BIG-AS-A-MINUTE MEN (Sep, 1954)
Don’t underestimate the power of a midget. Some of the world’s “biggest” men are 2-1/2-footers.
By Lester David
BOB CAIN, on the mound for the Detroit Tigers, stared openmouthed. Umpire Hurley couldn’t believe his eyes and 20,299 fans rubbed theirs in amazement. Advancing to the plate, bat slung over his shoulder, was the tiniest baseball player since Abner Doubleday invented the national pastime.
He was Eddie Gaedel, a midget, signed secretly a short while before by Bill Veeck, then owner of the St. Louis Browns. Veeck, a fast man with any gimmick that would boost receipts, had been waiting for a chance to spring his small surprise package.
And it was a dilly. It surprised pitcher Cain into tossing four wild ones in a row at the miniature batsman. It jolted the fans and baseball writers into heaping imprecations on Veeck’s head for making a fancy jest of the noble sport. And it prompted American League officials to issue a forthright and straight-faced ruling, two days later, that hereinafter and henceforth midgets will be persona non grata on ball clubs.
Little people like Eddie Gaedel get in and out of scrapes constantly because of their size. Take the time a pretty young woman spotted a little fellow manfully struggling to keep his footing in a crowded New York subway. Assuming he was a small child and fearing he would be trampled, she lifted him on her lap and comforted him with pats on the head and kisses on the cheek. She screamed lustily when the little “boy,” actually a mature if not a grown man, promptly returned the smooches and added interesting variations of his own.
Another time, an alarmed citizen called the New York City Harbor Police and shouted that a kid had stolen a 26-ft. cruiser and was scooting out to sea with her. A police launch took off and speedily overtook the craft. The tip, it seemed, was correct—a tiny person was at the helm.
Cops boarded the vessel and proceeded to administer irate chastisement until the little skipper threw back his head and gave out with a famous call that stopped them short. “C-a-a-a-ll for Philip M-o-o-r-r-i-i-s-s!” he hollered, and the police at once recognized him as the celebrated midget, Johnny Roventini, seen and heard by 103,000,000 persons every week on radio and TV. Johnny, out of his bellhop’s uniform, was aboard his own cruiser, the Eva R.
Medical figures reveal that midgets occur about once in a million American births. Variety, the show business bible, estimates there are roughly 2,000 active in entertainment fields, though conceding there may be many more who are hidden from public gaze by their families.
Actually, there are several separate types of undersized people. One is the true midget, or Lilliputian, who considers himself the elite of the miniature humans. He (or she) is a perfectly proportioned little man (or woman) with a charming, dolllike appearance. The second type is the “achondroplastic” dwarf, who possesses a normally grown head and trunk but has abnormally underdeveloped arms and legs. Differing from these two are the pygmies, a specific type of small folk found largely in Central Africa along the Equator, in Australia and among the South American Indians.
What makes a midget or a dwarf? In the case of the former, the answer lies in secretions of the growth hormones from the pituitary glands. These vital fluids are either missing entirely or are considerably diminished early in life because of some deficiency in the growth gland. On the other hand, those peculiar little men with the big heads and stunted limbs don’t have any basic glandular disorder; their deformities are caused by peculiar workings of their “structural” genes.
Surprisingly, midgets are the same size at birth as normal infants—in fact they are normal until the pituitary gland stops working. One of the most celebrated miniature persons of all time, P.T. Barnum’s fabulous Tom Thumb, who cavorted before kings and princes all over the world, actually tipped the scales at nine-and-a-half hefty pounds when he was born! General Thumb, or Charles Sherwood Stratton, stopped growing at six months of age and remained only 25 in. high until his teens.
Curiously, most midgets add several inches to more than a foot to their height after the age of 30. Doctors are at a loss to understand why and believe that in some manner the growth gland is activated as maturity progresses. Tom Thumb, for example, eventually grew to 40 in. For some strange reason Sir Jeffery Hudson, Britain’s famous little man of the seventeenth century, shot up many inches after he was captured and tortured by Turkish pirates.
Then there was the bizarre case of Eddie Wilmot, tiny star of a midget performing outfit, who was forced to leave the troupe after he recovered from a serious illness. Reason: He grew to be over six ft. tall!
Here are some more quaint facts about the lives and habits of these quaint people: Midgets always stem from normal-sized parents and have average brothers and sisters. Johnny Roventini, for example, lives in Brooklyn, N. Y., with his mother, father, two brothers and a sister, all fully grown.
The little folks don’t marry too frequently. Dr. C. Wesley Dupertuis of the Constitution Clinic in New York’s Presbyterian Hospital made the first anthropometric study of a large group of living midgets and learned that only 20.7 per cent of the men and 22.6 per cent of the women had taken mates.
Childbearing is exceedingly dangerous for tiny women, often necessitating Caesarean operations. Little people frequently go to the altar with normal-sized individuals and in these cases the children that result are always average. However, Dr. Dupertuis reported that instances of midget mothers and midget fathers having normal offspring are almost unknown, while still rarer is a midget child from such a union.
Dr. Dupertuis found that miniature people in the group he studied were above average in health. One manager who traveled for 10 years with a troupe of midgets told the doctor he never once had to summon a doctor. The chief complaint, according to Dr. Dupertuis, was about teeth, often too large and too” many for miniature jaws.
As to size, Dr. Dupertuis reported that the males approximated seven-year-old boys while the women were as tall as six-year-old girls. The group surveyed averaged 21 years of age, 40 lbs. in weight and 30 in. in height.
Strange indeed are the tales of some of history’s famous peewees. Take Sir Jeffery Hudson of England and his first introduction to the court of Charles I. Unlike General Tom Thumb, who stalked into Queen Victoria’s presence on matchstick legs, Jeffery came as the filling in a pie. Good King Charles, it seems, was tossing a dinner party and, for the piece de resistance, a rather large hunk of pastry was’ deposited on the table.
As the monarch prepared to wield knife and fork the crust suddenly started to buckle and heave, and as the guests stared goggle-eyed out popped 18-in.-high Jeffery, smiling amid the goo.
Jeff became a staunch favorite in the court and was actually named a captain of horse during the Civil War in England from 1642 to 1646, when Parliament squared off against the King. But Jeff’s greatest moment came when he got into a hassle with a gent name of Crofts, who insulted his good name and was forthwith invited to engage in a duel to the death.
Big Crofts thought the duel idea was too funny for words—he came armed with a squirt gun. But Jeff, lips grimly compressed, wasn’t fazed. He was helped into the saddle of a horse, which brought him level with his antagonist. Pistols were produced and the duel was fought.
Shades of David and Goliath! Jeffery Hudson, diminutive soldier, actually slew his tall opponent!
Then there was a little guy named Richebourg, who captivated the French court and became a sturdy supporter of the monarchy and quite a valuable asset to same. When the French Revolution began and the citizens started slicing heads off at the guillotine, Richebourg became a top spy for the royalist cause.
Only 23 in. high, he was swaddled in infant’s clothes and carried in and out of Paris in a nurse’s arms. Nobody bothered to stop them, simply because nobody had the slightest suspicion that hidden under the bunting were important dispatches that the midget was carrying to monarchists outside!
Little people have come in mighty handy in other ways. Some years back, an ordinary-sized man was making an international reputation as a seer, claiming to play chess by spiritualist inspiration. Blindfolded, he moved the chessmen expertly and invariably won. It wasn’t until the close of his career that he was unmasked; a midget, concealed beneath an enclosed cabinet, was masterminding his moves. In Paris, a burglar did right well with his own side-kick, a midget who could climb through transoms.
Show business midgets are perhaps the best known of current times and a major chapter in entertainment history was written by the fabulous Singer troupes, who traveled all over the world. Singer’s Midgets were head-liners everywhere and it all started when Baron Leopold von Singer, a wealthy Austrian, hired a Lilliputian to entertain his daughter, who was recovering from polio.
Singer’s wife, a former actress, trained the little fellow to sing and dance and then the idea exploded in the baron’s mind: Why not round up a batch of midgets, teach them routines and send them out? He did and made show business history.
But the midget who topped them all in the entertainment field was the fabulous General Tom Thumb. In November, 1842, Phineas T. Barnum spotted a child playing in the streets —a flaxen-haired, 15-lb. youngster of six, who towered all of 15 in. off the ground. Barnum persuaded the boy’s parents to let him take young Stratton under his wing and the tiny performer’s career began.
It was, to be sure, studded with the fabled P.T. Barnum fakery and kicked off with the announcement that “General Tom Thumb, 11 years of age, has just arrived from England.” Barnum simply planned to capitalize on Americans’ love of importations, and he was right. Crowds flocked to see the youngster and it wasn’t long before he became Barnum’s prize attraction.
General Thumb was lionized everywhere, was presented to the world’s kings and princes and became a wealthy man. There was romance in his life too, in the person of Lavinia Warren who was a flat two ft. high. Lavinia had two older brothers and two sisters, all of whom were six ft. tall. She herself became a teacher in a Middleboro, Mass., school and was able to maintain discipline despite her stature. In 1862, Barnum got wind of Lavinia and hired her.
General Thumb and Livinia were married in 1863 in New York at a sensational ceremony attended by governors, senators, army generals and millionaires and the honeymoon was climaxed by a dinner and reception in their honor given by President Abraham Lincoln at the White House.
In quite another category, but world renowned nonetheless, is Johnny Roventini, who is certainly history’s greatest human trademark. Johnny joined Philip Morris 21 years ago when advertising executive Milton Blow was struck by the bell-like voice of a call-boy in the lobby of a New York hotel. On a hunch he slipped the lad a bill and had him page “Mr. Philip Morris.” Johnny’s career was born.
Johnny’s value to the company just cannot be estimated. That’s why when he so much as sneezes there’s a race to get to him between the cigarette firm’s insurance company physician and his family doctor.
The 80-lb., 48-in. gent lives in a miniature world. He wears size two shoes, size eight shirts and 6-1/2 hats. He gets his clothes from the boys’ department of a Fifth Ave. shop, all but his suits, which must be custom made.
Midgets have always made news, from the time of Philetas of Cos on. Philetas, who lived about 330 B.C., got a big reputation for penning amorous poetry and was so peanut-sized he had to wear lead weights in his shoes to keep from blowing away in a high wind.
But perhaps the biggest news of all about midgets may come from science. The phenomenon of growth, or lack of it, has puzzled and fascinated medical men for centuries and now comes the announcement of a special hormone which actually might help little people get bigger. The new hormone, called Somatotropin, has been prepared at the Armour Laboratories in Chicago and the results of a series of experiments with it were reported not long ago at a meeting of the Endocrin Society in New York.
A team of scientists at Cornell University Medical College gave the hormone to two girls and three boys, all underdeveloped. One of the girls started treatments when she was 14 years old and four ft., four in. tall. By the time she was 18, she had grown a full 7.1 in. The second girl gained 2.3 in. in three years.
Strangely and unaccountably, the treatment failed with the boy subjects and experiments are now going on to learn why. But, declares Dr. Walter C. Alvarez, emeritus consultant in medicine at the Mayo Clinic, the outlook is hopeful. “What with this new hormone, certain antibiotics and vitamin B12,” he says, “the day may come when no boy will have to stay small.”
And—who -knows—perhaps the day may come when science will also help child midgets grow to full stature and the little people will be no more. •