The Little Gate-Crasher
Mace Bugen might have been an achondroplastic dwarf, 43 inches tall with an average size head and torso set on small, twisted legs—but that didn’t mean he was an idiot or a pushover. In truth, he was smarter than most; over the years, he learned to effectively turn what society in those days called a handicap into a powerful tool he could use to his advantage.
“When I was a kid,” he once said, “I’d ask myself, Why is that guy on the football team? Why can’t I be on the team? Why didn’t God give me the height so I could be the hero?”
“Then at some point I figured it out: I gotta do something special to let ’em know I’m me.”
In The Little Gate Crasher: The Life And Photos Of Mace Bugen, I remember my amazing great-Uncle Mace Bugen through his journey as a first-generation Jewish-American kid in working class Philipsburg, NJ to becoming the first celebrity selfie-artist—way ahead of his time.
Featuring vintage photos of Mace with his exploits, The Little Gate Crasher captures three decades of American pop culture, seen through the unique lens of Mace and his gate-crashing exploits.
Underneath his antics, we meet a complex man who continually defies others expectations and meets life on his own terms. Mace becomes a successful businessman and devoted son to his aging parents. But in his gate-crashing antics, we best get to see Mace’s unique combination of guile, cunning and sense of entitlement, which he used to engineer photos of himself with some of the biggest celebrities of his day. If people were going to stare at him all of his life, he would give them something to see.
The Little Gate Crasher features over 50 vintage photos of Mace with celebrities, athletes and politicians, including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Muhammed Ali, Richard Nixon, Jane Russel, Joe DiMaggio and more.
I've been fascinated by the photos of American legend Mace Bugen since I first saw one of his photos in a book of Americana. With a cigar hanging from his mouth, Mace was a person with dwarfism unlike most represented in the Hollywood of his day. He set the stage for a change in perception. So, I jumped at the chance to read this memoir.
The authors present his niece's account as faithfully as she wrote it along with a lengthy author's note that quotes from the aunt and several other family members. They bring to life the Mace behind the photos - the man who overcame and who was beloved throughout his at-times ill-lived life. I enjoyed getting to see him as more than a celebrity famous for being famous - he was a Kardashian before we were all supposed to keep up with the Kardashians (and every-other non-celebrity enjoying self-proclaimed stardom on YouTube). The book brought out a Mace full of life, who loved the stars he pursued and who wouldn't be pushed out of a world that often ignores those not deemed "normal".
There was a lot that I wanted to be in this book that wasn't there. I wish there had been more investigation into the stories behind the legends, more interviews with those impacted by Mace's amazing gall and confidence. I wondered at the memories left behind by such an incredible person. At each mention of a particular name, I longed for deeper history and more primary research.
But this was a family biopic, and a lovely one. I still find Mace Bugen a fascinating character. I've smiled more than once as I thought about this prostitute-loving Jew cruising down highways with his group of teenage boys from synagogue. What a man. What a legend. What an amazing piece of American history.
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Little-Gate-Crasher-Life-Photos-Bugen-ebook/dp/B01EH101EC/
Amazon UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Gate-Crasher-Life-Photos-Bugen-ebook/dp/B01EH101EC/
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is an experienced educator, author and speaker. At Jewish Learning Venture, she works as Director of Whole Community Inclusion and leads disability awareness programs for the Philadelphia Jewish community. Her most recent book The Little Gate Crasher, a memoir of her Great-Uncle, who overcame society’s prejudices about dwarfism to lead a remarkable life, was one of the national book selections for 2017 Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month. Gabby writes for and edits The New York Jewish Week’s The New Normal: Blogging Disability and is also a featured Philly parenting blogger for WHYY’s newsworks. Gabby holds a B.F.A. in theatre and creative writing from Emerson College and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
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