Nate Eagle began his career as a midget impresario around 1913, working first for famous midget managers "Baron" Leo Singer and Ike Rose before breaking out on his own. His wife Muriel started her showbusiness career at the Capital Theatre in New York at the age of 15 and worked with radio personality "Major" Edward Bowes and theater impresario Saumel "Roxy" Rothafel. Eagle was also said to have started in showbusiness at age 15 and organized the Midget City, a congregation of 187 little people, at the Chicago World's Fair in 1934. His Midget Farm at the 1935-36 Califorina Pacific International Exposition was even more ambitious, including miniature animals and even trees as well as miniature human beings. He coordinated Midget Cities at the 1937-38 Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland and the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.
In 1936 he was said to have over 140 midgets in his employ; by about 1950, when this bifold was printed, the numbers had dwindled to about fifteen. Pictured her are some of his most steadfast troupers.
Barnard "Harry" Klima, the Eagle troupe's miniature emcee, was born in Germany around 1897. He's best remembered as one of MGM's Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz in 1939, although he performing stateside as early as 1935 with Raynelle Shows. He died in Mexico City in 1957.
Freidrich "Freddie" Retter was born in Austria around 1912 and first came to the United States with "Baron" Leo Singer and his troupe of primarily Eastern European midgets. He played the violin, did acrobatics and appeared as a stuntman in the movies. A promotional booklet for Nate Eagle's Internationally Famous Midgets proclaims him "a real continental gentleman - perfectly formed and proportional in every respect."
Patricia "Patty" Maloney (left), "The World's Smallest Woman", was the youngest of Eagle's troupe, born around 1933 in Perkinsville, New York. As a high school student she had her first taste of showbusiness life, appearing as a midget dancer with the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus. Her family disapproved of her career choice and insisted that she attend college, where she learned to work a key punch (early analog computer). While working for an airline she met her husband, Joseph Vitek, who was also a dwarf. They were married at the Actors' Chapel in New York but were soon separated by Joseph's death. The young widow then turned to acting, accepting a role in Sid and Marty Krofft's Far Out Space Nuts and moving to Los Angeles. Since then she has made over 40 screen appearances, most recently in the NBC series My Name is Earl in 2005.
Anna N. "Nita" Krebs was born in Czechoslovakia in 1905. Her parents realized early on the potential of a midget ballerina and sent her to study ballet in Vienna, and she soon joined up with Leo Singer's troupe. The twenty-odd "Singer Midgets" came to the United States around 1916 and appeared on the Pantages vaudeville circuit for nearly two decades before their big break as Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz (although all 124 of the Munchkins were billed as Singer's Midgets, only about thirty actually were). When filming began in 1938, Nita was already a veteran of two movies, They Gave Him a Gun in 1937 and the all-dwarf The Terror of Tiny Town in 1938. The latter featured her prominently as a singer and dancer in a Western saloon. In Oz she was one of three members of the toe-dancing Lullabye League, along with fellow Tiny Town star Yvonne Moray and "Little Olga" Nardone. Nita's big screen earnings allowed her to build a retirement home in Sarasota, Florida, in 1949. After her retirement in 1960 she worked at the Ringling Bros. Circus Hall of Fame and made appearances at two Oz reunions, in 1989 and 1991. She died of a heart attack in her home on January 18, 1991.
Frank "Cookie" Cucksey came from Brooklyn, New York. While with Nate Eagle's troupe in the late '40s, he developed more than a professional relationship with Anne Sholter, a beautiful blonde known as "The Miniature Lana Turner". The two were married at Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral in Anne's hometown of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on December 12, 1950. The same year, Anne appeared with Paul Dale of Henry Kramer's Hollywood Midgets in the exploitation film It's a Small World about the trials of a midget living in an average-sized world. She and Dottie Williams appeared as guests on Arlene Francis' talk show Home in 1956, where they sang the praises of television. Like most of the other Eagle midgets, the Cuckseys retired to Sarasota in the 1960s, where Frank worked at the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota as a tour guide. He died on September 9, 1984.
Nate Eagle's Hollywood Midgets as leprechauns in Three Wise Fools (1946). Visible in this picture are Jerry Maren, Billy Curtis (striped shirt), Billy Barty, Nita Krebs, and Mary Ellen Burbach (white dress).
Special thanks to historians Caroline Shapiro and Kevin Hoglund.