I never know what I am going to find in the postcard bins of paper shows. I don’t usually collect material relating to performing animals — it’s a little out of my scope and generally much too expensive. This somewhat shopworn postcard attracted me, however, and the price was certainly right. It’s a strange montage of roughly cut out outlines from photographs of a group of performing cats and dogs. I thought that the dancing animals would be a nice way to wish you a Happy New Year.
With only a little time for background research, I didn’t think I’d find anything much about what was clearly a minor vaudeville act. Well, I didn’t learn much about the cat and dogs, but I certainly found out a lot about Martin Laurello (born Martin Emmerling in Nuremberg in 1886). He was also known as the “Human Owl” and “Bobby the Boy with the Revolving Head.” Born with a spinal deformity that he trained himself to exaggerate, Laurello was able to twist his head around 180 degrees! His career included stints with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Ringling Brothers, Coney Island, and the famous Robert Ripley “Odditoriums,”
where human “exhibits” performed several times a day. There is a good bit of information on Laurello, who died in 1955, to be found on oddity and freakery websites, and there is even some surviving video (very uncomfortable to watch, I must say) of Laurello turning his head around. It actually took some effort and physical manipulation, and apparently he could not breathe when fully rotated.
No one has much to say about Laurello’s Pets, however. His act was so short that he needed something to extend it, and he apparently had some skill working with animals. So he created an act where cats boxed each other wearing tiny gloves and cats and dogs danced together, as we see in this card. In the upper left, a talented pooch, perhaps the featured dog “Frisco,” walks on his kind legs while carrying an umbrella and smoking a cigar. When the animal tricks were completed, Laurello then would perform his 180-degree twist.
This postcard was intended to advertise the act — but it is interesting to me that it is only the pets who are featured here, and the rough nature of its design suggests to me that it was created by Laurello himself. He was apparently in bad odor in the 1940s because he was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer — perhaps “Laurello’s Pets” was the way he could earn a living at that time.
If you know something more about Laurello’s Pets, I’d be happy to update this post.