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Born: October 12, 1968
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Born: July 5, 1810
Birthplace: Bethel, Connecticut, USA
Death: April 7, 1891, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (stroke)
Born: September 9, 1980
Kalispell, Montana, USA
Born: October 28, 1808
Birthplace: Bethel, Connecticut, USA
Death: November 19, 1873
Born: October 19, 1983
Born: October 6, 1820
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Death: November 2, 1887
Pictured in 1850, the year P.T. Barnum invited her to America
Born: abt 1994
Auckland, New Zealand
Born: January 4, 1838
Birthplace: Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA
Death: July 15, 1883, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA (stroke)
Born: November 5, 1975
Laie, Hawaii, USA
Born: July 14, 1865
Birthplace: Virginia, USA
Death: October 22, 1902, Brooklyn, New York, USA (tuberculosis)
Renamed Lettie Lutz in the movie
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
Born: October 9, 1985
Born: April 17, 1833
Birthplace: Souli, Greece
Renamed Prince Constantine in the movie
Luciano Acuna Jr.
Death: January 31, 1904, Salonica, Greece (pneumonia)
Also known as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.