The Greatest Showman

"The Greatest Showman" is a Golden Globe-winning film that features Hugh Jackman in the role of the legendary P.T. Barnum. The movie was released on Dec. 20, 2017.

“The Greatest Showman” has taken audiences from all ages and all backgrounds by storm, as evidenced by its three Golden Globe nominations and win for best original song. Yet, behind all the music, dancing and costumes is the true story of P.T. Barnum, whose reputation as the greatest showman on Earth serves as inspiration for the plot. But how much of the movie actually lines up with P.T. Barnum and his circus? Here are all the right and wrong impressions this movie gives the audience.

1. Zac Efron and Zendaya’s romantic relationship was inspired by a real interracial relationship in P.T. Barnum’s circus.

False. This is probably the biggest heartbreak for fans—Zendaya and Efron’s interracial relationship gives a progressive feel to the movie, especially considering that the movie takes place in the 19th century. Sadly, the characters of Anne Wheeler and Phillip Carlyle are indeed fictional.

2. Buying Scudder’s American Museum was a risky move for P.T. Barnum.

True. Not only is it true that he bought this museum in New York City, but he bought it in 1841, after the financial crisis known as “The Panic of 1837” which caused him a great deal of financial hardship. But luckily, Barnum’s purchase was a risk that most definitely reaped benefits worth the uncertainty.  

3. Barnum would drink as much as he drank in the bar scene with Zac Efron.

False. And it's not because he had a low tolerance—rather, he had no tolerance for drinking at all. For years, Barnum was a temperance speaker, declaring the sinfulness of drinking. Being an advocate and signer of the “teetotal pledge," it’s no secret that Barnum would rather have been caught dead than in a bar scene with Zac Efron.

4. Barnum and Jenny Lind had a romantic relationship.

False. While Jenny Lind was most definitely the most renowned opera singer in Europe at the time, she was much too focused on her career to even entertain the idea of courtship. She eventually married her accompanist in 1852, about two years after her tour with Barnum.

5. Barnum took Jenny Lind on tour and she decided not to finish.

True. But as you can guess from the facts above, her reasons for choosing not to finish weren't because of her negative feelings toward Barnum, but rather because of her negative feelings toward how Barnum was advertising her. And yes, Barnum actually did advertise her as “The Swedish Nightingale."

 

6. Jenny Lind was born out of wedlock.

True. Born on Oct. 6, 1820, Jenny Lind was raised in a single-mother household, with a no-show father. Her parents finally married when she reached age 14, but at that point she had already been sent off to Sweden’s Royal Opera training program five years prior.

7.Barnum’s museum was burned down.

True. On Jul. 13, 1865, Barnum’s American Museum burned to the ground. He tried to reopen his museum after the devastating fire, but somehow that one managed to burn down as well three years later. It seems as if fate was trying to tell him something.

8. Barnum’s museum was burned down by protestors of his show.

False. While the true cause of the fire is still questioned today, the New York Times claimed that the fire was a result of a defective furnace. Although the fire was not caused by protestors of the show, it may have been caused by anti-abolitionists. Barnum was a well-known abolitionist on the Connecticut legislature, and considering the fact that the first fire took place the year the Civil War ended, this is not an unlikely possibility.

9. Barnum’s tour with Jenny Lind was an attempt to improve his reputation.

True. Barnum was reputation obsessed all throughout his life, and chances are that this obsession didn’t stop after one upbeat, pivotal break-out into song and dance. Just as displayed in the movie, Jenny Lind was an opportunity for him to be known for more than just his New York City circus.

10. The characters in the movie were some of the main attractions in Barnum’s American Museum.

True, but it depends on how you look at it. While the movie does feature characters who really did perform in Barnum’s museum like General Tom Thumb and the Bearded Lady, “The Greatest Showman” also leaves out a lot of other acts that Barnum’s museum became known for, like the Living Human Skeleton and the Siamese Twins. But in seeing how times have changed, there was only so much truth this movie could include without making it borderline offensive.

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(1) comment

jessied44

Excellent fair article. One little quibble, in one of the dance numbers, the Siamese Twins are shown doing a back flip which was the signature move by Chang & Eng Bunker in performance and done while with Barnum and then in their own tours. https://lostmuseum.cuny.edu/archive/exhibit/chang/

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