The Big Novelty Act


I ran across this bit in Anthony Slide’s The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville:

Of the genuine freak acts, one of the most revolting, but popular, was Willard, the Man Who Grows, billed as “the star attraction of the Wintergarten, Berlin”. Clarence E Willard was featured in vaudeville during 1913 and 1914, and could add 7 1/2 inches to his height of 5 feet, 9-3/4 inches. He could extend his arms to anywhere from 8 to 15 inches, and could make one leg 4 inches longer than the other. As “Wynn” noted in Variety (October 17, 1914), “Willard is one of that strange species of novelty that one must see to appreciate.”

I really kind of have to agree: I’m not entirely clear how “becoming seven and a half inches taller” could be an act, exactly, yet I’d be interested in seeing it, so apparently that is an act. And that fact means I can’t fairly make a joke about how, like, yeah, in 1913 the only other public entertainment options were watching baseball from before they bothered mowing the lawns inside the ballparks and catching the latest Balkan War. But I also don’t see what extending an arm eight to fifteen inches could do to be revolting. The best I can get is creepily unsettling. Maybe I’m not thinking about it hard enough.