Thursday, 30 October 2008

Ian Lumsden's thoughts on a Flea Circus

Animation teacher Ian Lumsden has been watching Tex Avery's 1954 movie, The Flea Circus. Like many animated flea films it's full of jokes about dogs and scratching.

"And aren't they clever, 'specially Fifi. She's so gorgeous a man could forget to scratch."

Monday, 20 October 2008

Bertolotto Books

Whilst researching the History of L. Bertolotto, I've been specifically looking for references to his book, "The History of the Flea with Notes and Observations" and have been using google books to get me a short list of books to track down at the local library.

There are several documents that make reference to the Bertolotto books and confirm the publishing dates of 1834 (French and English Editions), and St. Petersbourg, 1838.

There is also a reference to one of these books being sold at Sotherby in 1975, it would be interesting to know who bought it and what it sold for. The seller is listed as Ganthony (Robert) Bunkum Entertainments.

In addition I've been looking at the printers for the books. The American edition was printed by John Axford of 29 Ann Street, New York 1976. This is interesting because it is right next door to "Barnum's American Museum" which was located on the corner of Ann Street and Broadway. It suggests that Bertolotto may have met with Barnum at some point.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Victorian Fleas

Lee Jackson from the Victorian Dictionary has been accumulating a whole range of materials from news papers and Punch magazine to letters and journals of the people of the time and categorising this material for his dictionary.

So far his writings have uncovered two flea exhibits:

  • The first an exhibit in NewCut, South of the Thames, of insects under the microscope courtesy of Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1843

  • And the second from Charles Manby Smith, 1857 reports of the amusements of the moneyless; "there is a flea harnessed to a brass cannon on wheels, which it actually drags along - though this last curiosity is not a gratuitous exhibition, being only shown to those who pay their penny."

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Real fleas seen at Oktoberfest

Jeremy Schoolfield attended Munich's Oktoberfest this week and visited the Flea Circus. He was surprised to see that there were real fleas playing football, running a chariot race and performing a ballet.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Sceptical Wikipedians

Over at Wikipedia the Wikipedians are questioning if real flea circuses really exist or existed historically and if it is really possible to train fleas.

This is something I have done myself a few times over the 5 years I have been investigating flea circuses. The problem is two fold, the first is that the very idea of a flea being "trained" to pull a small model is quite fantastic. The second problem is that the flea performers themselves like to hype up their performances and it is in the interests of those who don't perform with real fleas to have their audiences believe that they do. I also questioned the very existence of one of the great performers L.Bertolotto speculating at one point that he was a fiction created by Charles Dickens.

The question of L.Bertolotto is answered by the diverse range of different sources in which references to Bertolotto appear which I believe to be more than even Dickens could manage. The story of L.Bertolotto is fantastic but less fantastic than the idea that someone managed to make it all up and distribute clues all over the globe. It's a bit like a Flea Da Vinci code!

For me the existence that real flea circuses once existed is also covered by the diversity of the references. The film footage from British Pathe news is pretty convincing, the photos of the Torp flea performances in Denmark and Hecklers in New York are also quite believable. But the fact that at least 2 people have reproduced these acts (Cardoso and Noon) for me is the icing on the cake meaning conclusively that it can be done.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as a real flea circus?