Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Jewish Giant

On Monday, I referenced this famous Diane Arbus photograph of Eddie Carmel, "The Jewish Giant." BB reader Christopher Washer pointed me to a terrific Sound Portraits profile of Carmel, who died in 1972. The documentary was produced by Jenny Carchman, who first say the Arbus photo as a little girl and couldn't get it out of her mind. From the description of the program, titled "The Jewish Giant":

The Jewish Giant began with Jenny's search to uncover a story that has remained a secret for 25 years. Eddie was normal sized until he became a teenager, when he began to grow uncontrollably (he suffered from acromegaly, a then-incurable condition resulting from a tumor that had developed on his pituitary gland). According to The Guiness 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 in the Ringling Brothers Circus at Madison Square Garden as "The Tallest Man on Earth." Eddie died in 1972 at the age of 36 in Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. His coffin was custom made.

The Jewish Giant is a story of suffering, of not fitting in, of the body betraying itself, and of the bizarre life-twists that can subsume a family. It's a story about what it's like to be a regular person looking at the world from inside a not-so-regular body.


dreadbagel said...
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dreadbagel said...

My family and I knew Eddie, in fact my grandparents, father, and uncle lived 3 floors above the Carmels in the same walk-up apartment house, so it's basically the same living room pictured, architecturally speaking.

I myself lived across the street until I was 2 when, due to the neighborhood's rapid transformation, my parents moved us from University Heights to the safer, quieter, and cleaner streets of Riverdale.

My grandparents remained in University Heights until the early 1970s when they, like thousands of other Jewish families, massively relocated to Co-Op City in the Northeast Bronx, a move also made by the Carmels.

Up until then, I visited my grandparents frequently on Harrison Avenue and often saw Eddie sitting in front of the building with the other neighbors, or coming in and out of the lobby.

In the winter of 1965 I saw the Ringling Bros - Barnum & Bailey Circus at the OLD Madison Square Garden and sat on Eddie's lap in the side show. I was 6 at the time.

A couple of years later Eddie repaid us by sitting on the fender of my father's prized 1966 Thunderbird and busting a spring! Although Eddie and the T-Bird are both no longer with us, my father is still bugged about it!

Eddie's parents, Itzhak and Miriam Carmel, were originally from Israel and that was where Eddie was born, coming to the Bronx as a young boy. He attended P.S. 82 as well as DeWitt Clinton HS, as did my father, 2 of my uncles, as well as the late rock impresario Bill Graham, who was another kid from the neighborhood.

RIP Eddie, my Landtsman!

dreadbagel said...

Correction: I have since learned that Eddie attended Taft HS, not Clinton.

Additionally, he shares a birthday with my firstborn son, March 16.