Orville Stamm was billed as the “Strongest Boy in the World” on vaudeville and performed feats of strength, often while performing a song.
Performing throughout much of vaudeville’s heyday, Orville L. Stamm was originally billed as the “Strongest Boy in the World.” He is remembered in particular for his act which often blended music with feats of strength.
One of Stamm’s demonstrations featured him playing a violin while a 65-pound English bulldog was suspended from the elbow of his bow arm. A popular description of this performance stated, “The bulldog made graceful arcs in the air as Orville pizzicatoed and manipulated his bow.”
Stamm’s act is detailed in My First Quarter Century in the Iron Game, chapter 2 by Siegmund Klein, who described another feat including his dog Tige.
For an encore, he held a blackboard about 15 inches square in his left hand, and with Tige still attached to his right wrist, and a piece of chalk in his right hand, he drew an outline of Teddy Roosevelt. Then he tore a pack of playing cards in half, threw out half to the audience after placing a rubber band around the other half, then he tore that half in half again, making two quarters of the pack, and placing rubber bands around these he then threw them out to the audience too. This was followed by supporting four heavy stage hands on the standard “human pyramid” board while he sang a song. Stamm used to lift a horse in “harness style” but could not at this time secure the horse from a local stable. He then gave the audience a few demonstrations of “setting-up” exercises, and this finished his act.
In another feat, Stamm would assume a “crab” position while a piano was be placed on his stomach. His assistant would then climb onto the stool and play the piano while Stamm would sing “Ireland Must Be Heaven, Because My Mother Came from There.”
In the book Musings by Robert Lohman (p. 80), Stamm is mentioned as having been a tenant of his mother. The author cites another act in which “Orville lifted a platform containing the two girls and a full grown horse off the ground while lying prone on the stage floor.” The article also notes that Orville was an inventor and married one of the girls from his act named Martha. Orville and Martha lived together in “unmarried cohabitation” prior to marriage, which was considered taboo at the time.
Stamm’s career isn’t widely documented, but it was reported by a few newspaper references over the years.
1914. The Deseret News, May 23. A photo (above) includes the caption “Orville Stamm. 17 year old Boy Hercules who is one of the features of the new bill at the Empress for next week.”
1917. The Deseret News, August 24. “Orville Stamm, a finely developed physical specimen of young manhood, suggests and illustrates ‘special exercises for ladies,’ such as supporting a piano (with performer) on his stomach, and lifting with one hand a platform on which five husky stage hands have clambered.”
1921. The San Jose Evening News, March 25, page 5: “…Orville Stamm, the Boy Hercules, has a novel offering. He is not only seen in phenomenal feats of strength, but is an excellent musician and a bright entertainer.”
1927. The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 15, page 8, section 6. By the late 1920s Stamm’s career evolved from “Boy Hercules” to a headlining act with his wife, as reported:
Mr. and Mrs. Orville Stamm, the world’s most perfectly formed couple, will be the headline attraction of the seven act vaudeville bill to be seen continuously at the Majestic theater for the week beginning today.
Mr. and Mrs. Orville Stamm have girls with them in their revue. Mr. Stamm offers and exhibition of feats of strength, while his wife is a dancer.
1956. “Vaudeville’s Golden Era,” LIFE, November 12, 1956. p. 84. In an article about Vaudeville, Fred Allen reflects on Stamm’s act, and notes that he had recently received a letter from the man and recalls the violin act detailed above.
Life and Death
Perhaps the best biography of Stamm was his 1963 obituary, which appeared in the Evening Standard on June 6, 1963, page 54.
Physical Fitness Expert Orville Stamm Succumbs
Word has reached Uniontown of the death on May 8 of Orville L. Stamm, 65 of Rockford Illinois. Physical fitness expert, dancer and inventor. His only immediate survivor is his wife, the former Martha Jane Stefanik… As a young man in show business, Stamm was known as “Boy Hercules.” He served as a physical instructor in the U.S. Navy during World War I. One of those in his classes was the late Franklin Dr. Roosevelt. While FDR was president, Stamm was invited to March of Dimes benefit parties at the White House. The Stamms were married in 1927. His wife was then a member of the New York City Ballet. They toured internationally giving dance demonstrations. In recent years, Stamm was an inventor. He held patents on gymnastic equipment, non-glare headlights, and dog and cat exercisers. When the Stamms were touring theaters and hotels as an ??? dance team, they appeared with such stars as Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Olsen and Johnson, Joan Blondell, and Fred Allen.
Although the obituary above stated that Stamm was 65, death notices found online for Orville Lee Stamm cited his birth as June 29, 1893, meaning Stamm likely exaggerated his age to promote his “Boy Hercules” image and was nearly 70 when he died.
If you have any additional information on Orville Stamm, please leave a comment below.
Updated June 10, 2016
Originally published May 2015