Ella Mills Awaits Social
WESTFIELD - Big Top Circuses are
making the circuits this summer without an old-time favorite
- the "fat lady."
Gals who tip the scales at 500
pounds and better are few and far between - and those
willing to travel with the circus are fewer and farther
One of the remaining women
eligible for the post is Ella Mills. But she isn't
touring - she's sitting on a big green couch, in the shade,
on Lake Lawrence near Westfield. She's waiting for her
first Social Security check.
Outweighing the range of most
scales, a reduction for Ella might seem in order. But
the only reduction she is planning on is a reduced Social
Although she is shy credits
under past laws, a recent change in the Social Security
program has made Ella eligible for Social Security benefit
She has elected to begin taking
payments at the age of 62, and thus gets a reduced payment
of $48.20 a month. If she had waited for benefits
until she reached the age of 65, she would have received $59
long she'll remain at the lake is doubtful. Ella loves
the circus - and the circus loved her. Often billed as
"586 Pounds of Feminie Charm," Ella is really about 300
pounds "heart" and 286 "personality."
Circuses have always fascinated her, but they didn't
actually catch up to her until 1956 when she toured with her
first sideshow for Ringling Brothers Circus.
Started in 1956.
Traveling with the Big Top was a dream for the 62-year-old
and her sister used to watch the circus pack up after each
annual visit to Milwaukee. She liked it.
friends told her she ought to be in show business.
Ella thought so, too. But her husband, now retired as
a street car conductor, always talked her out of it. "You
don't have to," he would say.
1956, Ella read about the death of "Alice from Dallas,
another of amazing proportions, and decided to apply for the
"fat lady" job.
was contracted by mailing a picture to Ringling Brothers.
was never interviewed.
her ready for the show, the circus sent one of the famed
"Doll Family" midgets to help Ella make a gown for her
appearance. And Ella's gowns make quite an appearance.
There's lots to them.
March of '56, Ella boarded a train with hundreds of others
for the Ringling Brothers opening in Madison Square Garden.
was a sensation!
Her Own Show
was her own show - a spectacle in herself - almost as round
as she was tall. And she was billed with such attractions as
the fire eater, bearded woman, alligator woman, sword
swallower, giant and snake woman.
was a favorite.
However, she admits that it was "kina hard to get used to
the rest of the people in the sideshow." It took a while to
find out that they are all fine folks and friendly just like
everyone else she recalls.
Ella's situation in the circus
was different from most other attractions. She didn't
have to travel; they did. Ella says freaks are in the
circus because "it is the only way of life form them."
Most of the millions who
traipsed by Ella during her circus career were great fun,
she says. Part of her show called for a display of her
two gigantic legs. She remembers one fellow calling
out "Put your dress down, you're a big girl now."
Everyone wants to know how the
"Fat Lady: got that way. Ella has no secret formula.
She eats the same as most people, but takes better care of
The steady stream of questions
and faces even get a circus performer down, claims Ella.
Raising leg-sized arms, Ella said, "People, people, people.
. . sometimes one just wants to get away from them." But not
very often, she adds.
Billed at 586 Lbs.
Ella's banner bills her at 586
pounds, but Ella admits she doesn't weigh much more than 500
pounds. When one is that heavy, nobody quibbles, she
And like the rest of her sex,
Ella doesn't board the scale very often to check.
The sideshow barker always
shouted, "See the woman who eats three gallons of ice-cream
in a sitting." Ella says it isn't so.
She says many people think the
sword swallower doesn't swallow the sword, or has a trick
Sword swallowers whom Ella knows
are the "real McCoy." The trick is to overcome the
natural tendency to gag when something is pushed down the
throat, she says.
Ella stayed with Ringling
Brothers until they folded their Big Top and discontinued
Afterward, she traveled with other circuses, including the
biggest remaining tent show, Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers.
Most circuses today are held in auditoriums.
Although noncommittal about a possible return to the
circus-she is obviously itchy to get back on the circuit.
She "enjoyed the circus and was carried away in it."
she and her retired husband, a man about a fourth her girth,
made the long circus jaunts with their station wagon and
does the driving with the aid of a seat set back farther
Little Girl Look
was a hit in the past, and still would be. Her bright face
is usually highlighted with a wreath of roses in coal-black
heir - accented, by the way, by a gigantic crimson comb.
Her dresses speak for themselves - and give her a "little
the "Fat Lady" gets to reminiscing, she gets the urge to
travel. A recently published book, "The American
Circus," features several pictures of Ella's banner - in
addition to thousands of performers Ella knows personally.
The book was written by two friends - both clowns.
circus book shows a picture of Chang and Eng, noted Siamese
twins. Although they are deceased now, Ella has met
their offspring. The twins, hitched throughout life,
married two farm girls and raised 20 children between them.
Ella likes to tell the tale that the twins had some troubles
- one liked a nip now and then, and the other was a tee-totaler.
circus is a way of life-it's an American tradition - every
child should see a circus, wished Ella. "Circuses are
for kiddies, and kiddies for circuses," she said.
Ella may be back in the Big Top before long - if offered
enough money, of course. But presently, she is
enjoying the stay in her home area on Lake Lawrence.
in a trailer doesn't cause the problems that might be
expected. Ella is lively and agile and probably in
better physical condition than most her age. Cramped trailer
quarters don't cramp the "fat lady.'
one of seven children and was born i Eau Claire and raised
in Montello. She has always been heavy. Her real
name is Ella Milbauer.
her husband retired, they lived in Milwaukee, did extensive
traveling in the southwest, and owned a farm just outside of
says she is going to buy another big farm if she returns to
work of not is the big decision for the big lady to make.
In the meantime, kids throughout the country are watching