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July 2006


IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

I have noticed down the years that publicists can often get over excited about what looks, on paper, to be a very interesting job proposal.  But sometimes, by the time you’re only half way through, the job has exposed hidden depths.

I have been reading about some of the shenanigans of Paul Macnamara, who entered the film industry in 1945 as the director of advertising and publicity for the David O. Selznick organisation.  The Selznick Releasing Organization was making a picture from author, Eric Hodgins’ best seller, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House. The deal was struck by Dore Schary, who was part of the Selznick organisation and also a friend of Eric Hodgins.  Very quickly the picture became an important one as David Selznick got Cary Grant and Myrna Loy to sign on.  

Macnamara demonstrated a publicists’ enthusiasm when he first heard about the picture.  He went overboard, as it looked like a promotion man’s dream. However, it didn’t turn out quite like that.  Macnamara had the idea to build a duplicate of the “dream house” in a hundred cites across the United States.  Each builder who signed on for the promotion would get the plans for the house as it appeared in the film.  To top it off, the house would be raffled off on the night the film opened in that city, with part of the money going to charity.

David Selznick and Macnamara secured a gigantic co-op advertising campaign aimed at every one in the building business.  Then General Electric showed an interest in the project, as they were just coming out with their new all electric kitchen.  After much negotiation, GE agreed to supply the entire electric kitchen at no cost to the studio. They also agreed to spend a million dollars on a magazine campaign featuring the film, the house and of course the kitchen.  Another part of the deal was that Cary Grant would get the kitchen once the picture was done.  In order to meet the filming schedule, the kitchen had to be sent to the studio by plane at great cost, but it seemed that General Electric were prepared to do just about anything.  

I have learnt that no matter how good things appear to be, there’s always a scorpion’s tail waiting to bite, forcing things to a crisis point.  Everything looked like a winner for Macnamara, until the promotion department hit a crisis.  Builders were calling up from all over the U.S. with complaints about the plans for the “dream house”.  The Studio’s art department had designed the “dream house” to be built for a film set, not for real people to live in.  The builders were calling the press department saying “ there are no closets anywhere” , “there is no plan for the staircase”.  The calls kept on coming.  By midnight the same day, Macnamara had succeeded in hiring an architect to sort out the problems; closets were included and so was a space for the staircase.  All seemed to be back on track, until Macnamara received a personal telephone call at his home,  in the early hours of the morning, from a Mr Black who worked for the General Electric Company.  He was ranting and raving and screaming at Macnamara down the phone, threatening to sue the studio.  Macnamara knew this was real trouble.  

What had happened was that the night before, a General Electric sales manager from the East Coast was wending his way back to LAX.  With a couple of hours to spare he passed the Loyola Theater which was advertising a “major sneak preview” of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House.  The sales manager knew all about the film and GE’s involvement so he couldn’t wait to see the film.  The picture started and he waited patiently to see the GE all electric kitchen. One hour passed and no kitchen.  When two hours were up and the film was obviously winding down, the sales manager was seriously worried.  He missed his plane back to LAX in order to see the end of the film.  There were long scenes in the living room, the garden, the hallway, but NOTHING in the kitchen.  

The sales manager knew how much this would affect GE.  They had spent a million on advertising, sent the kitchen by plane and nothing would be recouped at this rate.  He called his superiors back East and told them the kitchen was not in the picture.  Macnamara had got the call from GE and knew he was in big trouble. GE were going to sue.  Macnamara went to the studio, asked them why the kitchen scenes had been cut, only to be told that they were slowing the movie down, so had been edited out.  Selznick himself and Macnamara ordered the re-edit to make sure the kitchen scenes were in.  They couldn’t risk being sued even if it meant the movie was far too long and slow.   Macnamara sent a telegram to the Marketing Manager at GE and within a couple of days, it was all sorted out again. The film opened to better than fair reviews, and the “dream houses” were raffled off in all the cities.  But even after its completion, the campaign was tainted when the winner of the largest “dream house” in L.A. committed suicide a year later as he couldn’t afford to pay the taxes on his luxurious home.  Several years later, Macnamara found himself sitting next to Cary Grant on a flight to New York.  Grant turned to Macnamara and said “what about the toaster?  I never got the toaster you promised me…”

As I see it, brands expect far too much from entertainment clients, and entertainment clients don’t give the necessary respect to the brands which get involved in artistic exercises.  

Posted by Melody on July 31




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

So here I am again staring at another blank piece of paper. Struggling to drive my grey matter to execute some intellectual gymnastics. I examine my scrawled notes balancing a reference book on my knee. As I begin to type and the juices start to flow, a bloody email pings up in the corner of my screen. I am immediately distracted, not least because it has been sent from a highly entertaining old mate with a wicked sense of fun. Phil spends too much time contemplating the modern and confusing public relation hemisphere.

It’s a breathless email,

“Shit Borkie take a look at Uclemmoxs PR’s new site; what an ugly bunch of fcukwits. They all need to visit Dr Victor and get a dose of botox. After seeing the pictures on the site I've decided I am in favour of abortion in cases of incest .Phil has spent too much time annotating each photo. One not so flattering has been captioned "She's like Taco Bell. When people see her, they run for the border" Another has been anointed by Phil's juvenile wit "She's so ugly they used to put a roast beef joint in her lap so the dog would play with her" His email rambles on "You know the game you play in boring meetings where you think about who around the board table you might shag if you were shipwrecked on a desert island. Well click on this link and tell me, who from this bunch of uglies would you touch with a barge pole!"

I click on the link and ponder. After looking at the various smiling geeks accepting awards dressed in hired dinner jackets, I had to agree. The "clip-on" bow tie Tweenies were certainly last in line when the Omnipotent One handed out looks. Well you don’t have to look like an Adonis to practice PR, but some how the energy of so many corporate PR websites reflects those people that transmit the ordinary, using borrowed language that reeks of unoriginal copy.

You see that’s the problem; the history of PR underlines its contemporary failings. The industry has been peerless in selling half eaten salami on rye sandwiches. Potential new business has always been skilfully wooed by absolutely fabulous promises, but after the aspirin has taken effect, the size of the hangover is measured in squandered cash that has been invested in charlatans, happier to slap each others backs at industry awards than meeting the promises made at pitches. A sort of diarrhoea of the mouth; constipation of the idea.

Ruthless tactics to neuter the opposition have always been prevalent and it seems that there is a new age dawning of dirty tricks to crack the masque. After all, so many companies are being judged by the bold promises made on their sites. The venerable and the lazy procurement person that holds sway, actually believes the guff that gushes out of these sewers.

In truth, there is nothing wrong with rivalry and it’s a dog eat dog world out there. I love the Tallulah Bankhead tale that illustrates her desire to stay on top. A fellow actress once said of Miss Bankhead: “She’s not so great. I can upstage her any time” “Darling” retorted Tallulah, “I can upstage you without even being onstage”. At the next performance, she set out to prove her point. In one scene, while the other actress was engaged in a long telephone conversation, Tallulah had to put down the champagne glass from which she had been drinking and make her exit upstage. That evening, she carefully placed the half full glass in a precarious position at the edge of the table, half on and half off. The audience gasped, their attention riveted to the glass, and the other actress was totally ignored. She later discovered that Miss Bankhead had surreptitiously stuck a piece of adhesive tape on the bottom of the glass to ensure the success of her moment of triumph

It's all a game of smoke and mirrors, but remember the cult of Tallulah Bankhead was developed by the mighty Harry Reichenbach. I think that her legend lives on today because of Harry's guile and her willingness to take his advice. Perhaps a few more adventurous brands should listen to appropriate council in the twenty first century

Posted by Mark Borkowski on July 27




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

Oh one more thing before I end today's Barnum blog. Dedication is the word that was used constantly by many of the people I interviewed for my book. Whoever I spoke to, whether it was Lord Bell or Bobby Zarem, irrespective of their skill or area of expertise, they attributed their success to a belief in the client and the subsequent commitment needed to create and manage the client's success.

So going back to the age of the early Stuntster, I realised that the trailblazers had those same motivational genes, but subtly they had a more practical manner. Currently when the financial investment increases the cost of a campaign, a client cannot contemplate failure and wants a homogenised success. A client descends into a state of fear and is unable to enjoy the spirit of adventure; risk is amputated from the body of the craft. and the job mutates. Unbelievably the original publicists did not have to guarantee any results; there was archaic form of trust from the employer that the Stuntsters would deliver. The honest enthusiasm of many of the sons of Barnum was a repayment of that belief.

Currently, it's very difficult for a publicist to find a client that will engage in this manner. Thank God we have a set of fantastic clients that allow us to work in this way. Why should a client trust a company when previous experiences have not been rewarding? Countless PR pros will use their persuasive powers to woo new business but not use the same energies to deliver the job.

I would argue that eighty years ago there were far more honourable men on the scene. OK, I can hear the sigh of consternation, I am not post rationalising. There is a lot of evidence that would suggest that triumphant campaigns and generous clients were not uncommon.

More tomorrow.

Posted by Mark Borkowski on July 24




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

By the dawn of the 1970’s, television changed the way in which publicists in the U.S. used their craft. Budgets could be plundered if a course could be chartered between ‘turn’ and product. It was Henry Rogers of Rogers of Cowan who pioneered the way. He fully understood the value of entertainment collateral when dealing with promoting product. What was important was balance; and any true PR empire knows this for ultimate effect and unfettered development

As companies desired enlargement and expansion, the status quo began to change. The “boutique” or speciality agency that had become so prominent in the 1990’s, but slowly became swallowed by the huge corporations, no longer required the purity of a craft; they needed a simplicity for brand guardians. The complexity of the art of publicity was engulfed by the age of “process”. The greedy hemisphere became muddied by everyone practising every area of PR, but not doing any particularly well.

It was perhaps the great Edward Bernays who seeded this aim by creating the original process christened engineering opinion. His idea was to condition will, and this was sold as “engineering consent”; the notion of conditioning the herd like masses what to believe in, what to like, and even how to be.


We should look back at those original boutique agencies and reference their growth and purity of delivery there success was down to cunning but tempered with business balance.

Many modern business operators boast the practice but fall short on final delivery. This in turn pollutes the understanding of the art of publicity. A shame so many clients have been fleeced.

Posted by Mark Borkowski on July 24




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

I have had a flurry of emails from folk interested in debating some of the issues I wrote about yesterday. One of the key points I was asked to expand upon was the subject of the mortally wounded publicist.

I don’t know where to start, but when researching my book in Los Angeles, I met a number of publicists who were keen to open up and chat about the topic in a much more frank way than any Brits have.

Bitter PR's are never pleasant people to encounter. The issue which over-powers the old and current generation of publicists or media strategists is the level of respect afforded to the craft. The job can be fun and rewarding but it can also be the most frustrating and soul crushing occupation known to man, woman and performing Hooper Monkey.

After a time slaving at the lathe, manoeuvring around the media obstacle course, the effort exerted can diminish the joyous exuberance of the first flush of success when generating media momentum. I am often quoted as saying that the PR world is like a hairdressing convention in Hades. Peroxide ghouls tell a client that given the chance they would cut, colour and style their hair in a superior way. It’s a place that, for some inexplicable reason, your most precious client is tempted to explore. It's not a real place of course, but it still manages to self assemble at the most inappropriate times and places.

You see my lovely blog reader, I believe in the existence of Beelzebub. The horned beast creates this certain hell where he endeavours to fuck success for the pure misery of it. Adam must have been a budding PR man because when he was tempted by Eve he blighted PR success with his original sin.

No matter how good your relationship is with the client that pays your Waitrose food bill and keeps you in a style you would like to become accustomed to, sooner or later they will fly your nest. The love for the client might be as deep as a Mariana Trench, and even if you are the wizard that has made him or her a star or a household name, it will come to pass that one day you are no longer on the Christmas card list. If you can't deal with this reality then please don’t go into PR. It will tear at your very soul and Beelzebub will feast on the painful misery.

Sons of Barnum spends some time analysing this sense of betrayal. I first realised that it was a topic publicists wanted to talk about when I was researching the book in America. I met the Hollywood PR man Michael Levine who opened up about its corrosive effect. Michael had graciously given me an hour of his time, and in the downtown hotel lobby we talked about his career and the key components a publicist needs to succeed at the highest level.

Michael was born in NYC, and as long ago as he could remember had been interested in politics and entertainment, not PR. Levine came to the conclusion that "Washington was Hollywood for ugly people, so I wandered to LA." From that moment he was a made man.

He told me, "My story is one of self education. I was self motivated. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fair. I had a lot of fear. It wasn’t easy at the beginning and the game is never fair but with enough burning maniacal rage, it becomes winnable."

I asked him if any of his clients had broken his heart. He looked at me as if I were a fake therapist, but was kind enough not to laugh in my face. "Sure" he replied, and then the interview really started to gather speed. So here is an extract of that conversation.

MB How do you deal with it?

ML. Not easily. It’s heartbreaking. I have had an extraordinary amount of luck in identifying people in their early careers. I helped find Demi Moore, Michael Fox, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Lisa Kudrow, But yes it's disappointing when a client decides to leave. Narcissism is a hard thing to deal with. In PR you are confronted with a daily course in Narcissism.

MB. Have you ever heard of Jim Moran? He had an expression.... wherever ego I go.

ML Wish I had said that.

MB You see in terms of working with entertainment clients, it’s 24/7 isn't it? Was it always the same for you? Did you always dedicate that time to the business?

ML. Yes I did. I wanted it that bad. In life you have to ask yourself a question. It defines life. It’s the same question personally as professionally, what do you most want and what are you willing to give up to get it. I gave up a lot. I worked 90 hours a week for 20 something years.

MB. Do you have a family?

ML. No I’m divorced. My personal life suffered. On the other hand when you love your work is it really work? But I did give up a lot. I wanted a career in this industry and pursued it with a burning maniacal rage as if my life depended on it.

MB. So really it’s a lifestyle, to a certain extent?

ML. It is a lifestyle: not to a certain extent. It’s a lifestyle. If you want to represent the biggest stars in the world you have to be available all the time. I represent probably the most diverse group of celebrities, as a publicist, than anyone else alive. I know what I’m talking about.

So happy blog reader, remember the game is tough and to remain sane, ALL publicists have to learn how to balance out the life, the losses and the daily grind. Oh shit, maybe there is never a balance. Perhaps the deal with the devil is that if you are having the time of your life pinching yourself and asking is this really work, one day you wake up and the real stuff has passed you by. Certainly that’s what the modern game is all about; the old stuntsters seemed to have a better balance and generated an aura that made them more powerful. But above all they managed to spot the exit before it was too late.


Posted by Mark Borkowski on July 13




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

After a week of working through the papers from Percival Stein, I have been considering his legacy. I suppose if one had to sum up my research, it's clear that he was a lost son of Barnum. The papers provide evidence that advocates he was a man of passion, in love with something that was yet to be called a profession.

I believe I have now spent over ten years considering men like Stein and have tried to search for the constituents that drive this passion. I believe that at the nucleus of all the great publicists is this substantial will to succeed against all the odds. This core facet inexorably generates drive. I am not sure why I have toiled for hours trying to put on record these astonishing chancers, rogues and adventurers, perhaps it's been to stop the modern carpet baggers pillaging their true legacy. I hope I have succeeded in breathing life into their memory, too long forgotten and ignored.

Percival Stein’s memory reinforces my quest I'm on a journey that will take a lifetime to complete. Their stories, like Stein's remain potent and should shine brightly if only to inspire a generation of practitioners that might see a value in the total ardour of using the media as a canvas to paint pictures to tell a story. Of course some of the renegades have been pretenders and charlatans, but the saddest realisation is that many of the great publicists have been mortally wounded.

Developing a campaign can evolve a huge part of the publicists very being. A warrior can devote every waking hour in an attempt to come up with the inspirational and simplistic notion that ignites. The thrill and jubilation to see a campaign succeed has little to surpass its intoxication. To read and to listen to the fruits of one's creativity is the buzz of buzzes. The adulation of the client unfortunately does not last long; for the more experienced, it’s merely a theme park ride. They strike at the root and overturn the innocence with a blunt instrument. Perceptibly an unconscious act; but in essence more a whim that forgets or doesn’t comprehend the drudgery of the task that has benignly been kept alive.

Daily, I read and study the modern media both off and online. The chore of having to watch and listen to the endless babble of self important information merchants is something I have lost a certain amount of enthusiasm for. The obesity of pompous opinion weighs down the wonder, the inheritance of folk like Stein should not be a fading ember. The impish generation were innocents, arguably oblivious to their true potential. At that point, the power of the media was not fully realised. Everyday the current generation of PR parishioners interplay with a breed of clients that has seen the impact of free ink and supportive voice. Now the contemporary generation spend hours playing with the possibilities of the web to turn a trick, but sometimes their labours are for fools. They are merely emotional accountants; the irksome who play with their semblance of power like a bureaucrat fumbles over mindless legislation. It's their own forbidden pornography which arouses the senses via red tape official procedure that feels compelling no matter how over-complicated.

So getting back to contemplating the Stein file, and why I am on this mission to seek out the sons of Barnum. I think Stephen Fry's recent speech at the launch of "The History Matters" campaign encapsulates my motives. Fry's address was a tremendously well received credo on the importance of teaching history. Its hub was an appeal to the art of bringing gripping narratives alive. I suppose that’s what I am trying to do. I quote a part of Fry's dazzling speech which I think reflects my own mission to expose the tales of the old stuntsters.

"The biggest challenge facing the great teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. How to ignite the first spark of the will o'the wisp, the Jack o'lantern, the ignis fatuus [foolish fire] beloved of poets, which lights up one source of history and then another, zigzagging across the marsh, connecting and linking and writing bright words across the dark face of the present. There's no phrase I can come up that will encapsulate in a winning sound-bite why history matters. We know that history matters, we know that it is thrilling, absorbing, fascinating, delightful and infuriating, that it is life."

Oh well, back to the hamster wheel and trying to get off it, to balance my waking hours to meet the deadline of the book. I do hope my agent is reading the blog because I am avoiding his call.

Posted by Melody on July 12




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

As early as Percival Stein’s days, men were performing great displays of daring by jumping from building to building to promote brands.

Percival Stein employed an actor named Richard Talmadge, a stunt man from Hollywood and paid him to make daring leaps from one building to another to launch events and promote companies.

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Talmadge was very accomplished at his craft, known today via the likes of Stephane Vigroux, as “parkour”. So good in fact was Talmadge, that he had to fake injuries and accidents in order to generate publicity for the stunts! He was capable of jumping 17 ft and 6 inches from a standing position, a feat unbeaten by anyone.

However, on one jump in New York City, Talmadge fell a mammoth 60 feet, crashing to the ground and narrowly escaping death. It appeared that the distance was 17ft and 8 inches, a distance he knew he couldn’t traverse, but for some reason had miscalculated. The lesson Stein learned was if you’re in the stunt jumping business, learn to use a tape measure. Talmadge never made another jump again and Percival Stein headed towards retirement.

Posted by Melody on July 11




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

Two more tales have come from Nicholas Leonard’s great great grandfather’s archive. An early U.S. flight company approached Percival Stein in regard to their zeppelin flight service which was losing money left and right. It appeared that nobody trusted the hefty aircraft and preferred not to fly with the company.

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Percival Stein had an idea on how to influence people’s flight decisions. He decided to publicize the company as providing a luxury flight service and happened to be the first person to come up with the idea to provide the aircraft crew with a beautifully chic uniform that would be in keeping with such a luxury craft.

A designer from France was chosen to create the uniforms from some of the most expensive fabrics, but as the sizes in the US differed from those in France, a mistake was made in the pattern cutting. Although the uniforms were stunning, and the airhostesses modelled them beautifully for the papers, some rather embarrassing moments ensued during some scheduled flights across the U.S. Armpits and skirt seams split in numerous places, making the crew look shoddy and untidy.

An American designer was employed to fix the uniforms or remake them in the proper sizing. Stein also employed a photographer to take pictures of the zeppelin and its crew in all kinds of luxurious destinations for calendars and promotional purposes, thus starting the trend for luxury flights and destinations. Unfortunately, none of these pictures are available as they were destroyed when the home of the British photographer who was hired to take them was bombed during the second world war.

Posted by Melody on July 10




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

Continuing with the stunts of Percival Stein, this week’s “Son of Barnum”, Stein found himself in the employ of a large but financially insecure New York Tailoring business.

Despite numerous attempts to increase their revenue, Teideman’s of NYC were making a loss for the fifth year running. Having heard of Stein’s exceptional talents for publicity, Teideman’s chairman, Norman Starck employed Stein to “revamp” their image.

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Stein’s entertainment background and his previous liaison with Joseph Eierling meant he was the ideal person to hear about travelling novelties. Inspired by a Finnish gentleman named Vaimo Myllrynne who was touring as an attraction around the U.S., Stein employed Myllrynne with a view to publicising Teideman’s Tailoring.

Myllrynne was in fact, the world’s tallest man, and Stein believed that only the finest, most intricate tailoring would suit his physique. With that in mind, Myllrynne was dressed from head to foot in Teideman’s sartorial splendour. Suits, shirts, trousers and cashmere coats were customised for Myllrynne to wear as he went on tour with Stein around the East Coast as Teideman’s living tailor’s dummy.

Posted by Melody on July 7




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

Percival Stein, this week’s Son of Barnum find, courtesy of his great great grandson, Nicholas Leonard, took to the road with the “world’s fattest man”.

Stein had come across Joseph Eierling, a circus talent-spotter who had "acquired" John Webb in a circus freak show. John, a mere 19 year old who weighed over 680lbs was being “exhibited” by Eierling as the “world’s fattest man”.

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Stein felt Eierling was not making the most of his client, and so devised an eating competition tour around the East Coast of the U.S. in which John Webb would participate.

Each town would advertise for competitors to stand against Webb who could eat 10 lbs beef mince, 50 grits and gravy, 30 pigs’ trotters and much more in just one session. The tour went on for weeks because nobody could beat Webb in the competition. With Stein’s publicity of the events and the gluttony of Webb, Eierling found himself with mountains of cash.

About to hit the West Coast on a further tour, disaster struck. During one competition, in a small town in Ohio, John Webb was munching his way through some squirrel meat when he had a fatal heart attack.

He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. Unable to find a hurse large enough to transport Webb back to his home, he had to be buried on the spot in Ohio. Stein returned to New York, and Eierling went into retirement.

Posted by Melody on July 6




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

Percival Stein's archive, now in the hands of his great great grandson, Nicholas Leonard, tells the story of Stein's involvement with the New York Mafia.

The mob had decided to help Stein, and so his fears of being bumped off were soon forgotten aided by one Ignazio Lupo. The mob was interested in entertainment as a way of generating money through racketeering, and they thought they could use strong arm tactics to make Stein's clients famous, thus bringing them a healthy revenue.

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Stein was so naive that he thought the men he'd been introduced to by lupo were talent searchers who wanted to know who was who in the entertainment world, and who they should hire for weddings and christenings. He was unaware that he regularly dine and went to parties with racketeers and murderers. Thus his naivety protected him; unaware who he was dealing with, he showed absolutely no fear when in the presence of these men, and they in turn respected his self assured countenance and left him to get on with things.

It was only some years later when Ignazio Lupo, or Lupo the Wolf as he was known, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, that Stein realised just who he had been dealing with. Along with Lupo, Stein had regularly partied with Guiseppe Morello who was the leader of the Morello Mob and also jailed for 25 years.

Nichold Leonard quoted from his great great grandfather's diary, that on the day Lupo and Morello were sent down " I shook so much, that I fell down paralysed with fear".

Posted by Melody on July 5




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

The material on Percival Stein continues to throw up some interesting material.

It seems that Stein established himself as a theatre publicist and by 1895 was much in demand. One of his shows involved a visiting Italian opera singer, Paulo Frazzoni, a small but vocally powerful man of humble birth from a peasant village in Southern Italy.

Stein decided, with Barnum style flair, to have Paulo Frazzoni make his entrance at the New York Theatre, in a horse and cart, dressed as a peasant, with various members of the orchestra following on. The themed cart would parade up from the Lower East Side to Broadway, thus encouraging a wider and more diverse audience than usual for an opera.

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This spectacle drew crowds of people as it processed through New York, especially amongst the street demographic. However, it suddenly took on a more sinister air as the horse and cart turned a corner onto 42nd Street.

Frazzoni appeared to be getting smaller and smaller or somehow to be slipping down the cart. What the tumultuous crowds thought was an opera singer in mid aria, turned out to be Frazzoni screaming in agony as his legs were pulled down below the cart and mangled in its wheels.

Frazzoni’s legs could not be freed by anyone. An emergency amputation had to be performed at a nearby hospital, but it was too late. Frazzoni had been mangled up to his waist by the time the horse was stopped, and had lost so much blood, he literally bled to death.

To Stein’s horror, he had not realised the level of popularity that Frizzoni had attained in his home town, especially amongst the Sicilian contingent. When Stein heard that some of these fans were taking the long journey by boat to New York to demand a full explanation of how and why their local hero had bled to death, Stein became increasingly afraid that he was going to be bumped off. As the arrival of the Italians approached, his paranoia reached an all time high and Stein felt he had no choice but to take matters into his own hands. Via a shady business contact, he approached the cosa nostra in New York in a last ditch attempt to save himself.

Posted by Melody on July 4




IN SEARCH OF THE SONS OF BARNUM

I received an email from a man in Mill Hill called Nicholas Leonard who has been reading my blog and had heard about the book. He believes his great great grandfather is truly one of the son’s of Barnum.

From a family archive, he came across some extraordinary facts about his great great grandfather, Percival Stein, who started out as an early vaudeville press agent in the U.S.

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Apparently, Nicholas Leonard’s great great grandmother, a wealthy shoe maker’s daughter, was travelling in the U.S. when she met Percival. She adored the world he inhabited and married him only a few months after they met. They had a daughter, Omer-Li who, inheriting their somewhat bohemian life style, left the U.S. to travel to Europe where she met an Englishman, Norris Leonard.

They married and set up home in Mill Hill and the family has been there ever since. Nicholas Leonard has disclosed some of the information in his possession about Percival Stein.

Stein worked in the main with street performers and escapologists, some of whom he placed in the larger vaudeville theatres of New York, performing handcuff and mailbag escapes. Stein wrote to P.T. Barnum in 1891, late in Barnum’s life, offering to sell Barnum one of Stein’s most extraordinary escapologists, named the Great Lulu.

Stein tried to persuade Barnum that this woman could make Barnum more money than he could ever imagine.

Barnum, who was well aware of the Great Lulu’s dubious past, declined the offer. Lulu’s best attribute was her ample bosom and both Barnum and Stein knew that the buxom Lulu’s greatest escapology trick was to distract audiences away from her poor powers of escape by mesmerizing audiences with her exotic dancing, thrusting her breasts into their faces. Unfortunately for Lulu, this resulted in numerous arrests for indecency, but nothing was more fortuitous for Stein than Lulu’s arrest for fraud.

In Barnum style, Stein profited from actually publicizing the details of Lulu’s arrest, which occurred after an incident at one vaudeville show when her usual trick of hiding keys in her vagina went horribly wrong. An unexpected shift in the keys rendered her trapped, in agony and having to be rushed to New York’s infirmary.

The keys were finally removed after a two hour search by doctors. Audiences flocked to subsequent performances, hoping to see the moment when Lulu would try to extract the keys from her nether region. Unfortunately for all concerned, the crowds became so rowdy that one night a minor riot broke out.

This resulted in yet another arrest for Lulu which unearthed the fact that the Great Lulu was not an escapologist at all but actually a woman of easy virtue, who had worked the bordellos of the mid West for over 20 years. Lulu, crippled by the shame, ran off and Stein decided to change acts and go into legitimate theatre.

Posted by Melody on July 3