-1950s. Despite widespread critical acclaim over its 30-year existence, the revue is almost forgotten today and is omitted from histories of vaudeville.

Rose's revue was said to be "the most gorgeously staged Midget show in the United States" (Sandusky Star Journal, 1926). "Their name will be a by-word in every home, as they are sure to eclipse and excel all previous records for entertainment and originality," predicted the Southtown Economist in 1922.

In 1937, the Dubois Daily Express hailed the troupe as "the world's most sensational liliputian [sic]" variety act and musical ensemble. It was "acclaimed by critics to be fully on a par with the finest of Broadway productions" (Harrison Daily News, 1937), and was said to be "one of the best known [organizations] of its kind in the business" (Billboard,1947).

The troupe was featured on a number of postcards and was routinely covered in newspapers in the towns where they performed, but they were almost completely forgotten thereafter. Even Joe Laurie Jr.'s excellent 1953 history of vaudeville, Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace, omits any mention of Rose's troupe or the other midget troupes that were active in the US and Europe during the vaudeville era, such as Zeynard's Liliput-Speciality Troupe and Fred Roper and His Wonder Midgets, even though Rose's revue was still actively touring at the time he wrote the book.

The size of Rose's Midget Revue ranged over the years from 9 to 35 members, the tallest of whom was said to be 32 inches tall in some reports and 45 inches in others. Some of the claims about the performers were marketing hype, though, because the shortest person in the show was often said to be 18 inches tall, which is a few inches shorter than the verified world record for shortest adult of all time. 

The troupe originally consisted of European talent but soon expanded to include performers from the United States as well. For extra pizzazz, it was sometimes billed as Rose's Parisian Midget Revue, Rose's Parisian Midget Follies, Rose's Royal Midgets, and Rose's Hollywood Midget Revue.

Captain Ike Rose's Historical Wild West, 1913
The troupe was assembled by Ike Rose, a New Yorker originally named Isaac Rosenstamm. He was a show-business veteran who once worked as an agent for both Harry Houdini and Ruth St. Denis and was married to Australian dancer Saharet until 1913. As Captain Ike Rose, he led Ike Rose's Historical Wild West show, a cowboy-themed troupe that toured Australia in the early 1910s.

When Ike died in 1935, his second wife, Carla Rose (a "normal-sized woman," newspapers sometimes pointed out), took over the troupe and was usually billed as Mrs. Ike Rose or Mrs. I. Rose. The troupe enjoyed some of its greatest successes under her management.

In the mid 1920s, the show was said to be a $25,000 production, which in today's dollars is over a third of a million dollars. When Rose's revue played at the Orpheum in Lima, Ohio, in 1924, it was heralded as "the most expensive and pretentious attraction ever booked" at that theater.
Cedar Rapids Gazette, May 31, 1944

Although all-midget revues might seem exploitative, they provided a lot of talented performers an opportunity in show business that they might not otherwise have had. The marketing and coverage of Rose's revue was generally respectful, highlighting the performers' remarkable abilities in addition to their small size. Ads hailed the performers as "Extraordinary and Amazing: Tiny Perfect People," and reviewers generally praised the performers as "highly educated, talented in an unusual degree and accomplished in art, music, stagecraft and the dance."

But not all the coverage the troupe received was wholly sensitive to little people. In a 1933 article about Rose's troupe, the Thomasville Times Enterprise of Thomasville, Georgia, delivered the following backhanded compliment: "The average Midget Theatrical Troupe are merely freaks, but talent is the dominating factor of this attraction."

Many articles described the habits and emotions of the performers as if they were exotic specimens rather than people. A 1926 article in the Sandusky Star Journal, which referred to the members of the troupe as "abbreviated folks" and "like children," observed that "midgets have romances, likes and dislikes, same as others" and that the breakfast "of the average midget consists of a portion of fruit, a soft boiled egg and a bit of toast and coffee." A 1927 article in the Wisconsin newspaper Appleton Post Crescent asserted that although "romances and marriages among midgets" occur, "there is no record of any children resulting from a midget marriage." The same article claimed that midgets, "unlike dwarves," are "fully developed mentally."

The North Adams Transcript of North Adams, Massachusetts, gave a typical description of the troup in 1937:
...[A]n aggregation of cute and clever midgets of both sexes who will present a most novel entertainment. There are four young men and five comely ladies in the troupe, all pocked-sized editions, who will favor the audience with songs, dances, stunts and novel bits of mimicry. 
1948 Cavalcade ad that lists Rose's Midget Revue
The troupe performed throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and Deep South and occasionally ventured into Canada. It performed annually during the holiday season at Goldblatt's flagship department store at State Street and Van Buren in Chicago, where it would perform 8-10 shows a day in the toy department to crowds of about 300 at each performance.

Billboard, Aug. 6, 1955
The troupe sometimes performed at county fairs, but their most common venue was theaters, where the performance was usually followed by a motion picture.

Some of the group's highest-profile gigs included performances at the California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego in 1935 and 1936. At least one member of the troupe, Vance Swift, performed in the Midget Town exhibit and show at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

The troupe signed with Al Wagner's Cavalcade of Amusements in 1947 and performed with the cavalcade until the early 1950s. In 1953 the revue signed with Wallace Bros. Shows to tour Canada. In 1955, the troupe's contract for the following year must have fallen through, because an ad in Billboard in August of that year noted the revue's availability for the 1956 season "due to disappointment." In November, the troupe was still looking for work for the next year's season, and after that I found no further record of activity, so that might have been the end of Rose's revue.

Billboard, Nov. 26, 1955
Midget troupes fell by the wayside, but some artists continued to exploit their small stature in order to market their entertainment career, such as Little Richard Miller ("born without arms and legs") and Little Lowell (the "Singing Midget") , both of whom recorded gospel music in the 1960s and 1970s.

The acts of Rose's Midget Revue

At various times, the troupe was reported to feature many different kinds of variety acts:
  • Acrobats and "contortion"
  • Comedians
  • Drama
  • The "only known midget swing band in existence" 
  • The "only colored midget in the states"
  • "The smallest living hillbillies"
  • A fan dance quintette
  • Ballets, including fan dance ballets
  • "Smallest Jitterbug in a Zoot Suit"
  • A "Gay Nineties Bowery number"
  • A "Spanish Rhumba Ensemble"
  • The musical revue Better Times (a long-running feature in their performances)
  • A midget military parade AKA parade of the toy soldiers
  • A stage setting patterned after the Ziegfeld Follies ("gorgeous scenes and costumes")
  • A midget Bill Robinson, Mae West, Harriet Hoctor, and Morton Downey 
In addition to the performances, the stage set sometimes included miniature ponies, wagons, carriages, and automobiles. The pullman car in which the troupe traveled, which was outfitted with berths and equipment that were proportional to the performers' sizes, was sometimes offered for display as well.

Rose's performers (an incomplete list)

  • Alice ("our graceful Prima Ballerina")
  • Herman Arndt
  • Lena Bayer
  • Betty and Freddie ("our miniature Ballroom Team")
  • Bismark
  • Dapper Little Curt ("pint-sized magician and comedian")
  • Mary Ellen ("internationally famous as the most perfectly-formed midget in the world")
  • Estralita (sometimes spelled Estrallita or Esterita, a blues singer and "our little Hawaiian songbird")
  • Gladys Farkoes
  • Geraldine Feneck
  • Fifi ("the only midget fan dancer in the world")
  • Clarence Finch
  • Frieda and Joe
  • Miss Friedel
  • Paul Glauer
  • Jacqueline Hall (the "midget Mae West")
  • Hansi Herman (fashion designer and dressmaker for the troupe)
  • Henry Hors
  • Theodore Hors
  • Esther Howard
  • Little Sonja Howard AKA Princess Sonja (Esther Howard's twin sister and a fan dancer sometimes billed as "midget Sally Rands" [sic] and as a "miniature pistol-packin' mama")
  • Joe Kotalick ("the diminutive tenor")
  • Nita Krebs (toe dancer)
  • Johanna Mayr
  • Hermy Mendt ("the little feller who deceives")
  • The Mite Magician
  • Danny Montague ("the world's only colored midget" and "the little dancing demon")
  • Gladys Nightingale
  • Adella Nowak ("our little Kewpie Doll")
  • Florence Nowak
  • Mickey Page
  • Nick Page
  • Eugene "Jean" Palfi ("the 4 1/2 foot Paul Whiteman" and "a triple-tongue cornet virtuoso")
  • Prince Pani
  • Picadilly Johnnies (the "Beau Brummels of song and dance")
  • Alice Pick
  • Gussie Pick
  • Myrtle Pilkerton
  • Walter Pollitt (pianist and "normal-size man")
  • Elly Popezyk
  • Princess Suzanna
  • Mr. and Mrs. Fred Retter (tap dancers)
  • Sovenia Jennie Riddle (married Anthony Vendola in 1954)
  • Carla Rose (owner)
  • Karl Starke
  • Vance Swift ("the only Hawaiian singer and dancer," reputed to be the world's smallest man; from New Albany Indiana; also billed as "smallest draftee in the world")
  • Fisher Thompson, musical director
  • Anthony (or Tony, sometimes spelled Toni) Vendola (the "miniature Gene Krupa")
  • Luz Villa Lobos ("Spanish Dancing Senorita in diminutive form")
  • Casper and Mab Weis
  • Kurt Zeibler (master of ceremonies)
  • Warner Zeibler

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Records inspired by Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: 1976-78

The television series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, which ran from 1976-77 and starred Louise Lasser in the titular role, inspired a surprising number of records. 

In the late '60s, Lasser had appeared in the Broadway production of Henry, Sweet Henry and is featured on a track with Don Ameche on the cast album that ABC Records released. In the late '80s and early '90s, Lasser also appeared in the cult horror films Frankenhooker and Blood Rage.

Mary Kay Place, the actress who played aspiring country singer Loretta Haggers on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, released a number of records in 1976-1977. "Baby Boy," a song about the show sung in the character of Loretta Haggers, became a Top 3 country hit in 1976 and even crossed over to the pop Hot 100. In 1977, Place performed a duet with Willie Nelson, "Something to Brag About," that also reached the country Top 10.

Although Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a spoof of soap operas, it became a target of spoofs as well. It was such a popular item for tribute and parody in its time that it even received at least two porn parodies long before parodies became standard fare in the adult industry. One is Hard Soap, Hard Soap (1977), which was recently reissued on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome, and the other is Mary Flegus, Mary Flegus (1978).

Here's a survey of records from around the time of the series that contain renditions of the Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman theme or original songs that are based on the show. The song titles link to audio on YouTube when available.

Birchwood Pops Orchestra – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (From the album TV Hits Vol. II, Pickwick SPC-3566, 1977)

Jules Blattner – "I Love You, Mary Hartman" (Blue Ribbon BRR 102, 1976)

California State University Long Beach Studio Day Band and Jazz Vocal Ensemble – "Theme from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (From the album Cal State Long Beach Jazz Ensembles: 1976, CSULB-101, 1976)

Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (From the album Soapsuds, Soapsuds, Verge GP 3174, 1978)

Sammy Davis Jr. – "Mary Hartman" (From the album The Song and Dance Man, 20th Century 6370 245, 1976)

The Deadly Nightshade – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (Theme)" (Phantom JH-10709, 1976). Reached #79 on the Billboard pop chart.

Ferrante & Teicher – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (From the album Rocky and Other Knockouts, United Artists UA-LA782-G, 1977)

Kitty Wells – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (Capricorn CPS 0264, 1976)

Record World, Oct. 23, 1976

Los Indios Tabajaras – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (from the album Mellow Nostalgia, RCA Victor APL1-2082, 1977)

Jim Lowe – "I'm in Love with You Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (Union 1619, 1976)

The New Marketts – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (Have You Ever Been in Love)" (Calliope CALS 8003, 1977)

Sounds of Inner City Featuring Dick Lee – "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (RCA Victor WES-1202, 1977)