Circus Tall Man Jack Earle

Jack The Giant Longed to Be Like Everyone Else

Jacob “Jack Earle Texas Giant” Ehrlich

alt="Jack Earle Texas Giant"
Jacob Rheuben Ehrlich was born in Denver in 1906 weighing only four pounds to German Jewish immigrants and raised in El Paso, Texas. When he was 10 years old, he was over six feet tall. As he grew taller he would avoid people by walking down the alleys on the way to school. At 13 he was over 7’ 1  and around the age of 17 had grown to eight feet six inches tall. 

Jacob went with his dad to Los Angeles and was discovered by Hollywood as a teenager and offered a job acting in comedies.

While in L.A he met  Century Comedies Jerry Ash and Zion Meyers and was offered a job in the movies because of the stir he made in Los Angeles. Jacob took the screen name Jack Earle, and appeared in many movies including Hansel and Gretel in 1923 and Jack & the Beanstalk in 1924. He appeared in 48 movies with stars of the day including Baby Peggy.

Jack’s movie career ended disastrously during his forty-ninth picture when he fell from a scaffolding attached to one of the studio’s so-called comedy cars. He crashed fourteen feet to the ground and was simultaneously beaned by a timber that had broken loose. He woke up in the hospital with a cracked nose and blurred eyesight, and within three days he was totally blind. As his doctor examined him he found a pituitary tumor. The tumor had pushed up against his optic nerve during the fall. For the next four months Jack underwent X-ray therapy. His eyesight returned and it was thought the treatment may have stopped his growth.

Determined to live a normal life despite his size, however, Jacob graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the tallest person ever to graduate from any University of Texas school.

After he graduated from college, Jacob, using the name Jack (or Jake) Earle, made his first stage appearance in 1924, when he wrote and starred in a version of Jack and the Beanstalk. He also portrayed the father in a stage adaptation of Hansel and Gretl.

Ringling Years

When Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus came to El Paso and had a man working for them who was billed as the worlds tallest man. Jack Earle’s friends challenged him to go see just how tall that giant was. At seven feet five inches tall Jim Tarver was still thirteen inches shorter then Jack the Giant. Jack Earle was hired on the spot.  The circus offered him a one year contact which turned into fourteen years.

In the circus, one of his jobs was training the show’s pygmy African elephants Buli and Nuba. You can see him pictured above with one of the pygmy elephants.  Jack also worked with and is pictured with with Major Mite (Clarence Chesterfield) who was 2’2” tall during his tenure with Ringling Brothers. On the road he was wedged into Ringling’s famous Car 96. He was described as most talented of a long line of Ringling Brothers Circus giants.

John Ringling arranged for him for to go to art school to study sculpture after seeing his work in clay of an Australian bushman exhibited by the circus. At art school, he became interested in the field of painting and studied with the Mexican painter Emilio Cahero of El Paso. 

Jack The Giant stayed with the circus until the early forties. He left the Ringling Brothers circus at some point and started his own sideshow which he took to Australia and New Zealand. Earle went on a tour of Australia in 1940 with Ringling Bros. When he returned, he found that he had grown disenchanted with the life of a circus freak, and was quite fed up with being asked, “How’s the weather up there?” The immobile hours on the bare stage, the thoughtless youngsters’ who banged his shins to prove that he was not on stilts, the constant embarrassing or foolish questions, the ubiquitous drunks looking for a fight. He soon lost count of the number of times he had one of the midgets sit on his palm to demonstrate the thirteen- inch span of his fingers. He suffered from claustrophobia and other terrifying complexes, and he hated people staring at his great frame. He said: “Learning to overcome the hardships of traveling – such as having to buy my socks a gross at a time and sleeping doubled up in train berths wasn’t the chief difficulty. It was psychological – getting people to realize that, despite my size, I was just a normal person trying to earn a normal living in a normal manner.” He represented the Treasure Island World Fair after his 14 year run with the circus.

Liked midgets best, and counted many as close friends. Most of all he liked the Dancing Dolls, the family of four little people whom we met in an earlier chapter. A familiar sight in the circus was the giant walking between the tents, his big voice booming in reply to a high-pitched remark from little Harry Doll or some other midget who was perched on his shoulder. In Jack’s first season with the circus, Harry, in particular, was very helpful to him. On Jack’s first day in the sideshow he felt ill at ease when the midget Harry Doll pointed out to him that there were more “freaks” in the audience than there were on the sideshow platform.”

Harry, Daisy, Tiny and Grace Doll,- a famous family of midgets, subsequently became Jack’s most intimate friends, and visited them every winter in their home at Sarasota, Florida.

After Jack leaves the circus and sideshow, he moves back to California. A friend of his, an employee of the California-based Roma Wine Company, persuaded Earle to take a three-month promotional tour with the company. Earle enjoyed the job so much that he decided to stay. The “world’s largest traveling salesman”, outfitted in a customized Pontiac, made a lasting impression on every customer by handing out nine-inch-long business cards. Earle traveled the country lecturing on the importance of the American wine industry during times of hardship in Europe.

Roma Wine Company had headquarters in San Francisco, once a year, he puts on white whiskers and a red coat to act as a giant Santa Claus in orphanages or hospitals for children. Dogs and children have a curious warm affinity for him, and hundreds of youngsters in the San Francisco area have learned to play the “Jack Earle story game,“ a pantomime in which his windmill arms and hands magically turn into enchanting birds, fish, trees, river and hills. It is in San Francisco, too, that he has the only chair in the United States large enough to hold him comfortably. It was made for him by his company, and in it he has spent many a spare hour creating advertising ideas or painting water colors and oils, which he always gives away. On weekends he visits Harry Serlis, the company vice-president, or plays chess with Ken Pearson, his oldest friend and advertising manager for the firm.”

While in San Francisco he occupied a huge room in the Palace Hotel and slept in a nine-by-six-foot bed which has the largest sheets in the world. Jack’s few personal possessions were stored there such as a shotgun with a stock as big as a canoe paddle, special coat hangers big enough for his suits, fishing rods only slightly smaller than a flagpole, extra custom-made belts and suspenders and other odds and ends. 

Part of his route included Humboldt in far northern California. He stayed at the Humboldt Inn where they made him a special bed too. He spent time there speaking to service clubs in the Humboldt area. During the course of a year he spent up to 11 months per year on the road as traveling salesman through forty six states, crisscrossing the land three or four times a year.

alt="Jack Earle the Texas Giant"

He sold thousands of his “lucky” giant’s rings for a quarter apiece for years after he left the circus. When he met someone who still carried one of the rings, he would offer to buy it back if it hadn’t brought the person good luck.

Jack The Giant and GOLF

Jack did vaudeville in the Chicago area. Fond of golf, he enrolled as a golf student in a Chicago golf school. Jack had special extra-long set of clubs made for him by the Chicago Golf Company in 1924. The golf club heads were normal size.

The clubs were contributed to the USGA museum through Lee Trevino by Jack’s brother, Myer Ehrlich, in 1972. Myer was an avid golfer and knew Lee Trevino through their connection to El Paso.

Jack’s clubs were the longest set ever made to that time and second largest set behind Robert Danziger’s.

Jack Earle’s club lengths 

Brassie 50” shaft, metal

Mid-Iron 42.5” shaft, hickory

Mashie 40” shaft, hickory

Niblick 39” shaft, hickory

Putter 37.5” shaft, hickory

(Roy Drachman, who was Tucson City Golf Champion, went to school with Jack’s brother Ben. Roy says Jack enjoyed surprising people with his great height.  Roy Drachman was involved in bringing the Pro Leo Diegel to Tucson, and in helping develop the first made-for-television golf match Leo Diegel created the Tucson Open.)

Jack The Giant had a giant sized life too:

He was used as an exhibit/witness in a libel suit.

He was Deputy Sheriff in El Paso, Texas.

Weighed 385 -pounds

During World War II he was classified 1-A by his Draft Board.  When he and Charles Amasalian who was 4 feet 11 inches and classified 1-A reported for duty in October 1943, they were rejected by the army .  

Painted of still-lifes and delicate landscapes. Delphic Studios in New York City staged an exhibition of his work.

Worked in watercolors and oils, watercolors only after becoming traveling salesman.

Sculpted in clay and other mediums.

Other Special Issues of Extreme Height:

He wanted to drive a car like other men but no ordinary car would hold him. He finally had to remove the front seat of a large five -passenger coupe, add nineteen inches to the steering column, and drive it from the rear seat. Even then he discovered that the steering wheel blocked his view, so he sawed off the upper half.

Visiting the homes of newly found friends, Jack disconcerted housewives by noticing dust on high shelves and moldings that others could not see. “I used to dust the moldings at home for my mother,” he says with a grin, “and I just couldn’t resist poking my fingers into dusty places.”

He found his huge fingers would not fit the holes on a dial phone, so he has to use a pencil instead.

He wanted to ride the subway but gave it up on the first try when his skull connected with the blades of a ceiling fan. He had to avoid night clubs because they are badly lighted and he always crashes into things.

The first time he was given a wrist watch by his employers, he found that the strap was three inches short. He couldn’t wear it until his brother, an El Paso jeweler, designed a special gold clasp to bridge the gap.

His giant’s view of guest towels in the average home is that they were never large enough to dry fingers that have the same diameter as a fifty cent piece.

Jack couldn’t ride a Pullman car without instructing train porters on how to combine two drawing-room berths into one.

In most hotel rooms he has to have two beds, placed end to end, and made up with an intricate overlapping of sheets.”

Jack’s suits, which cost $185 each in 1950 each required elaborate blueprints so that pockets, cuffs, lapels and other parts are in proper proportion, use up eight yards of cloth and cannot be pressed on ordinary machines.

Everything from his shell-rimmed glasses to shirts, hats and gloves are all made to order.

He has to buy socks a gross at a time because the mill won’t tool up the special machinery for less, and his handmade shoes – “I really get a bargain on those,” he laughs-are twenty-five dollars’ a pair, a price on which the manufacturer takes a sizable loss.

He wore a four-and-a-half-carat diamond ring.

Jack had “no permanent home, because the average house would have to have been completely remodeled to fit.

Jack lived in hotels where the management was familiar with and willing to assist him with his special problems.

Jack enjoyed driving until he had an accident one winter in Colorado. The car overturned and he was trapped inside. The road crew that found his Herculean body stuffed under the dashboard telephoned for a tow car and understandably reported that two men had been hurt. Jack never really recovered from this violent impact, and has already visited the Mayo Clinic four times for treatments on his wrenched back. “I suppose it was quite an event when I showed up in Rochester,” he admits modestly. “They had to put two diathermy tables together and use two examination booths. They had a staff meeting for me, and a seminar with all the endocrinologists. If nothing else, the world will remember me as the greatest guinea pig the Mayo ever had.”

Constantly visited crippled children’s wards and hospitals in the San Francisco area where he told original stories he created about boys and girls who had giants for friends.

Broadcast original fairy tales over a west coast radio system.

Wrote a whimsical children’s book.

Very artistically talented and worked in a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, poetry, storytelling, and played the saxophone, piano and sang.

Jack was published in a book called The Long Shadows.

He has taken prize-winning photographs, usually of strong but sad human faces.”

Only met one person taller than him in his whole life – Robert Wadlow of Alton, Illionis who stood 8 feet 9 and one-half inches. “Wadlow was then almost nine feet tall, and Jack was so flabbergasted to find himself looking up instead of down that his mind went blank and the hateful question popped out automatically. “Hey, Bob,” he blurted, “how’s the weather up there?” Wadlow took it gracefully, and Jack says it taught him a lesson. “People still ask me about the weather up here,” he says, “but I don’t really mind it any more. I can even shoot back an answer: hot air at the summit, somewhat cooler in the foothills.””

Jack was also reported to be an excellent skeet shooter, skilled chess player, a gamefish angler in Florida, and an avid reader.

22-size shoes and 18-size gloves

On November 4, 1950 the Saturday Evening Post ran an article titled Private Life of a Giant

“No one ever makes him wait for a seat in a restaurant, for example, and elsewhere crowds open up like the Red Sea when he is coming through. Businessmen who meet Jack never forget him or his name, and when he conducts a sales meeting there are no chair squirmers or wandering minds. “No secretary ever tells me the boss is in conference,” he chuckles.”

“The average man,” he says with wry humor, “wants to be different. I, on the other hand, have spent the past ten years trying to be an average man.“

He is drawn restlessly to the seashore, and most of his paintings have surf and sand.

He did not marry and had no children.

He says himself, “There are thoughts I had as a boy that I still haven’t escaped. I remember the grown people laughing at me. But I don’t expect the world to be made over just for me. If I had a chance now to become a man of average size, I don’t think I’d take it. And when I feel low I can go to my room and lock the door, and I can read or paint or write.””

Jacob Erlich was very quietly spoken, mild mannered, warm, supportive kind and gentle. Sensitive and artistic, a gentle giant, his large eyes peered shyly at you through a huge pair of spectacles. An exceptional athlete, remarkably intelligent, a loving family person, an extraordinary human being.

A poem by Jack Earle:

Shadowy mists

Swirl and steal

Dawn the cornices

Of my mind,

Quietly at first

Then faster and faster,

Into the deep hiding places

Of my terror

They penetrate,

My steps quicken . . .

And I flee in fear

From the pursuing shadows.

Below ares some correspondences announcing the rule change that allows disabled golfers to use special long clubs if warranted by their disability:

Dear Friends,

I am pleased and proud to forward to you this email from the USGA. As you may remember the USGA had made all clubs longer than 48″, other than putters, illegal for all golfers. A few of us who have used longer clubs for medical reasons asked them to reconsider. And even though there are very, very few of us who benefit from this rule change, the USGA (and presumably the R&A) went out of their way to accommodate us. This the best of what golf represents.

Bob Danziger

Begin forwarded message:

From: Bob Danziger

Date: July 11, 2007 1:12:26 PM PDT

To: “Carter Rich” <JCRich@USGA.org>

Subject: Re: Question re long clubs

Dear Mr. Rich:

I can’t tell you how pleased and excited I am by your email and the USGA’s action. By coincidence I was on the phone with a gentleman who runs a golf tournament for disabled golfers when I received the email, and he was also very excited. Our most fundamental excitement comes from the USGA continuing to shepherd the rules of golf so that people of all sorts can go out and play this wonderful game as long as they’re not trying to gain an undue advantage. My heartiest congratulations and deepest thanks to you and all involved.

Yours truly;

Bob Danziger

On Jul 11, 2007, at 9:01 AM, Carter Rich wrote:

Dear Mr. Danziger,

When we last communicated, I think that I mentioned that we were fairly close to a decision regarding requests of your nature. I am happy to tell you that we have made a medical accommodation for club length in specific circumstances.

Based on the information provided regarding your medical condition, it is possible that you may be permitted to use clubs exceeding the 48” length limitation. However, you must request permission from the local committee (i.e., the Competition Committee in charge of an event, the Rules of Golf Committee of your course, etc.), which should involve providing them with medical documentation of your condition, if necessary, such as a letter from your treating physician.

If the Committee believes that you have demonstrated a medical need for the exception and that you do not gain an undue advantage over other golfers as a result of using the exception, the Committee may authorize you to use clubs longer than 48”. However, please note that, in applying this exception, it is required that the shortest club carried by the player is no more than 10” shorter than his longest club.

Should you have any questions or concerns regarding the above, please feel free to contact me.

Regards,

J. Carter Rich

Manager, Equipment Standards

United States Golf Association

A quiet and intellectual man, Jack Earle enjoyed sculpting and painting landscapes and still-lifes and even earned himself a gallery exhibition in New York City in 1936. Circus manager John Ringling North, Earle said, had been so impressed with Earle’s clay bust of “Clicko the Bushman” (Franz Taaibosch, a mentally handicapped South African man) that he paid to send his giant to art school. Earle was also a talented photographer, poet and playwright, and an enthusiastic fisherman and golfer.

Earle retired to an El Paso ranch in 1951, where he spent his spare time visiting children’s homes and entertaining the children with stories of magical giants. Jack died of kidney failure on July 18, 1952 at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in El Paso and is buried in Texas. He was 46 years old. 

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