Freak and Novelty Performer Advertising

Today we have celebrity spokespeople who endorse all types of name-brand products. In the mid-19th Century modern advertising was in its infancy, with a variety of newly manufactured products vying for the consumer's attention. Turning to a uniquely distinctive resource, companies employed the famous personages of their day to endorse their products.

An offshoot of this was utilizing unusual-bodied people to represent one's products, to act as a salesman, or mascot for the company whose wares were being hawked to a distracted public. The idea was that the association with such unique individuals would cause the consumer to remember and differentiate those products from others.

Most commonly used were Midget performers. Because their appearance instantly drew attention, and by definition gave attention to the item they were promoting, the domain of little people in advertising was one which persisted until very recently, and even occasionally continues today.

Florida's Hulett Pest Control continues to utilize identical twin dwarf brothers, John Rice (1951 – 2005) and Greg Rice (1951- ), in various commercials and infomercials. Until the death of John Rice on November 5, 2005, the two held the world record for being the shortest living twins, standing only 2 ft 10 in tall.

Considered "cute" and harmless, the figure of the Midget performer featured in ads could either be emasculating or empowering. Either way, these ads drew the consumers' eyes to the spokesperson, and by extension to the product, and additionally allowed many performers to make a good living outside the world of the sideshow.

Though Midget performers were most commonly used to advertise or act as spokesmen for commercial products, companies also utilized Giants, Fat Men (and Women), and others.

Giants demonstrated that if a product or business could satisfy someone so big, that it could satisfy someone of average size. Likewise the Fat performer. If his or her appetite could be satisfied by a specific product, then your "normal" appetite could be satisfied even more.

The Seven Sutherland Sisters, originally a sideshow and dime museum act, parlayed their hirsute celebrity into a product their own father concocted. Claiming that the extraordinary lustrousness and length of their hair was a result of using the formula contained in the Seven Sutherland Sisters' Hair Growth Tonic, the sisters made millions. They soon expanded the line of products to include Seven Sutherland Sisters Brand Oriental Beauty Creme, Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair & Scalp Cleaner, Seven Sutherland Sisters Colorator, and various Dressing Combs.

The Sutherland Sisters were not the only sideshow performers to own a business and promote using their own likenesses. The Giant's Camp Motel, Giant's Restaurant, and Giant's Bait & Tackle were businesses in Gibsonton, Florida that were owned and operated by Al and Jeanie Tomaini from the 1940s until Jeanie's death in 1999. Often billed as the "World's Strangest Married Couple," Jeanie "The Half Girl" and Al the Giant promoted their business using Al's likeness.

[to be continued]