If you’ve ever tried breaking into show business, you know how hard it can be. There are countless auditions, disappointments and the relentless competition from other actors. Maybe you should try it as a flea!
The Birth of the Entertainment Industry
Records of the earliest flea circuses date back to 14th Century Asia, but they didn’t hit their apex in popularity until the 16th Century in Great Britain. While there are over 2500 species of fleas, Louis Bertolotto found only the females of the Pulex Irritans species worthy of a place in his line-up: “…I have found the males to be utterly worthless, excessively mulish and altogether disinclined to work.” Hmmm… some things never change.
In the beginning, finding fleas to audition for parts in his show was relatively easy – largely due to poor hygienic standards and the number of mangy dogs running free in the streets of London. But, as people began to bathe regularly, circus owners had to pay as much as half a crown per flea. Considering that the average life span of a flea was only several days to weeks, this represented a very poor return on their investment. One circus owner who toured Europe with his traveling show depended on his wife to send him new shipments of entertainers in envelopes through the mail. That worked well until Postmasters began vigorously hand stamping all letters and parcels.