A.K.A. “POOBAH” and “LITTLE PETE”
EXPIRED JULY 30, 2012
Born Jan. 19, 1930 Breckenridge, Minn.
A dwarf when he started public school in
1936, He was teased and bullied by some
other school children because of his odd
shape & size.
When returning home from that first day
in tears, his distraught mother for Bade
him from going to school again. Sadly
he never learned to read or write.
He worked at whatever meager jobs he
could get, becoming a welcomed sight to
the local citizens.
In 1954 Ward
Hall brought his show to Breckenridge
for the county fair, Geri Burke one of
the performers; ask Ward, “Have you seen
the cute little dwarf selling
newspapers?” When Ward replied in the
she inquired if she might recruit him
for the show?
An hour later back on the lot Ward
suggested since the local people knew
“Pete”; he would have a clown’s makeup
and take tickets. A really flourish
coarse. Each customer hanging, the
ticket, remarked “Hi Pete see you’re
working the fair”.
A sad Pete was left in Breckenridge when
the show made a long jump to Springfield
MO. Two weeks later on arrival at the
Fargo North Dakota Fair, there was Pete
waiting for the show, he had learned the
show would be there, so he just told his
mother that he was going to visit his
sister in Fargo.
Pete wanted to play the South Dakota
State Fair, so Ward detoured the show
jump to go through Breckinridge to get
his mother permission. She said “put
him on a bus and send him home when it’s
over. Pete had other ideas. He wanted
to stay with the show, which he did for
the next 55 years.
Next fair was Spencer, Iowa on the
second day a sheriff appeared looking
for Pete, after a few minute of
conversation he approached Ward
explaining, Pete’s mother had call
asking the law to make sure Pete was not
there against his will.
Wards partner Harry Leonard took charge
of training Pete as a performer,
juggling, fire eater, sword dancing,
lifting weights with a hook in his
tongue, being Harry’s target man in his
“Leonardo’s” knife throwing act, and the
care and handling of the snakes.
By 1956 a show with only Pete and the
snakes “Midget and the Monsters”, that
winter he performed at the Shrine Circus
in Macon GA, and toured with Byron
Goshes “All American Indoor Circus.”
Summers were at fairs with Hall and
Leonard sideshow. In the spring of 1960
Pete worked about 6 weeks at the
renowned “Hubert’s Museum on 43nd St.
New York City.
Every Spring from 1961 through 1967 Pete
was featured as the “Loveble Little
Clown” with Ringling Brothers and Barnum
and Bailey, in makeup he simply stood on
his stage shook hands and sold a
postcard sized photo of himself. He
sure sold a lot of photos, a new one
each year. One spring a prop boy put a
chair near the bear cages offering a
clear view of Pete on stage, it was a
Sat. matinee sideshow performed for a
one and a half; a well dressed man was
ushered to the chair where he remained
the entire time. When the whistle blew
signaling the end of the sideshow and
the start of the circus in the main
arena, the gentleman come over the
Pete’s stage where Ward was then
assisting Pete. The gentleman asks Pete
if he knew who he was Pete replied
politely negatively as Ward spoke “I
know who you are Mr. Pat Valdo, who
books all the acts for the circus. Mr.,
Valdo replied, “I have been watching
Pete for all this time, and I think he
may be the best clown on this circus.”
Ward asked why Mr. Valdo thought that.
He said, I have been watching him for an
hour and a half, and he never stopped
smiling, he then ask Pete if he would
like to perform with the other clowns
upstairs in the main show? Pete smiled
and shook his head No! Mr. Valdo was a
bit startled by the answer and rebutted
“But Why?” Pete made a simple
observation “because the clowns upstairs
are not allowed to sell their photos.
Those years at the Gardens were probably
the happiest times of his life, he had
his own hotel room the city to play in
and there was never a lack of pretty
girls in his life to romance. He had a
good size box with small photos of all
his girl friend’s.
1963 Harry built a show where Pete
performed all the acts himself, called
“Pygmy Village”. Harry said just like
in the opera “Mikado” where “Poobha”
does it all himself, the name stuck and
he was know by the name Poobah the rest
of his life.
Again in 1963 N.B.C. TV, news did an
hour long TV documentary “Carney” Poobah
& “Pigmy Village” are highlighted in it.
The last movie he performed in was
“Passion Play” with Mickey Rouke and
Megan Fox filmed in New Mexico in the
fall of 2009 and released in 2010. It
was not a hit.
Poobah appeared in many movies and T.V.
shows, His favorite was an M.G.M. movie
“Carny” with Jody Foster, filmed on
location at Savannah GA. 1979 Poobah is
seen all the way throughout the movie.
In 1963 and 64 Ward and Harry did a lot
of publicist work for the Kiddie Films
of Ken (K Gordon) Murray’s Trans
International Film Co. In the summer of
1964 Murray made three Kiddie Films on
location at Santa Claus IN. In all of
them, Harry portrayed the “Big Bad Wolf”
and Poobah was in all as “Puss in
In Nov. Harry & Ward were doing
publicity for the films. Harry died in
N.Y.C. Nov. 24th. Murray
switched Ward and Pete to do a publicist
tour for “Puss-in-Boots: throughout the
U.S. and Canada finishing in time to
make it to New York City for Madison
For 1963 a young man came from Buffalo
to work at the sideshow. He became
friends with all those on the show.
Chris Christ and Pete became best
friends, until Pete’s death.
Chris always regarded Pete as his little
brother, although Pete was it years
older than Chris.
Chris soon invested in the business and
soon became president of the
Hall & Christ fielded may show units,
Pete went with the unit operated by Dick
Johnson, and became a member of his
family. Daughters Lisa 5 yes and Sharri
8 soon had a new brother Richard. Pete
and the Johnson Family remained close to
his life’s end. For Lisa’s wedding to
Fred Anato, Marge Porter tailored a
beautiful tuxedo for Pete at the
receptions Lisa honored Pete with the
first dance I never saw him so proud and
happy as he was that day.
In theatre shows his natural bend for
comedy reflected himself, he played
miner rolls in 1960, 1979, 1995 in
From about 1996 through 2008, Pete was
mostly a fire eater in front of the
sideshow doing as many as 25
demonstrations a day.
Lori Ballard Photography
Of all the many things Pete did in show
business, being a circus clown was his
THE CIRCUS HE CLOWNED ON,
1956 – Byron Gosh all American indoor
1959 – Al G. Kelly & Miller Bros.
1961 – 1967 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum
& Bailey Madison Square Garden.
1987 – 2009 – IISA – Gibsonton
1984 – Roller Bros.
1985 – Alan Hill’s Circus U.S.A.
1986 – Toby Tyler
Norbert - Pete - Poobah – YOU ARE