Frank Lentini

by Slim Price

 

When I first met Frank Lentini he was featured with Fred Sindell's Cavalcade Variety Show, about 1949, My first ten in one... He was a man who radiated gentleness and wisdom. My best guess is that he was in his late 40's then and had a charisma I've never known since.

As far as I know, he was first exhibited as a baby and was the "toy of royalty."  I know that his mastery of languages was not a false claim because he was able to converse easily with our audience and in New York and they were a very mixed bag of ethnicity.  He is also known as the person who named Giants Camp in Gibsonton, Florida during a conversation with Al Tomaini.

His wife was as genteel as he, and reminded me of Barbara Belle Geddes, the star of "I Remember Mama."

I was just a punk, but he always had time to show me bits and pieces of showmanship and presentation. Far more than that though he showed me by example that dignity, listening, and kindness were perhaps the most important things in the world.

He liked to amuse himself by the way.  He would put on a raincoat so no one could see his third leg and stand in the back of the bally while our talker extolled his virtues!

Most of his act consisted of Q and A, and one day an audience member asked smugly how he dealt with the third leg. His answer always stuck in my mind and even now fifty years later, I can still hear his gentle answer, "If you lived in a world where everyone had just one arm, how would you cope with two?"

Frank Lentini was my mentor. I remember his gentle Italian accent and his sense of humor. Here is another little story that happened during my first season with the Cavalcade Variety at Coney Island in 1949. Sindell was the owner and he asked me to nail up a couple of occupancy signs at the sides of the stage, it was during Lentini's turn on stage.

Because I held him in awe and respected all the performers in the show anyway I tried to be inconspicuous, not an easy thing with big signs, a ladder and hammering. I spent an endless amount of time tapping the hammer trying to be quiet, until he got fed up with me and came to the edge of the stage, took the hammer out of my hand and neatly nailed the sign up. He told me in that wonderful accent, "Atsa how you do it carpenter!"

 

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