Last night on Spicks and Specks there was a question about a famous 19th century French performer with a most unique skill set.
It made me think how true it is that fact is so often stranger than fiction, and that drawing from real life characters can bring colour and life to novel writing. Had history not proven this story true, one could be accused of conjuring up a ridiculous - albeit imaginative - outlandish tale.
French flatulist Josef Pujol (yes that’s his real name) was born in Marseilles. In the 1890s he became the star attraction at the Moulin Rouge, known by his stage name as Le Pétomane, translation: ‘fart maniac’.
As a schoolboy, Pujol discovered an extraordinary talent for contracting his abdominal muscles and expelling air in musical tones that rivalled the finest of wind instruments.
In adulthood, casting aside his job as a baker, Fujol took his fantastical talent to the stage. Some of the highlights of his act included sound effects of cannon fire and thunderstorms, and even the sound of a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico – a full 10 second rip. He played ‘O Sole Mio and La Marseillaise on an ocarina connected by a rubber tube to his bum. He could blow out a candle from a distance of several yards. And his audience included Edward, Prince of Wales, King Leopold II of Belgium and Sigmund Freud.
Le Pétomane became one the highest grossing acts at the Moulin Rouge, raking in around 20,000 francs for each performance, well above the 8,000 francs famed stage actress Sarah Bernhardt regularly brought in at the peak of her career there.
Who would’ve thought it? Le Pétomane proves that everyone is a star and can shine in their own right, and everyone has a story to tell. And that’s what I love about people.