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P.T. Barnum: Marketing genius, showman and founder of “The Greatest Show on Earth”

Phineas Taylor Barnum, 1810-1891

Phineas Taylor Barnum, 1810-1891

Fun Facts about P.T. Barnum

  • John O'Neill, of the Bethel Land Trust, stands near Ivy Island in Bethel, which was once owned by PT Barnum

    John O'Neill, of the Bethel Land Trust, stands near Ivy Island in Bethel, which was once owned by PT Barnum

    Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut in 1810.

  • Speaking of his youth, P. T. Barnum said, “I was always ready to concoct fun, or lay plans for moneymaking, but hard work was decidedly not in my line.” Indeed, he succeeded in making a great deal of money by working hard at having fun.
  • When he was born, his grandfather deeded him a parcel of land known as lvy Island. The growing boy was constantly reminded of his property. When he was 10 years old, he went to visit his estate and discovered it to be “a worthless piece of barren land.”
  • When Phineas was 15, his father died, leaving his widow and five children penniless. Phineas immediately became clerk in a country store, where he learned the fine art of Yankee trading. During the next 10 years he was a shop owner, director of lotteries, and newspaper publisher.
  • When he was 19 he eloped with a local seamstress, Charity Hallett (who would remain his wife for 44 years and give him four daughters).
  • At 22, as publisher of the Herald of Freedom, he was jailed for libelously accusing a deacon of usury; upon his release 60 days later, Barnum was met by a band and “a coach drawn by six horses” for a parade back to town.
  • Barnum's Advertisement for Joice Heth

    Barnum's Advertisement for Joice Heth

    He made his first sensation in 1835 when he met Joice Heth, a slave who claimed she was 161 years old (she was about 80) and had been the nurse of George Washington.

  • Seeing Joice Heth’s possibilities as a human curiosity, Barnum purchased the right to exhibit her, along with the documents validating her age, and set her upon her couch in Niblo’s Garden in New York City. She was extremely popular, but when interest began to flag, a newspaper item appeared suggesting that Joice was not human at all but an “automaton” made of whalebone, indian rubber, and springs.
  • Shortly after the article was published, the exhibition hall was full once more, for Barnum always knew how to use the news as well as the advertising sections of newspapers. Finally, upon her death in 1836, when an autopsy proved that Joice had been no more than 80 years old, Barnum was as surprised and indignant as anyone else. He had learned, however, that “the public appears disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived.”
  • For the next four years Barnum was an itinerant showman in the West and South. By 1840 he was back in New York, poor, weary of travel, and without prospects.
  • The American Museum, New York City

    The American Museum, New York City

    When he heard that the struggling Scudder’s American Museum (with its collection of curiosities) was for sale, Barnum determined to buy it. “With what?” asked a friend. “Brass, ” Barnum replied, “for silver and gold I have none.” He mortgaged himself to the building’s owner, proposing for collateral good references, a determination to succeed, and a “valuable and sentimental” piece of property known as Ivy Island.

  • In 1842 he opened the American Museum in New York City and immediately became famous for his extravagant advertising and his exhibits of freaks.
  • By the end of 1842 the museum was his, and a year later he was out of debt.
  • Barnum’s American Museum was to become the most famous showplace of the century. Here, in constantly changing and elaborately advertised parade, the public could see educated dogs and fleas, automatons, jugglers, ventriloquists, living statuary, albinos, obese men, bearded women, a great variety of singing and dancing acts, models of Paris and Jerusalem, dioramas of the Creation and the Deluge, glassblowing, knitting machines, African Americans performing a war dance, conjoined twins, flower and bird shows, whales, mermaids, virtuous melodramas such as The Drunkard, a menagerie of rare animals, and an aquarium—”all for twenty-five cents, children half price.”
  • The "Feejee Mermaid"

    The "Feejee Mermaid"

    His Great Model of Niagara Falls with Real Water was actually 18 inches high; the Feejee Mermaid was really a monkey’s head and torso fused to a fish’s tail; the Woolly Horse of the Frozen Rockies had in truth been foaled in Indiana.

  • Only half in jest did Barnum seek to buy Shakespeare’s birthplace, hire the Zulu leader who had recently ambushed a British force, and tow an iceberg into New York harbor. Altogether, the museum showed over 600, 000 exhibits during its existence.
  • Among his great attractions were the aforementioned Feejee Mermaid, “General Tom Thumb,” who was viewed by over 20 million people, and the original Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng.
  • Barnum with General Tom Thumb

    Barnum with General Tom Thumb

    General Tom Thumb was Barnum’s greatest attraction. Charles S. Stratton, a native of Bridgeport, Conn., was 25 inches tall and weighed 15 pounds when he entered Barnum’s employ in 1842. When he died in 1883, at the age of 45, he had made millions of dollars and delighted international audiences.

  • In the first of Barnum’s many European junkets the General entertained Queen Victoria, King Louis Philippe, and other royalty with his songs, dances, and impersonations in miniature. Of the 82 million tickets Barnum sold during his lifetime for various attractions, Tom Thumb sold over 20 million.
  • In 1850, Barnum managed the American tour of the Swedish singer Jenny Lind and, with his talent for publicity, made it a huge financial success for her and for himself.
  • "Swedish Nightingale", Jennie Lind

    "Swedish Nightingale", Jennie Lind

    The immensely profitable tour of this gracious “Swedish Nightingale” was prepared with ingenious public relations but conducted with dignity and generosity by Barnum. Its success initiated the vogue of European concert artists visiting the United States.

  • In 1855 he retired from show business; he served as mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., and in the Connecticut legislature.
  • In 1857 his famous house, Iranistan, fashioned after George IV’s Pavilion at Brighton, burned to the ground.
  • The original museum burned in 1865, and new museums burned in 1868 and again in 1872.
  • P.T. BarnumThe showman’s greatest financial catastrophe had nothing to do with show business. For years he had cherished the dream of building a city out of the farmland of East Bridgeport—a benevolent endeavor, he thought. In order to attract business, he signed some notes guaranteeing the debts of the Jerome Clock Company. As a result, he lost all he owned. Thus, in 1855, at the age of 46, the great Barnum was bankrupt.
  • "The Art of Money Getting"

    "The Art of Money Getting"

    He worked his way back from bankruptcy, however, in part from successful lectures on “The Art of Money Getting, ” and by 1860 he was free of debt once more.

  • Throughout his life Barnum was a political liberal, serving in the Connecticut Legislature in the late 1860s, where he diligently fought the railroad interests, and as mayor of Bridgeport in 1875-1876.
  • A year after the death of his first wife, Charity, in 1873, Barnum married Nancy Fish, an English woman 40 years his junior.
  • In April 1874 Barnum opened his Roman Hippodrome in New York; this was to grow into the great circus. While he did not invent the circus, an ancient form of entertainment, he made it a three-ring extravaganza the likes of which had never been seen before.
  • In 1881 he merged with his most successful competitor, James A. Bailey, and under the name Barnum and Bailey the circus continued for a generation after Barnum’s death.
  • Advertisement for Jumbo

    Advertisement for Jumbo

    In what was described as “Barnum’s last great coup” he purchased Jumbo, the 61⁄2-ton African elephant (and largest elephant kept in captivity), from the London Zoo despite the furious protests of English elephant fanciers, including Queen Victoria.

  • Violent objections by the English only made Jumbo and the circus that much more appealing.
  • In 1882 the circus opened its season in Madison Square Garden, where it was to become an American institution; and everywhere the “big top” traveled, a “Barnum Day” was declared. Circling the arena in an open carriage as leader of the parade always brought roars of approval (and great satisfaction) to the aging genius.
  • In 1887, the great circus in its winter quarters, with most of its menagerie, was lost to fire, yet it somehow managed to continue on.
  • By 1891 Barnum’s body began to fail, though not his spirit. His child’s delight in the joke, the curious, and the splendid had set an entire nation to wondering and laughing and buying.
  • A few weeks before his death, Barnum gave permission to the Evening Sun to print his obituary, so that he might have a chance to read it. On April 7 he asked about the box office receipts for the day; a few hours later, he was dead.
  • His autobiography was published in 1855 and went through many editions.
  • He also wrote Humbugs of the World (1865), Struggles and Triumphs (1869), and Money Getting (1883).

 

Special thanks to education.yahoo.com and www.encyclopedia.com

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Allan Sherman: Writer, producer, singer and brilliant comic parodist

Allan Sherman, Nov 30, 1924 - Nov 20, 1973

Allan Sherman, Nov 30, 1924 - Nov 20, 1973

 

Fun Facts About Allan Sherman

Birth and Death: November 30, 1924 – November 20, 1973

Most known for: An American comedy writer who became famous as a song parodist in the early 1960s.

First album: My Son, the Folk Singer (1962). It became the fastest-selling record album up to that time.

Biggest hit: Sherman’s biggest hit single was “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”, a comic novelty in which a boy describes his summer camp experiences to the tune of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours.

Allan Copelon?: Sherman took his mother’s maiden name after being abandoned in childhood by his father, Percy Copelon, a stock car racer, mechanic, and inventor. Much later, Copelon offered to pay for Sherman’s education if he would re-take the family name, but when no support was forthcoming, the young man became Allan Sherman once again.

TV Show Writer and Producer: Sherman created a game show, which he called “I Know a Secret.” TV producer Mark Goodson used Sherman’s idea and turned it into I’ve Got a Secret, which ran on CBS from 1952 to 1967. Rather than paying him for the concept, Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions made Sherman the show’s producer. Sherman was reported to be warm and kindhearted to all who worked for him. But sparks often flew between Sherman and anyone who was in a position to try to restrain his creativity.

As producer of I’ve Got a Secret, which was broadcast live, he showed a fondness for large scale stunts that had the potential to teeter on the brink of disaster. He once released 100 bunny rabbits onstage as an Easter surprise for the Madison Square Boys Club, whose members were seated in the studio. The boys were invited to come up onstage to collect their prize. Although the resultant melee made a good story, it did not necessarily make for good TV. The relationship between Mark Goodson-Bill Todman and Sherman became strained to the breaking point when he finally fought to execute an idea that was destined to fall flat. His plan was to have Tony Curtis teach the panel how to play some of the games he had played as a child growing up in New York City. The problems manifested themselves when it became obvious that Tony Curtis had never actually played any of the games that Sherman had brought the props for. The situation might have been salvaged had the props worked as planned, but they did not. The handkerchief parachute failed to open and land gracefully and the pool “tank” which was propelled by rubber band moved painfully slowly. The spot, which aired June 11, 1958, was a disaster and Sherman was fired as producer. His dismissal did not, however, prevent Mark Goodson-Bill Todman from bringing Sherman back many times as a guest on their shows in subsequent years after he achieved celebrity status following the release of his albums.

Sherman also produced a short-lived 1954 game show, What’s Going On? which was technologically ambitious, with studio guests interacting with multiple live cameras in remote locations. In 1961 he produced a daytime game show for Al Singer Productions called Your Surprise Package which aired on CBS with host George Fenneman.

My Son, The Folk Singer: Sherman lived in the Brentwood section of West Los Angeles next door to Harpo Marx, who invited him to perform his song parodies at parties attended by Marx’s show-biz friends. After one party, George Burns phoned a record executive and persuaded him to sign Sherman to a contract. The result was a long playing album of these parodies, entitled My Son, the Folk Singer, which was released in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

My Son, The Celebrity: My Son, the Folk Singer was so successful that it was quickly followed by My Son, the Celebrity, which ended with “Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other,” fragments of song parodies including Robert Burns’: “Dinna make a stingy sandwich, pile the cold cuts high;/Customers should see salami comin’ thru the rye.”

Success with Top 40 Hit: In 1963’s My Son, The Nut, Sherman’s pointed parodies of classical and popular tunes dealt with automation in the workforce (“Automation,” to the tune of “Fascination”), space travel (“Eight Foot Two, Solid Blue,” to “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”), the exodus from the city to the suburbs (“Here’s to the Crabgrass,” to the tune of “English Country Garden”), and his own bloated figure (“Hail to Thee, Fat Person,” which perhaps only half-jokingly blames his obesity on the Marshall Plan).

One track from My Son, The Nut, a spoof of summer camp entitled “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” became a surprise novelty hit, reaching #2 on the national Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks in late 1963. The lyrics were sung to the tune of one segment of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours”, familiar to the public because of its use in the Walt Disney film Fantasia. That December, Sherman’s “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” single appeared on Billboard’s separate Christmas chart. Sherman had one other Top 40 hit, a 1965 take-off on the Petula Clark hit “Downtown” called “Crazy Downtown”, which spent one week at #40. Two other Sherman singles charted in the lower regions of the Billboard 100: an updated “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh” (#59 in 1964), and “The Drinking Man’s Diet” (#98 in 1965). He “Bubbled Under” with “The End Of A Symphony”, reaching #113 in 1964, spotlighting Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Orchestra.

Decline in Popularity: Sherman’s career success was short-lived: after peaking in 1963, his popularity declined rather quickly. After the JFK assassination, impersonator Vaughn Meader vowed to never again do a Kennedy impression, and perhaps because of this ominous shadow – Meader was a very popular parody impressionist of the day – and the resulting reluctance to book such acts, the public saw less of Sherman’s type of comedy. By 1965, Sherman had released two albums that did not make the Top 50 and in 1966, Warner Brothers dropped him from the label. His last album for the company, Togetherness, was released in 1967 to poor reviews and poorer sales. All of Sherman’s previous releases had been recorded in front of a live studio audience – or in the case of Live, Hoping You Are The Same, recorded during a Las Vegas performance – but Togetherness was not, and the lack of an audience and their response affected the result, as did the nondescript backup singers and studio orchestra.

On and Off Broadway: In 1969, Sherman wrote the script and lyrics – but not the music, which was written by Albert Hague – for The Fig Leaves Are Falling, a flop Broadway musical that lasted only four performances in 1969, despite direction by George Abbott and a cast that included Barry Nelson, Dorothy Loudon and David Cassidy. Still creative, in 1973 Sherman published the controversial The Rape of the A*P*E*, which detailed his point of view on American Puritanism and the sexual revolution.

With Dr. Suess: In 1971, Sherman was the voice of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” for the television special. He also did voice work for Dr. Seuss on the Loose, his last project before his death.

Death: Late in his life, Sherman drank and ate heavily, which resulted in a dangerous weight gain; he later developed diabetes and struggled with lung disease. In 1966, his wife Dee filed for divorce, and received full custody of their son and daughter.

Sherman lived on unemployment for a time and moved into the Motion Picture Home, near Calabasas, California for a short time in order to lose weight. He died of emphysema at home in West Hollywood ten days before his 49th birthday. He is entombed in Culver City, California’s Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.

Legacy: Sherman was the inspiration for a new generation of developing parodists such as “Weird Al” Yankovic, who pays homage to Sherman on the cover of his first LP. Sherman’s hit song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” has been translated into other languages. In one notable example, the Dutch-Swedish poet Cornelis Vreeswijk has translated the song into Swedish and adopted it as his own.

 

Video: Hello Muddah Hello Faddah (1963)

Bonus Video: Harvey and Sheila (1963)

 

Special thanks to www.mahalo.com and www.youtube.com

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