Devote to the Oddity who is My Best Friend

 

I must devote the most space in the book to the oddity who is my best friend and who has been with me in good times and bad for thirty-six years. I sometimes joke that "Pete isn't very reliable, he probably won't stay with the show". He's only been here for thirty-six years!
 
We were in Breckenridge, Minnesota, for the county fair. Gerri Burke, one of our show girls who was always kidding around asked me if she should "Go promote the dwarf we had seen on the main street earlier in the day". I responded for her to try. To my surprise an hour later she returned with a handsome little fellow with bright blue eyes and golden curly hair. He did want to work for the week so we had hun bally and take tickets. This being a small community we put him in clown make up to mask his identity. Just about everyone who came in the show recognized him.greeting him by name. He enjoyed his week with us and was sorry to see it end.
 
After three weeks we were in Fargo, North Dakota. Pete's sister lived there. He decided to spend that week at her home. On opening day he persuaded Audrey to bring him to the fair. He wished to be with the show for the week. Of course we were glad to see him. My partner Harry taught Pete the iron tongue act where he places a hook in his tongue, lifting weights with it. Harry also provided Pete with is first stage name, "Poobah", borrowed from a character in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera "The Mikado".
 
Our next jump to the South Dakota State Fair at Huron took us through Breckenridge. Pete asked me to stop and talk his mother Gladys into allowing him to continue on to Huron. She agreed with the stipulation that we would put him on a bus for Breckenridge at the close of that fair. Pete was very shy. He would only go to the front of the fair to go to a restaurant if Geni, Harry or myself were going. By mid-week it was obvious that Pete was unhappy. I assumed he was getting homesick, so I consoled him, reminding him he would be returning home in a few days. The problem was that he didn't want to return home and asked if he could please keep his job. He was twenty-four years old, so I readily agreed. We sent his mother a telegram to that effect and proceeded to Spencer, Iowa.
 
When we had opened there we were visited by a Clay County Sheriffs deputy, who requested speaking with Pete. Pete's mother just wished to be sure he was okay and that he wanted to be there.
 
That season closed the last week of October in Anniston, Alabama. We stayed there the next week so we could attend the Ringling circus, after which we took Pete to the Birmingham airport. He flew home for the winter.
 
The following spring, Pete was back and that winter he spent with Harry and I in Miami. We enjoyed many fun days at the beach that year.
 
Pete's parents were overly protective of him, to his detriment. On his first day of school, some other boys made fun of his dwarfism. He came home in tears, his mother never allowed him to return to school, resulting in his being illiterate. After a few days , the other school children would have become accustomed to his difference. He would have been accepted and educated, since the basic intelligence exists, and he learns fast.
 
When our seasonal business was good , we had Pete stay the winter with us. If we were broke, he would have to spend the winter in Minnesota. For many years now, Pete will visit his sister and remaining family in Minnesota, but this is his permanent home. He had been treated as a child until he joined the show. Therefore, the first tune he was treated like a man.
 
Wintertime often found us performing in night clubs or theatre revues, where Pete participated in comedy routines. He learned to juggle, eat fire, and handle large snakes. In his third year -with us, we didn't take the sideshow on the road. We built a show titled The Midget and the Monsters", where Pete occupied an enclosure with a large boa constrictor.
 
During a weeks run in Toledo. Ohio, the big snake died. We ordered a replacement, but took a few days to arrive, It was springtime, money was short Pete believes the old adage The show must go on". He took his usual stance with the boa corpse. When people were suspicious asking the snake was dead, Pete would cock his head, and with a sly smile, would retort, "NO, it's just sick". He soon got bored with the inactivity of that show. He always enjoyed actively entertaining.
 
On a Sunday off, Harry, Pete and I went to the movies. Approaching the box office the cashier inquired, "Two adults and one for the little boy"? Pulling himself up on his tip toes, he said indignantly, "I'm, no little boy, I'm a man"! Such an assault on his manhood would surely anger him.
 
Pete's legal name is Norbert. For theatre shows he is "Little Lord Leon". The sideshow world has always known him as "Poobah". While in the circus industry, he is "Pete the Clown". Pete has clowned on numerous circuses with which we were associated. For six years, he was a clown in the sideshow of Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey at Madison Square Gardens, New York. As was the custom of sideshow acts, Pete sold his photo to his fans, he was the only Ringling clown allowed to sell to the audience at the garden, and he sold a lot of them.
 
Pat Valdo the venerable performance director for RBBB, and himself a clown, one matinee, watched Pete for the entire hour and a half he was on stage. When the performance ended, Mr. Valdo shook Pete's hand saying, "You are the best clown with this circus, because you smiled all the time you were on stage. Would you like to be a clown in the arena performance upstairs"? Pete thanked him for the compliment, declining his offer with the explanation that he preferred to be in the sideshow since the big top clowns were unable to get the extra money with the photo sales.
 
There could be no doubt Pete's income was far more than any of the well publicized Ringling clowns.
 
Harry's health was failing in 1963, so instead of having the big sideshow we built a small show which we titled "Pygmy Village". I worked the front doing the "talking" and selling tickets, Harry was the inside lecturer. Pete was "Poobah, the Pygmy", dressed in leopard skins, he wasn't very ferocious looking. He juggled, ate fire, danced barefoot on broken glass, did the iron tongue act, handled the snake, and Harry threw knives around him. In July while at the Muncie, Indiana Fair, our show was filmed (this was prior to video tape) for a CBS TV special, "Carny". It was aired the following April, narrated by
Sally Rand.   She commented when Pete was shown doing his acts, 'Well, Hall didn't promise six pigmy, he promised six acts".
 
That was Pete's first TV show, since then he has been seen on close to one hundred.
 
In 1965, he acted as "Puss n Boots" in three movies produced by Ken Murray.
 
When Harry died of a heart attack in New York, he and I were on a movie promotional tour for Ken Murray, who kindly had Pete and I take a nationwide tour including Canada to publicize his movie "Puss n' Boots". That winter Pete did TV shows day after day in cities all across the country. We finished that tour just in time to go to New York for the Ringling Madison Square Gardens showing.
 

We had to fly from Houston to New York. We were running a little late and had fifty pieces of baggage. When the taxi loaded down with luggage arrived at the airport, I suggested Pete arrange for porters to deliver it to check in while I pick up the tickets, reminding him to tip the sky cap. Once reclining in the plane, as it was taxiing for take off, Pete gave me the baggage claim checks. Upon asking if he tipped the porter well, his upper mid-west thriftiness surfaced as he replied he had given him fifteen cents.
 

While working the circus in New York that year and the next, he moonlighted at the Biograph Movie Studios having bit parts in three movies. In 1982 and 1983, he performed with "Wondercade" revue dancing in production numbers and doing comedy. His career is a busy one, doing the full season on the sideshow, at circuses and fairs, while performing off season at conventions, circuses, etc.
 
He says his biggest thrill was to be invited to perform at all four of the Spring Celebrations (1979-1982), at the Museum of American History, Entertainment Division of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

 

Ward Hall

 

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