Singer (May 3, 1877 – March 5, 1951) was the manager of the
Singer Midgets, a popular vaudeville group in the first
half of the twentieth century.
Singer was born to a
prominent family in Vienna, Austria. He was reportedly inspired
to form the Singer Midgets in 1912 or 1913, after he and his
daughter Trudy were entertained by a troupe of little people at
the Vienna Prater. With his wife, Walberga, Singer recruited
little people for his own troupe, and began building the
Liliputstadt, a "midget city" at the Venice in Vienna amusement
park, where they could perform Singer mainly sought out little
people with proportionately-sized body parts, so that they could
move and dance with ease.
The Liliputstadt was
a major success, and Singer began taking his performers
throughout Europe, recruiting new members along the way. After
World War I broke out, the troupe traveled to the United States,
and remained there for the rest of their existence, performing
in vaudeville theaters. During the 1930s, some of Singer's
Midgets began appearing in films, such as They Gave Him a Gun
(1937), Block-Heads (1938), and The Terror of Tiny
Town, a 1938 Western with an all-dwarf cast. Also in 1938,
Singer signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to provide 124
proportionately-sized little people to play Munchkins in The
Wizard of Oz(1939). Some of the members of his troupe formed
a portion of the group, and he traveled throughout the United
States to recruit others.
Singer was a
somewhat controversial figure in his day. The actor Billy Curtis
once noted that Singer "had a reputation for cheating his
midgets". During the filming of The Wizard of Oz, Singer
reportedly kept half of his performers' weekly pay.
Nevertheless, his troupe members often spoke positively of him.
Nita Krebs said that he "always treated his people fine", and
Grace Williams said, "He had private tutors to give them an
education. He treated them fine and gave them beautiful hotel
suites. Fern Formica recalled, "He was like a father. He
was a good man." A number of Singer's Midgets affectionately
referred to their manager as "Papa".
The Singer Midgets
disbanded in the mid-1940s after many members had returned home
to Europe, and Singer retired to New York City. He died there on
March 5, 1951.
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