Fact and Fiction in The Greatest Showman

Posted December 10, 2018 by shooting in TV/Movies / 38 Comments

the greatest showman

Fact and Fiction in The Greatest Showman

I know when the movie musical The Greatest Showman was released there was some controversy surrounding the fact that Barnum is made to look like a nice family guy who helped those who didn’t fit into the mainstream. While that’s not true, I was a fan of the movie and I thought it portrayed a great message and had amazing music. However, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the facts and fiction included in The Greatest Showman film, so here are 10 bits of information you might not have known about Barnum:

Fact and Fiction in The Greatest Showman #ontheblog Click To Tweet

Barnum’s start in entertainment was very racist. He rented Joice Heth, a blind slave, who he took around New York telling people she was the 161 year old former nurse of George Washington. When she died, Barnum charged people 50 cents to go to her public autopsy which is when people finally found out she could not have been much older than 80 years old. As for the circus, Barnum didn’t get into that until he was 60 years old. The traveling circus came about when his museum burned down…twice (source).

Two of the The Greatest Showman’s characters, Philip Carlyle (Barnum’s eventual business partner) and Anne Wheeler (the trapeze artist), are not based on real people (source).

Barnum DID bring Jenny Lind to America but there was no romance or hint of romance between the two. Lind didn’t like Barnum’s over-promotion so she did the rest of the tour with different managers, instead of quitting altogether as she does in the film (source).

Barnum’s actual partner was James A. Bailey (hence, Barnum and Bailey), and not Philip Carlyle (source).

Barnum’s father did pass away when he was 15, but he had a mother and five siblings, which are not included in the film (source).

Barnum did marry Charity Hallett – they had four daughters and not just two though (source).

Charles Sherwood Stratton (“Tom Thumb”) is in his twenties in The Greatest Showman, but in real life, he was four years old when he started playing “General Tom Thumb” (source).

Barnum did meet Queen Victoria (source).

The bearded lady – Annie Jones – was used by Barnum at the age of 9 months, as “The Infant Esau”(source).

The critic in The Greatest Showman is a real person – James Gordon Bennett- but his connection to Barnum, however, is that he tried to tell people that the Joice Heth/George Washington story wasn’t real (source).


The Greatest Showman is now available on DVD, and you can also purchase the soundtrack (which I own and love). There is also a new release called The Greatest Showman Reimagined, where popular artists of today like Kelly Clarkson and Panic! at the Disco cover all the songs from the movie. I own this as well, but I still need to listen to it, but what a cool idea, right? Feel free to buy any of these items today and if you’re ordering online, use Ebates to find the best deals and get money back (feel free to use my affiliate link)!

38 responses to “Fact and Fiction in The Greatest Showman

  1. I haven’t seen the movie but all this is really interesting. I do love them everyone wants Hugh Jackman to be Wolverine forever, and he just wants to sing showtunes.

  2. This is so interesting. I haven’t seen it yet, but I feel as though I vaguely remember some overlap with the book Water for Elephants. If I’m not mistaken, some of the circuses at the time (perhaps even Barnum) profited when lesser-known circuses disbanded and animals were left to fend for themselves. Since most of the travel was via rail, they would add cars to trains to accommodate all the animals/acts. Anyway, this is all fascinating stuff and thanks for sharing!

  3. This is really interesting! I knew that there were definitely a lot of things about Barnum that were not made known in the film. But I also find it interesting the things they did use in the film too. I love this movie and the music!

  4. I still haven’t seen The Greatest Showman, even though I like some of the songs from it, and I’ve heard great things about it. I had heard about the controversy though, about Barnum not actually being such a good guy, and it had kind of put me off, but I may still watch it at some point. Too many people have recommended it to me now, and at least I now know what’s fact and what’s fiction!
    Great post! 🙂

  5. I was looking some of this up after watching the movie and it is all so interesting! You really can’t ever base a movie on being real facts! I didn’t know he had 4 daughters instead of 2! GOSH, I love this movie and the soundtrack tho!


  6. Interesting facts. I am kind of sad and disappointed that they glamorized the story and made it something it was not. I am in the minority, but I wasn’t a big fan of the film.

  7. I haven’t seen this movie, but the circus freaks me out. I don’t like the way the animals are used and the way people were/are exploited. It is interesting to hear all the differences from the film version to the real-life. Sounds like Barnum was a real focused businessman.

  8. Oh Hollywood! I still enjoyed the movie, but the differences are sooo confronting too! I like the music as well — Kesha’s on that sound track just breaks my heart.

  9. I loved the movie and the music and it was because of the messages it portrays. I knew that there was a lot of historical inaccuracies but I didn’t care. To me, The Greatest Showman is a story. It’s not a biopic even though it’s based on a real person. It was interesting to see some of the facts laid out here. 🙂

  10. I do want to see that movie at some point. I wondered about how they made him out to be, knowing what we know now. I wonder why they had to use a different person to be his partner instead of going with the correct name at least? Maybe Bailey didn’t want to be part of it? Or his descendants? Thanks for sharing all these facts. I will get around to watching this one of these days.

    Lisa Mandina (Lisa Loves Literature) recently posted: Blog Tour Review with Giveaway: Jaclyn and the Beanstalk by Mary Ting
  11. Yeah, I was very disappointed in the inaccuracy because they didn’t necessarily need to say it was based on PT Barnum and could’ve chosen a different name if they were going to do it so inaccurately? It could be just a fun story if more fictional. I thought the movie was going to be more about the ‘freaks’ and their story, instead of the business showman side of things even though it is in the title. Which is my bad, but it did mean I didn’t love it as much as everyone else. It was just okay to me…

    Olivia Roach recently posted: Blood’s Revolution [Book Review]

Leave a Reply

(Enter your URL then click here to include a link to one of your blog posts.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.