The Jewish Giant at the Freak Show


When you think about tall guys today, most people think of the NBA. But sixty years ago, you would have been more likely to think of the circus.

And you may have thought about Eddie Carmel, specifically. Born in Tel Aviv in 1936, Carmel suffered from gigantism and acromegaly, an abnormal growth disorder of the hands, feet, and face. His family moved to the Bronx while Carmel was a kid, where he grew into an entertainer—not that he had much choice.

Billed as standing 8’9″, Carmel made a living exploiting his towering physique: he worked in sideshows in Times Square, made two films, and was a member of both the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the 1960s.

Despite his recurring roles as “The World’s Greatest Giant” or “The Tallest Man on the Earth,” Carmel was probably most famous for being the subject of a Diane Arbus photograph, “Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx.”

In his life, Carmel wanted to be respected for his talent, not his size. “I’d like someday to reach the point when I’m known as the reverse Mickey Rooney,” he’s quoted as saying.


Watch The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), an Eddie Carmel film:

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