People have had their portraits on postcards for sundry reasons. Some are so famous that postcard companies print pictures of them, knowing the public will buy famous faces. Others pay to have postcards printed of them in HOPES of celebrity. Sometimes that worked and the people became famous enough that the postcard companies paid to put their faces on cardboard.
But celebrity is a slippery thing. I would like to show you a few famous faces which you might not have run into on Facetwitter or other such feeds. Some were famous when the postcard was printed and faded a bit while others became famous after these postcards came out.
Politicians like to get their faces out before the public, Abraham Lincoln ironically being the first candidate to understand the importance of photography and famous faces. (Abraham Lincoln was confident that he was one of the ugliest men on earth and so hated having his picture taken that only one photographer ever caught him smiling.)
The gent holding a dog at the top of this column is Peter Peyser, who knew enough of politics to put out a postcard with his family (and dogs) on it. He served three terms as Congressman from New York as a Republican, was out of office for two years, and then went back to Congress for two terms as a Democrat. But what makes his postcards of extra interest is the woman standing on his left, who became a celebrity in her own right. This is Penny Peyser, whose acting career was split between stage and screen (Rich Man, Poor Man, Crazy Like a Fox, Love Tony). You get a couple of celebrities for the price of one (AND a baby and neat dogs.)
We have something similar in the family picture postcard urging you to vote for John C. Culver, who wound up doing ten years as Congressman from Iowa and six years as Senator. The secret celebrity here is sitting next to the dog. Chet grew up to become Governor of Iowa, showing these things can run in families.
This man was famous for running, and for selling postcards of himself. Wilhelm Voigt was a shoemaker, but did a little thieving as a sideline, and found himself disliked by the police wherever he went. In 1906, wearing various secondhand bits of uniform he’d bought secondhand, he traveled to the town of Kopenick, started giving orders (which were obeyed, since he had a uniform on) and ended by ordering the arrest of the mayor and the town treasurer, confiscating the town treasury for investigative purposes. He was even more unpopular with the authorities now, but by the time they caught him, the story had traveled fast and far even without Interwebs, and everyone was laughing. As the Hauptmann von Kopenick (Captain from Kopenick) he went on the lecture tour, sold postcards of himself, and just became a symbol of what some people will do when they see a man in uniform. He became a national folk hero, with countless movie and comic book versions of the story. This is the man himself, acting out part of HIS version of the story (in which he claimed he had no IDEA what people would do when he bought an old uniform just to keep warm.)
Major Mite here has just as much right to his title as Wilhelm had to his, but during World War II he DID do recruiting posters for the USMC. He was a circus performer, as you might have guessed, and such folk knew the value of postcards from a very early era. Clarence Chesterfield Howerton’s main claim to fame TODAY, however, is that at 2 feet 4 inches tall, he was the smallest Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. So you have seen this celebrity more often than any of the others. (He apparently had no lines, so you have to look for him yourself.)
If you have not seen this lady as much as Major Mite, you have probably still seen her more than once. Ellaline Terriss was an actress with a sparkling personality which led to a long career of being attacked by critics who claimed that her success was due to a. being so popular no one noticed shortcomings in her performances, b. being a sympathetic heroine after the murder of her actor father by a deranged fan, and c. being married to a real go-getter of an actor/director/producer. Be that as it might, she wrote and produced and performed at his side, and the team of Ellaline and Sir Seymour Hicks could hardly go wrong with the public. IF the name Seymour Hicks rings a bell, he was, among many other things, a specialist in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, playing him for decades on the stage and in two motion pictures, one of which, from 1935, has been one of the most shown versions on American television since 1946. I am told Ellaline is to be found in both these Carols, though I have yet to track down exactly what she did in either one.
This is why people buy these scruffy old postcards. You never know when you’re going to spot a celebrity who just isn’t celebrated at the moment.