For immediate release
September 16, 1999
"THE JEWISH GIANT" PROFILES THE SHORT LIFE OF A VERY TALL MAN WHO BECAME A SIDESHOW STAR
Special program airs October 6 on NPR's All Things Considered
WASHINGTON, DC - On October 6, NPR's evening newsmagazine All Things Considered presents "The Jewish Giant," a 20-minute audio documentary about Eddie Carmel, who was once billed as the Tallest Man on Earth by the Ringling Brothers Circus. Carmel was made famous by a Diane Arbus photograph, "Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970." The photo, which shows an 8'9" Carmel towering over his average-sized parents, was part of an exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art and was featured in magazines around the country in 1972 - the same year Carmel died from acromegaly at the age of 36.
Through the memories of his relatives, neighbors, and sideshow colleagues, "The Jewish Giant" documents how Carmel struggled with the ambiguities of being different - of being viewed by society as both unique and bizarre. "Eddie Carmel was a normal guy, trapped inside the body of a monster and frozen in a famous photograph," says producer Stacy Abramson. "This program is our way of bringing him back to life and making him three-dimensional."
Carmel, whose giantism was caused by a glandular disease, had an average childhood until he became a teenager and began to grow uncontrollably. As an adult, he could only find work that involved exploiting his unusual physique. He worked circus sideshows and made B-grade monster movies and 45-rpm records that played on his celebrity as a giant. Carmel's disease was incurable at the time of his death in 1972.
"The Jewish Giant" is produced by Stacy Abramson for David Isay's Sound Portraits, producer of the acclaimed "Ghetto Life 101" and "Sunshine Hotel" documentaries. Check with local NPR member stations for broadcast times. "The Jewish Giant" was created with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Greenwall Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information about Eddie Carmel and this documentary, visit Sound Portraits.
National Public Radio, a membership organization of 607 public radio stations across America, is radio's leading provider of high-quality news, information and cultural programming. NPR is the producer and distributor of award-winning programs such as Morning Edition®, NPR's Performance Today® and CarTalk®. NPR serves a growing audience of 14 million Americans each week.
ABOUT EDDIE CARMEL, "THE JEWISH GIANT"
Photographer Jenny Carchman was eight years old in 1979 when her mother first showed her Diane Arbus' collection of photos (diane arbus, 1971, Aperture). There were pages and pages of "freaks"--odd-looking people-- midgets, transvestites, dwarves, hermaphrodites, naked people, and the like. She remembers her mother pausing in the middle of the book on a photo of a very large man, towering above an older couple. The caption read, "Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970." Her mother told her that the man in the photo (the Jewish Giant) was named Eddie Carmel. He was her cousin. Eddie had died two years after the photo was taken, a year after Jenny was born. This was the first she had heard of him.
As a child, Carchman couldn't get Eddie out of her mind: the freakish son in the dark Bronx living room, his parents looking up at him with wonder and sorrow. She had nightmares for weeks. She felt that if she touched that photo, she too would turn into a giant. Her fears were magnified by the silence surrounding her cousin. For years, whenever she'd try to talk about Eddie, her family refused to discuss it. Looking back, she says it was the mystery and taboo surrounding Eddie that led her to become a photographer--to capture and to understand what she had found so frightening.
"The Jewish Giant" is a biography of Eddie Carmel that uncovers a story that has remained a secret for 25 years, that of her cousin, the Jewish Giant. Born in 1936, Eddie Carmel was normal-sized until he became a teenager, when he began to grow uncontrollably. He suffered from acromegaly, a problem resulting from a tumor that had developed on his pituitary gland -- an incurable condition at the time. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Eddie grew to be 8'9". As an adult, the only work he could find involved exploiting his freakishness. He starred in B-grade monster movies ("The Brain that Wouldn't Die"), made two 45 records ("The Happy Giant" and "The Good Monster"), and was billed as the Tallest Man on Earth in Ringling Brothers Circus at Madison Square Garden. Eddie died at the age of 36 in Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. His coffin was custom made.
In this documentary, Carchman interviews her grandmother (Eddie's aunt) who remembers a day when Eddie was 15 years old. He looked down at his over-sized body and declared, "I am a freak." She also interviews her father, who idolized Eddie and voices his sorrow and regret for not having spoken at Eddie's funeral, for not honoring Eddie's life as he feels he should have. She speaks with Eddie's best friend Irwin Sherman, who shows her scrapbooks and home movies of their young adventures, working together as stand-up comedians in New York.
"The Jewish Giant" is a story of suffering, of fears about not fitting in, of the body betraying itself, and of the bizarre life-twists that can subsume a family. "The Jewish Giant" is produced by Stacy Abramson and Sound Portraits Productions. David Isay is the executive producer.
ABOUT SOUND PORTRAITS
Established as a non-profit in 1994, Sound Portrait Productions is an independent production company dedicated to creating radio which brings neglected American voices to a national audience. Operating in the public interest, Sound Portraits is committed to producing innovative works of lasting educational, cultural and artistic value. Under the direction of David Isay, we create documentaries for National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. These documentaries are the kind of programs rarely found anywhere in the media. They are finely-crafted, artful, and risk-taking: radio from the heart. Check NPR's list of member stations for a station in your area.
What is a Sound Portrait? A Sound Portrait is an audio profile of men and women surviving in the margins. It is a radio program that depicts the lives of Americans living in communities that are neglected or misunderstood. It is a story told with care and dignity. Often we collaborate with people living in hard-to-access corners of America, giving them tape recorders and microphones and helping them to tell their own stories.
What Else Do We Do? Sound Portraits is known not just for its cutting edge radio documentaries, but also for the innovative approaches we use to disseminate ideas, spark discussion, and broaden the national debate on issues such as poverty, juvenile justice, prison, and race.
Most recently, Sound Portraits was awarded funding from the MacArthur Foundation to bring Ghetto Life 101 into thousands of classrooms across the country through collaboration with the national education outreach organization Facing History and Ourselves.
Other projects that have emerged from Sound Portraits radio documentaries include:
Books: Holding On (W.W. Norton, 1996) based on the American Folklife Radio Project.
Our America (Scriber, 1997) based on Ghetto Life 101 and Remorse: The 14 Stories of Eric Morse.
CDs/Cassettes: We work to make our programs live beyond the broadcast by making them available on CD and cassette and by disseminating them to classrooms, libraries, book stores, museums and archives around the country.
Organizations Sound Portraits has collaborated with: The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, City Lore, The National Yiddish Book Center, The Museum of Television & Radio, The Museum of the City of New York, Living Traditions, Facing History and Ourselves.
Visit Sound Portraits Productions online at www.soundportraits.org