Sunday 25 February 2018

Obituary: Mihaly 'Michu' Meszaros

Diminutive star of the big top who played an alien in US sitcom 'Alf'

Roll up: Mihaly Meszaros ‘had the face of a wrinkled cherub’
Roll up: Mihaly Meszaros ‘had the face of a wrinkled cherub’ Newsdesk Newsdesk

Mihaly 'Michu' Meszaros, who has died aged 76, was a circus performer better known as "Michu, the smallest man in the world".

Standing at just 33 inches tall, Michu first appeared with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1973 and was billed as "seven inches shorter than PT Barnum's Tom Thumb".

Michu was indeed shorter than "General Tom Thumb" but he was not shorter than the 25 inches that Tom Thumb had stood at when he first toured with Barnum in the 19th century. By the end of his life, Barnum's smallest man had grown an additional 15 inches, and it was at this height that he was compared to Michu.

Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros was born on October 1, 1939, in Budapest. At his birth he was said to be 14 inches long. His grandparents were under four feet tall, as were his older brother and sister. His parents, who performed with Budapest's Lilliputian Theatre - a company of diminutive actors - were some six inches taller than he grew to be.

Educated at the Hungarian Circus School, Michu spent 15 years with the Liebel Circus as a clown, unicyclist and juggler.

In the early 1970s he was recognised by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's smallest man and came to the attention of the father and son impresarios, Irvin and Kenneth Feld. They tracked him down to a small village near Budapest.

"Our arrival," Irvin Feld later recalled, "was heralded by two snarling Doberman Pinschers, and we had to pass in front of a bear that was tied up to the porch.

"Inside, an 8ft boa constrictor crawled towards us over the linoleum. We were ready to make a speedy retreat when Michu suddenly made his appearance. His amazing size made us forget everything else."

The Felds signed Michu to a contract and he was flown to the US. He went on to get star billing with Ringling Bros, and in the 104th "Greatest Show on Earth" was billed as a "Reduced Regal of Royal Renown".

In the 106th show he featured in the "History-Making Circus Marriage of Michu, the Smallest Man in the World, and his Sweetheart, Juliana." Twice a night Michu and Juliana, another Hungarian midget, were "married" by the ringmaster; Michu also tried to woo Juliana off-stage, but she was having none of it (he was said to be something of a prima donna) and when her contract finished she returned to Hungary.

Michu's other acts included presenting poodles standing on their hind legs (considerably taller than him). He stayed with Ringlings' until the 1982/3 season, when, in a Western-inspired feature, he wore a rhinestone costume, silver boots and a 10-gallon hat as the "Marshal of Marshmallow Gulch".

After his spell with the Ringling Bros ended, Michu remained in America, but work was spasmodic. He tried to break into film and television and featured in the circus film Big Top Pee-wee, with the comedian Pee Wee Herman, in 1988.

He also appeared in Look Who's Talking (1989); Dear John (1991); Freaked (1993) and Death to Cupid (2015), and in the NBC sitcom Alf (1986), in which he played the alien Alf when the creature (normally seen only from the middle up and operated by puppeteers) was needed in full-body action shots.

Michu - who according to one reviewer had "the face of a wrinkled cherub" and "chugs vodka from a glass clutched in two hands" - lived alone for most of his performing years in a trailer fitted with stepladders so that he could reach his sink, cooker and bed.

Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros, died on June 13.

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