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The Greatest Showman (2017)

Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams

Hugh Jackman
Born: October 12, 1968
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
P.T. Barnum
Born: July 5, 1810
Birthplace: Bethel, Connecticut, USA
Death: April 7, 1891, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (stroke)
Michelle Williams
Born: September 9, 1980
Kalispell, Montana, USA
Charity Barnum
Born: October 28, 1808
Birthplace: Bethel, Connecticut, USA
Death: November 19, 1873
Rebecca Ferguson
Born: October 19, 1983
Stockholm, Sweden
Jenny Lind
Born: October 6, 1820
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Death: November 2, 1887
Pictured in 1850, the year P.T. Barnum invited her to America
Sam Humphrey
Born: abt 1994
Auckland, New Zealand
Tom Thumb
Born: January 4, 1838
Birthplace: Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA
Death: July 15, 1883, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (stroke)
Keala Settle
Born: November 5, 1975
Laie, Hawaii, USA
Annie Jones
Born: July 14, 1865
Birthplace: Virginia, USA
Death: October 22, 1902, Brooklyn, New York, USA (tuberculosis)

Renamed Lettie Lutz in the movie
Paul Sparks
Born: October 16, 1971
Lawton, Oklahoma, USA
James Gordon Bennett Sr.
Born: September 1, 1795
Birthplace: Keith, Scotland
Death: June 1, 1872, Manhattan, New York, USA
Shannon Holtzapffel
Born: October 9, 1985
Holland, Netherlands
George Costentenus
Born: April 17, 1833
Birthplace: Souli, Greece
Death: Unknown

Renamed Prince Constantine in the movie
Luciano Acuna Jr.
Born: 1988
Fedor Jeftichew
Born: 1868
Death: January 31, 1904, Salonica, Greece (pneumonia)

Also known as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy

Questioning the Story:

Is Zac Efron's character, Phillip Carlyle, based on a real person?

No. In researching The Greatest Showman true story, we discovered that Barnum's eager young protégé in the film, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), is a fictional character. Phillip was created in part for the film's fictional interracial love story between himself and trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya).

Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler never existed in real life.

Is Zendaya's character, trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, based on a real person?

No. Ex-Disney star Zendaya portrays trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, who falls in love with Barnum's protégé Phillip Carlyle, portrayed by High School Musical alum Zac Efron. As we investigated to answer the question, "How accurate is The Greatest Showman?", we discovered that Anne Wheeler is a fictional character. In the movie, Phillip is beaten up by thugs who take issue with his interracial relationship with Anne. The Phillip/Anne love story is fictional, as are both characters.

Barnum's Own Story is an autobiography that combines the best parts of all the autobiographies he wrote.
Was P.T. Barnum nearly broke before he opened his museum?

This is somewhat true. However, he hadn't been laid off from a desk job. After lotteries were banned in Connecticut, P.T. Barnum sold his general store since the statewide lottery network had been his main source of income. He moved to New York City and began working as a showman, starting a variety troupe. In 1836, his variety troupe, Barnum's Grand Scientific and Musical Theater, had a year of mixed success. Then came the U.S. financial crisis known as the Panic of 1837, which led to three years of hard times for Barnum. He found success again after purchasing and reinventing Scudder's American Museum, which he renamed Barnum's American Museum.

Were there really protests over P.T. Barnum's shows?

This is likely true. Many in the public had long considered theaters dens of sin, and the oddities and performances on display in P.T. Barnum's museum fueled their outrage. Over the years, Barnum tried to change that perception, but when his American Museum burned down in 1865, there were those who mourned its passing and still those who celebrated that it was gone. Learn about the real reason that arsonists likely set fire to his museum by watching the episode The Greatest Showman: History vs. Hollywood below. To follow our latest episodes, subscribe to the History vs. Hollywood YouTube channel.

Did P.T. Barnum almost have a love affair with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind?

No. In the movie, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) initially becomes infatuated with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who quits the tour in a huff after he rejects her advances. This is complete fiction, as there is no evidence that the two ever had a romantic relationship. The movie does a disservice to Lind by painting her as the jilted lover. In real life, the only reason she agreed to the American tour was because P.T. Barnum promised her a great deal of money. However, she didn't keep a dime of it and had never planned to. She donated the $350,000 in profits to charity, specifically the endowment of free schools in Sweden. The $350,000 would equal roughly $10 million today.

While fact-checking The Greatest Showman, we discovered that the real reason Jenny Lind (also known as the "Swedish Nightingale") quit the tour was because she was uncomfortable with Barnum's relentless marketing of her. After 93 concerts, they broke ties and she completed the tour under new management. In 1852, she married Otto Goldschmidt, a German conductor, composer, and pianist.

The real Jenny Lind (right) never had a love affair with P.T. Barnum.

Did P.T. Barnum bring the dwarf Charles Stratton into the circus when Stratton was 22-years-old?

No. Charles Sherwood Stratton, who went by the stage name General Tom Thumb, was recruited by P.T. Barnum when he was only 4-years-old, not 22 like in the movie. In real life, Stratton and Barnum were actually distant cousins. As seen to some degree in the film, Stratton's performances helped to change the public's perception of freak shows, which had been thought of as unpleasant and disreputable.

The real Tom Thumb (right) was a young child when Barnum (center) brought him into the circus. New Zealand actor Sam Humphrey (left) portrays Tom Thumb in the movie.

Did P.T. Barnum's museum really burn down?

Yes. The Greatest Showman true story confirms that Barnum's American Museum burned to the ground in a fire on July 13, 1865. The origin of the fire was never discovered. However, his addition of pro-Unionist lectures, exhibits and dramas had incited a Confederate arsonist to start a fire there the year prior. If the 1865 fire was arson, it's likely it was spurned on by Barnum's Unionist sympathies, not due to outrage over the sideshows at his museum. After the fire, he quickly reopened the American Museum at another location, but that too burned down in 1868, leading him to enter the circus business.

P.T. Barnum's American Museum (top) burned down in 1865.

How old was P.T. Barnum when he started his circus?

The real P.T. Barnum didn't start his circus until he was 60 years old, five years after his museum burned to the ground. The Greatest Showman depicts Barnum as being younger when he gets into the circus business. Like in the movie, losing the museum forced him to reinvent himself as a showman. In 1870, he partnered with circus owners William Cameron Coup and Dan Castello to start P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome, which eventually came to be known as the "greatest traveling show on earth." Barnum took full control of the circus in 1875. His most well-known partnership came six years later when he teamed up with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson, securing acts like Jumbo, the six-and-a-half ton elephant. In 1887, the circus was rebranded with the more familiar name Barnum and Bailey Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. Barnum died in 1891.

Top: Charity with her husband P.T. Barnum. Bottom: Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams as the Barnums in The Greatest Showman movie.

Was P.T. Barnum really a champion of acceptance and tolerance?

Many would argue against this. The Greatest Showman would have you believe that P.T. Barnum was a champion of acceptance and tolerance, celebrating those who 1800s society considered outcasts and "freaks". Things aren't nearly as black and white when it comes to the real P.T. Barnum. Many see his profiting from putting people with abnormalities and disabilities on public display as being exploitation. And even though Barnum possessed anti-slavery convictions, both his actions as a showman and his "freak shows" themselves could at times certainly be considered racist.

For example, Barnum is believed to have gotten his start as a showman in 1835 when he purchased and exhibited an elderly African American slave woman named Joice Heth, who was blind and almost entirely paralyzed. He claimed that Heth was 161 years old and had been George Washington's nurse. Heth died the following year. Her true age was approximately 80 years old, roughly half the age Barnum advertised her to be.

The Greatest Showman Soundtrack features Loren Allred's performance of "Never Enough" heard in the movie.
Does actress Rebecca Ferguson do her own singing in the movie?

No. Rebecca Ferguson, who portrays Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind in the movie, did not do her own singing. The vocals were provided by Loren Allred, who was a finalist on the third season of The Voice. You can hear Allred sing "Never Enough" on The Greatest Showman Soundtrack, which includes the songs from the movie in the order they were performed. All of the songs were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also wrote the songs for La La Land.

Did P.T. Barnum's wife Charity leave him?

No. Barnum never had a romance with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. There was no picture of them kissing in the newspaper, prompting Barnum's wife Charity to temporarily leave him when he returned from the tour with Lind. In his autobiographies, Barnum conveys deep love for Charity, writing that on the day he married her, he "became the husband of one of the best women in the world." She was his bedrock throughout the marriage until her death in 1873.

Charity (right) was married to P.T. Barnum for 44 years until her death in 1873. Michelle Williams (left) as Charity in The Greatest Showman movie.

Was Charity the only wife of P.T. Barnum?

No. P.T. Barnum and his wife Charity (nicknamed Chairy) were married for 44 years. She passed away on November 19, 1873. The following year Barnum married Nancy Fish, who he remained with until his death in 1891.

The Greatest Showman T-Shirts capture some of the most memorable moments from the movie.

Is the Barnum & Bailey Circus still in business?

No. Dwindling attendance and high operating costs forced the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to close on May 21, 2017 after 146 years of uninterrupted operation. The circus shut down just seven months prior to the movie's release. It had been plagued with controversy in the years prior due to criticisms of animal abuse and exploitation, which had forced the circus to retire its elephant acts in 2016.

The Greatest Showman Movie Trailer & Related Videos

Watch The Greatest Showman History vs. Hollywood episode below, and check out the movie trailer to get a preview of the film, the characters, and the music.

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