Jack Earle

Photograph 1924

 

After he graduated from college, Jacob, using the name Jack (or Jake) Earle, made his first stage appearance in 1924, when he wrote and starred in a version of Jack and the Beanstalk. He also portrayed the father in a stage adaptation of Hansel and Gretl. When the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus came to El Paso, some of Earle's friends challenged him to go see just how tall their giant was. Earle, not surprisingly, was taller, and was hired on the spot. In the circus, one of his jobs was training the show's pygmy African elephants Buli and Nuba. He sold thousands of his "lucky" giant's rings for a quarter apiece; for years after he left the circus, when he met someone who still carried one of the rings, he would offer to buy it back if it hadn't brought the person good luck.

 

Earle went on a tour of Australia in 1940 with Ringling Bros. When he returned, he found that he had grown disenchanted with the life of a circus freak, and was quite fed up with being asked, "How's the weather up there?" A friend of his, an employee of the California-based Roma Wine Company, persuaded Earle to take a three-month promotional tour with the company. Earle enjoyed the job so much that he decided to stay. The "world's largest traveling salesman", outfitted in a customized Pontiac, made a lasting impression on every customer by handing out nine-inch-long business cards.   During World War II, turned down by the Armed Forces because of his height, Earle traveled the country lecturing on the importance of the American wine industry during times of hardship in Europe.

 

A quiet and intellectual man, Earle enjoyed sculpting and painting landscapes and still-lifes and even earned himself a gallery exhibition in New York City in 1936. Circus manager John Ringling North, Earle said, had been so impressed with Earle's clay bust of "Clicko the Bushman" (Franz Taaibosch, a mentally handicapped South African man) that he paid to send his giant to art school. Earle was also a talented photographer, poet and playwright, and an enthusiastic fisherman and golfer.

 

Earle retired to an El Paso ranch in 1951, where he spent his spare time visiting children's homes and entertaining the children with stories of magical giants. He died on July 18, 1952, in an El Paso hospital after six weeks' illness.

 

Text courtesy of Elisabeth Anderson - Phreeque


 

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