The Doll Family

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The Doll Family

The Doll Family, also billed as The Dancing Dolls, were a quartet of four dwarf siblings from Germany who were popular performers in circuses and sideshows in the United States from the 1920s until their retirement in the mid-1950s.

They were:

  • Gracie Doll (born Frieda A. Schneider, March 12, 1899 – November 8, 1970)
  • Harry Doll Earles (born Kurt Fritz Schneider, April 3, 1902 – May 4, 1985)
  • Daisy Doll Earles (born Hilda Emma Schneider, April 29, 1907 – March 15, 1980)
  • Tiny Doll (born Elly Annie Schneider, July 23, 1914 – September 6, 2004)

Biography[edit]

The Dolls were 4 of 7 children born to Emma and Gustav Schneider in Stolpen, Germany (the other 3 were average-sized). Harry and Grace were the first of the quartet to perform in sideshows, as "Hansel and Gretel". In 1914, American entrepreneur Bert W. Earles saw them and brought them to the United States to tour with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. The siblings lived in Pasadena, California with the Earles family. Earles also brought Daisy and Tiny to the United States (in 1922 and 1926 respectively), where they joined Harry and Grace in their act.

At this time, the Dolls began touring with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, where they sang, danced, and rode horses and wagons for the next 30 years. Daisy soon earned the nickname "Midget Mae West" and was often billed as such. By this time, the entire family had adopted the Earles' surname; after Earles died in the 1930s, they chose to be called the Dolls.

Harry was the first to begin a film career, with director Tod Browning for the Lon Chaney vehicle The Unholy Three (1925) as the ruthless midget Tweedledee. He reprised the role for the 1930 sound remake, again with Chaney but this time directed by Jack Conway. The family also began appearing in films together, almost always as circus performers, and acted in some comedies with Laurel & Hardy. Harry and Daisy were cast in major roles in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1932 film Freaks, while Tiny had a bit part. In fact, Harry himself brought to Browning's attention the Tod Robbins story "Spurs" on which the film was based. All four siblings played Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz; Harry played a small featured part as a member of the Lollipop Guild who welcome Dorothy upon her arrival in Oz. The Dolls dubbed themselves "The Moving Picture Midgets" because of their numerous film credits.

Harry Doll (right) performing "The Lollipop Guild" in The Wizard of Oz

The Dolls were a close-knit family who always lived, ate, and worked together—with the exception of Daisy's brief marriage in 1942 to an average-sized man, Louis E. Runyan, which ended in divorce less than a year later. The family's opportunities as film actors had always been limited, and they stopped appearing in films, although Daisy played a small part in The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). They returned to the travelling sideshows. The Dolls toured with the Christiani Circus after the Ringling Circus was sold in 1956. They retired two years later.

Their decades with the circus had provided them with a good living, and they bought a house in Sarasota, Florida, in which all four lived. The house, which was often featured in magazines, was furnished with custom-built reduced-size furniture. On the grounds of the house was a "Doll's House", which the family opened to the public. Each of the four remained living in the house until their deaths. Tiny was the last survivor; she died in 2004 after a long illness and many years living alone after Harry's death in 1985.

References[edit]