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Johnny Puleo (October 7, 1907 – May 3, 1983) was an American musician and actor who specialized in playing the harmonica.
Born a dwarf (he stood 4 feet 6 inches or 1.37 meters as an adult) in Washington, D.C., he worked as a newspaper seller until being discovered at a contest in Boston held by bandleader Borrah Minnevitch, of The Harmonica Rascals. Soon he joined a comedy variety act, during which time he learned the art of pantomime that contributed so much to his success. He then joined the Rascals, with whom he toured the world.
In 1941 Johnny tried to leave the Rascals and start his own group. The entire new group moved in with Johnny's parents, living and rehearsing in the basement. It did not last long, though, because Borrah Minevitch found them and got them working for him again.
After Minevitch's death in 1955, Puleo formed his own band, The Harmonica Gang. He recorded various albums with the Gang and solo on the Audio Fidelity label, as well as acting in several films, most notably Trapeze (1956). The Harmonica Gang appeared at top supper clubs throughout the USA, including the famous Latin Quarter in New York and Miami Beach, the Riviera in Las Vegas, Palmer House in Chicago, The Roosevelt in New Orleans, and Twin Coaches in Pittsburgh, as well as venues like the Moulin Rouge and London Palladium overseas.
Johnny also appeared in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he met local band leader Conrad Johns. Upon meeting Puleo, Connie's 5-year-old son Steven said "Hey, I'm as tall as you." Johnny just smiled and said, "And that's as tall as you're ever going to get if you keep crackin' jokes like this."
Puleo and his five-member band released a series of high-energy light-pop LPs on Audio Fidelity Records. His first album was the first LP to be released in a single-tone-arm stereo format in 1958. More (at least seven) albums on the Audio Fidelity label followed well into the 1960s. One of his (and their) best performances is "Sabre Dance", which, along with several of their other tunes, is posted on YouTube.
He died of a heart attack at Holy Cross Hospital in his native Washington, D.C. in 1983.
He performed in front of such notables as the Royal Command in England and the Presidents of the United States and France. In addition to his mastery of the harmonica, he was a past master of the art of pantomime and a dramatic actor of considerable ability. Puleo made numerous appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace, and made his last professional appearance on SCTV the year before his death.
Puleo was one of the very first performers to introduce America to using the zip code. In a TV commercial, he climbed up a small ladder and said, "Now remember, use your zip code," as he pointed to a letter going into the mail box.