Devote to the Oddity who is My Best Friend
I must devote the
most space in the book to the oddity who is my best friend and
who has been with me in good times and bad for thirty-six years.
I sometimes joke that "Pete isn't very reliable, he probably
won't stay with the show". He's only been here for thirty-six
We were in Breckenridge, Minnesota, for the county fair. Gerri
Burke, one of our show girls who was always kidding around asked
me if she should "Go promote the dwarf we had seen on the main
street earlier in the day". I responded for her to try. To my
surprise an hour later she returned with a handsome little
fellow with bright blue eyes and golden curly hair. He did want
to work for the week so we had hun bally and take tickets. This
being a small community we put him in clown make up to mask his
identity. Just about everyone who came in the show recognized
him.greeting him by name. He enjoyed his week with us and was
sorry to see it end.
After three weeks we were
in Fargo, North Dakota. Pete's sister lived there. He decided to
spend that week at her home. On opening day he persuaded Audrey
to bring him to the fair. He wished to be with the show for the
week. Of course we were glad to see him. My partner Harry taught
Pete the iron tongue act where he places a hook in his tongue,
lifting weights with it. Harry also provided Pete with is first
stage name, "Poobah", borrowed from a character in the Gilbert
and Sullivan opera "The Mikado".
Our next jump to the South Dakota State Fair at Huron took us
through Breckenridge. Pete asked me to stop and talk his mother
Gladys into allowing him to continue on to Huron. She agreed
with the stipulation that we would put him on a bus for
Breckenridge at the close of that fair. Pete was very shy. He
would only go to the front of the fair to go to a restaurant if
Geni, Harry or myself were going. By mid-week it was obvious
that Pete was unhappy. I assumed he was getting homesick, so I
consoled him, reminding him he would be returning home in a few
days. The problem was that he didn't want to return home and
asked if he could please keep his job. He was twenty-four years
old, so I readily agreed. We sent his mother a telegram to that
effect and proceeded to Spencer, Iowa.
When we had opened there we were visited by a Clay County
Sheriffs deputy, who requested speaking with Pete. Pete's mother
just wished to be sure he was okay and that he wanted to be
That season closed the last week of October in Anniston,
Alabama. We stayed there the next week so we could attend the
Ringling circus, after which we took Pete to the Birmingham
airport. He flew home for the winter.
The following spring, Pete was back and that winter he spent
with Harry and I in Miami. We enjoyed many fun days at the beach
Pete's parents were overly protective of him, to his detriment.
On his first day of school, some other boys made fun of his
dwarfism. He came home in tears, his mother never allowed him to
return to school, resulting in his being illiterate. After a few
days , the other school children would have become accustomed to
his difference. He would have been accepted and educated, since
the basic intelligence exists, and he learns fast.
When our seasonal business was good , we had Pete stay the
winter with us. If we were broke, he would have to spend the
winter in Minnesota. For many years now, Pete will visit his
sister and remaining family in Minnesota, but this is his
permanent home. He had been treated as a child until he joined
the show. Therefore, the first tune he was treated like a man.
Wintertime often found us
in night clubs or theatre revues, where Pete participated in
comedy routines. He learned to juggle, eat fire, and handle
large snakes. In his third year -with us, we didn't take the
sideshow on the road. We built a show titled The Midget and the
Monsters", where Pete occupied an enclosure with a large boa
During a weeks run in Toledo. Ohio, the big snake died. We
ordered a replacement, but took a few days to arrive, It was
springtime, money was short Pete believes the old adage The show
must go on". He took his usual stance with the boa corpse. When
people were suspicious asking the snake was dead, Pete would
cock his head, and with a sly smile, would retort, "NO, it's
just sick". He soon got bored with the inactivity of that show.
He always enjoyed actively entertaining.
On a Sunday off, Harry, Pete and I went to the movies.
Approaching the box office the cashier inquired, "Two adults and
one for the little boy"? Pulling himself up on his tip toes, he
said indignantly, "I'm, no little boy, I'm a man"! Such an
assault on his manhood would surely anger him.
Pete's legal name is Norbert. For theatre shows he is "Little
Lord Leon". The sideshow world has always known him as "Poobah".
While in the circus industry, he is "Pete the Clown". Pete has
clowned on numerous circuses with which we were associated. For
six years, he was a clown in the sideshow of Ringling Bros.,
Barnum and Bailey at Madison Square Gardens, New York. As was
the custom of sideshow acts, Pete sold his photo to his fans, he
was the only Ringling clown allowed to sell to the audience at
the garden, and he sold a lot of them.
the venerable performance director for RBBB, and himself a
clown, one matinee, watched Pete for the entire hour and a half
he was on stage. When the performance ended, Mr. Valdo shook
Pete's hand saying, "You are the best clown with this circus,
because you smiled all the time you were on stage. Would you
like to be a clown in the arena performance upstairs"? Pete
thanked him for the compliment, declining his offer with the
explanation that he preferred to be in the sideshow since the
big top clowns were unable to get the extra money with the photo
There could be no doubt Pete's income was far more than any of
the well publicized Ringling clowns.
Harry's health was failing in 1963, so instead of having the big
sideshow we built a small show which we titled "Pygmy Village".
I worked the front doing the "talking" and selling tickets,
Harry was the inside lecturer. Pete was "Poobah, the Pygmy",
dressed in leopard skins, he wasn't very ferocious looking. He
juggled, ate fire, danced barefoot on broken glass, did the iron
tongue act, handled the snake, and Harry threw knives around
him. In July while at the Muncie, Indiana Fair, our show was
filmed (this was prior to video tape) for a CBS TV special, "Carny".
It was aired the following April, narrated by
Rand. She commented when Pete was shown doing his acts, 'Well,
Hall didn't promise six pigmy, he promised six acts".
That was Pete's first TV show, since then he has been seen on
close to one hundred.
In 1965, he acted as "Puss n Boots" in three movies produced by
When Harry died of a heart attack in New York, he and I were on
a movie promotional tour for Ken Murray, who kindly had Pete and
I take a nationwide tour including Canada to publicize his movie
"Puss n' Boots". That winter Pete did TV shows day after day in
cities all across the country. We finished that tour just in
time to go to New York for the Ringling Madison Square Gardens
We had to fly from Houston to New York. We were running a little
late and had fifty pieces of baggage. When the taxi loaded down
with luggage arrived at the airport, I suggested Pete arrange
for porters to deliver it to check in while I pick up the
tickets, reminding him to tip the sky cap. Once reclining in the
plane, as it was taxiing for take off, Pete gave me the baggage
claim checks. Upon asking if he tipped the porter well, his
upper mid-west thriftiness surfaced as he replied he had given
him fifteen cents.
While working the circus in New York that year and the next, he
moonlighted at the Biograph Movie Studios having bit parts in
three movies. In 1982 and 1983, he performed with "Wondercade"
revue dancing in production numbers and doing comedy. His career
is a busy one, doing the full season on the sideshow, at
circuses and fairs, while performing off season at conventions,
He says his biggest thrill was to be invited to perform at all
four of the Spring Celebrations (1979-1982), at the Museum of
American History, Entertainment Division of the Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C.
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©1991-2008 Ward Hall,
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