Hippity was born in the business as was Mrs. Hippity. They spent their lives working as a stagehand and a wardrobe mistress. Both had retired before I got into show business; but I met them on several occasions, when their son, Dick, brought me over to their house. What a great couple, and boy, could Mrs. Hippity ever make a great apple pie!
My favorite story about them was one their grandson, Dave, who is also a stagehand, tells about an incident when he was about five. Mrs. Hippity called to tell his dad, Dick, that an old time stagehand, Chet, was in town and wanted to see him again, so Dick took Dave along to Grandpa and Nana’s house.
When they got to his grandparents, they were sitting at the table with an older man and a little girl. Dave thought it would be nice to have someone to play with while the grownups talked. The girl was so small, she was sitting on two telephone books on the chair so she could reach the table. But Dave noticed that her face didn’t look like a little girl’s face. He stared at her.
Nana quickly took Dave’s hand and brought him to the kitchen for some apple pie and ice cream.
‘How about a beer,’ he asked Nana.
‘A beer,’ Dave repeated. ‘Like that little girl is drinking.”
‘Oh, honey,” Nana laughed, ‘She’s not a little girl. She almost as old as me. She is a little woman, a very short little woman. She’s Chet’s wife, Lucille. She use to come to town in a vaudeville act called Singer’s Midgets, a big group of little people. That’s where Chet met her when he worked with Grandpa and Nana at the Orpheum.
‘You know – she was even in the movies. In THE WIZARD OF OZ! The munchkins were actors from Singer’s Midgets. Lucille sang and danced in the movie.’ Nana ruffled Dave’s hair and kissed him on his forehead.
When Dave finished eating he went back to the living room and looked at the ‘little woman’. Now she was not only drinking a beer, she was smoking – a big cigar.
She noticed Dave starring and she held out the cigar, ‘Want a puff, little guy? and then she laughed in a scary voice.
Dave said he ran to his Nana and buried his face in her lap.
He said that afterwards whenever he watched THE WIZARD OF OZ on TV, he didn’t mind the flying monkeys or the Wicket Witch like his little brother, Bruce did; but when the Munchkins were on, he always closed his eyes and held his hands over his ears.
Singer’s Midgets was a very popular act in vaudeville. Leo Singer, who was a normal sized ‘impresario’, put the original troupe together in Vienna Austria prior to WWI. He moved it to American at the onset of the war, where he recruited more ‘little people’. When Hitler came to power more came from Germany because of the Nazi attempt to create a master race, and that meant killing off the handicapped.
Members of the troupe have mixed feelings about Singer. Some liked him and called him ‘Poppa’. Others said he was a thief, never paying the members of the act what he should have paid them. There is an accusation that when he ‘loaned’ out the troupe and recruited more to appear in MGM’s upcoming movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ, all their pay went through Singer and he kept half their pay.
There is a oft told tale of the members of Singer’s Midget saying goodbye to the boss. Since Singer was responsible to getting them out to Hollywood, he went on the cheap and sent them west in a charter bus.
Before they left New York they got the driver to take them to the mansion of Leo Singer so they could give him a last goodbye. The bus stopped in front of the house and the driver honked the horn until Singer came out on the porch.
As members of the act waved out the open windows, Singer waved back and smiled. Then the ‘little people’ dropped their drawers and gave Singer a goodbye moon. That wiped the smile off Singer’s face.
When the filming was done, many of the troupe stayed in Hollywood and got more film work., Others came back to Singer who tried to revive the act: but vaudeville was dying and Singer’s Midgets ceased to be in the mid 1940s.
And that’s a wrap for today.