That's what Ella "Mills" Milbauer was billed as during her circus days as the "Fat Lady." Shown helping her with retirement plans is William F. Fries, Oshkosh Social Security Manager.  Ella will be drawing a reduced payment since she chose to take benefits at 62 years of age instead of 65. (Northwestern photo)


Big Top Not the Same - - Fat Lady Is Now Retired

Oshkosh Northwestern Thurs. Aug. 24th, 1961


Ella Mills Awaits Social Security Pay


WESTFIELD - Big Top Circuses are making the circuits this summer without an old-time favorite - the "fat lady."


Gals who tip the scales at 500 pounds and better are few and far between - and those willing to travel with the circus are fewer and farther between.


One of the remaining women eligible for the post is Ella Mills.  But she isn't touring - she's sitting on a big green couch, in the shade, on Lake Lawrence near Westfield.  She's waiting for her first Social Security check.


Outweighing the range of most scales, a reduction for Ella might seem in order.  But the only reduction she is planning on is a reduced Social Security payment.


Although she is shy credits under past laws, a recent change in the Social Security program has made Ella eligible for Social Security benefit this summer.


She has elected to begin taking payments at the age of 62, and thus gets a reduced payment of $48.20 a month.  If she had waited for benefits until she reached the age of 65, she would have received $59 a month.


How long she'll remain at the lake is doubtful.  Ella loves the circus - and the circus loved her.  Often billed as "586 Pounds of Feminie Charm," Ella is really about 300 pounds "heart" and 286 "personality."


Circuses have always fascinated her, but they didn't actually catch up to her until 1956 when she toured with her first sideshow for Ringling Brothers Circus.


Started in 1956.


Traveling with the Big Top was a dream for the 62-year-old gal.


She and her sister used to watch the circus pack up after each annual visit to Milwaukee. She liked it.


And friends told her she ought to be in show business.  Ella thought so, too.  But her husband, now retired as a street car conductor, always talked her out of it. "You don't have to," he would say.

But in 1956, Ella read about the death of "Alice from Dallas, another of amazing proportions, and decided to apply for the "fat lady" job.


She was contracted by mailing a picture to Ringling Brothers.


She was never interviewed.


To get her ready for the show, the circus sent one of the famed "Doll Family" midgets to help Ella make a gown for her appearance.  And Ella's gowns make quite an appearance.  There's lots to them.


In March of '56, Ella boarded a train with hundreds of others for the Ringling Brothers opening in Madison Square Garden. New York.


She was a sensation!


Her Own Show


She was her own show - a spectacle in herself - almost as round as she was tall. And she was billed with such attractions as the fire eater, bearded woman, alligator woman, sword swallower, giant and snake woman.


Ella was a favorite.


However, she admits that it was "kina hard to get used to the rest of the people in the sideshow." It took a while to find out that they are all fine folks and friendly just like everyone else she recalls.


Ella's situation in the circus was different from most other attractions.  She didn't have to travel; they did.  Ella says freaks are in the circus because "it is the only way of life form them."


Most of the millions who traipsed by Ella during her circus career were great fun, she says.  Part of her show called for a display of her two gigantic legs.  She remembers one fellow calling out "Put your dress down, you're a big girl now."


Everyone wants to know how the "Fat Lady: got that way. Ella has no secret formula.  She eats the same as most people, but takes better care of her calories.


The steady stream of questions and faces even get a circus performer down, claims Ella.  Raising leg-sized arms, Ella said, "People, people, people. . . sometimes one just wants to get away from them." But not very often, she adds.


Billed at 586 Lbs.


Ella's banner bills her at 586 pounds, but Ella admits she doesn't weigh much more than 500 pounds.  When one is that heavy, nobody quibbles, she says.


And like the rest of her sex, Ella doesn't board the scale very often to check.


The sideshow barker always shouted, "See the woman who eats three gallons of ice-cream in a sitting."  Ella says it isn't so.


She says many people think the sword swallower doesn't swallow the sword, or has a trick sword.

Sword swallowers whom Ella knows are the "real McCoy."  The trick is to overcome the natural tendency to gag when something is pushed down the throat, she says.



Ella stayed with Ringling Brothers until they folded their Big Top and discontinued tent shows.


Afterward, she traveled with other circuses, including the biggest remaining tent show, Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers.  Most circuses today are held in auditoriums.


Although noncommittal about a possible return to the circus-she is obviously itchy to get back on the circuit.  She "enjoyed the circus and was carried away in it."


Both she and her retired husband, a man about a fourth her girth, made the long circus jaunts with their station wagon and trailer.


Ella does the driving with the aid of a seat set back farther than normal.


Little Girl Look


Ella was a hit in the past, and still would be. Her bright face is usually highlighted with a wreath of roses in coal-black heir - accented, by the way, by a gigantic crimson comb.  Her dresses speak for themselves - and give her a "little girl" look.


When the "Fat Lady" gets to reminiscing, she gets the urge to travel.  A recently published book,  "The American Circus," features several pictures of Ella's banner - in addition to thousands of performers Ella knows personally.

The book was written by two friends - both clowns.


The circus book shows a picture of Chang and Eng, noted Siamese twins.  Although they are deceased now, Ella has met their offspring.  The twins, hitched throughout life, married two farm girls and raised 20 children between them. Ella likes to tell the tale that the twins had some troubles - one liked a nip now and then, and the other was a tee-totaler.


The circus is a way of life-it's an American tradition - every child should see a circus, wished Ella.  "Circuses are for kiddies, and kiddies for circuses," she said.


And Ella may be back in the Big Top before long - if offered enough money, of course.  But presently, she is enjoying the stay in her home area on Lake Lawrence.


Living in a trailer doesn't cause the problems that might be expected.  Ella is lively and agile and probably in better physical condition than most her age. Cramped trailer quarters don't cramp the "fat lady.'


She is one of seven children and was born i Eau Claire and raised in Montello.  She has always been heavy.  Her real name is Ella Milbauer.


Until her husband retired, they lived in Milwaukee, did extensive traveling in the southwest, and owned a farm just outside of Westfield.


Ella says she is going to buy another big farm if she returns to work of not is the big decision for the big lady to make.  In the meantime, kids throughout the country are watching for her.


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