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Sealo - The Seal Boy

Sealo, The Seal Boy

reverse of Sealo pitchcard

Sealo, the Seal Boy
postcard, 5.5 x 3.75 inches, circa 1940
signed in ink on reverse: "Compliments Sealo to Mrs. Leslie Wise"
photographer: Photo Color Studios, Inc., New York

Stanley Berent - better known to the world as Sealo, the Seal Boy - was a performer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who spent the greater part of his lifetime working as a premier sideshow attraction. Berent was afflicted with phocomelia, also known (rather appropriately in Berent's case) as 'seal limbs', which caused such extreme shortening of the arms that his hands protruded almost directly from his shoulders. Consequently, actions that most of us with normal limbs take for granted were for him rather more difficult, but his ability to shave himself with a straight razor, smoke a big cigar, saw up a fruit crate (as seen below) or sign his souvenir pitch photographs became the focal points of his act.

Sealo, The Seal Boy: wishing you the best in your coming years

reverse of Sealo pitchcard

real photograph postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, 1951
signed in ink on the reverse: "Compliments of Sealo, Ringling Bros. Circus 1951, Wishing you the best in your coming years."
photographer: unknown

By all accounts, Sealo was an extremely easy going and good-natured fellow, which made him popular on the sideshow circuit because he was polite to his public and would happily answer any questions directed to him. Ward Hall, for whom Sealo worked for many seasons, said of him, "[Sealo] was at one time or another... with every major sideshow in North America... It was a bit difficult for him to get up and down stairs, so he would stay on the stage most all the time the show was open. But also it enabled him to sell his cards, [and] at all times at the bottom of his table he had a card rack with a display of six different souvenir photos. In my opinion he sold the most pitch cards of any attraction in the business." Some examples of those very cards appear here.

Rather than sleep on the lot, Sealo preferred to stay in local hotels and would take a taxi to the showgrounds each day. In his spare time, Sealo enjoyed playing cards with his friends for hours at a time.

After thirty-five years in the business, Sealo retired to the International Independent Showmen's Association Retirement Village in Gibsonton, Florida. Berent lived there for several years, passing time with many of the friends he had accumulated during his years on the road, until illness caused him to return to Pennsylvania. Stanley "Sealo" Berent died sometime in the mid 1980s, and is buried in Pittsburgh.

Although the original Seal Boy has passed away, his memory continues to live on. In recent years, British actor/musician Mat Fraser, who was born with arms very much like Stanley Berent's, has been performing as Sealo himself in his critically acclaimed one-man play Sealboy:Freak.

Phocomelia has provided the impetus for many people to enter the sideshow business. In the previous century, one such performer was Eli Bowen, the Legless Acrobat. More recently, one of Sealo's contemporaries, Mignon, the Penguin Girl, was a popular attraction.

Sealo, The Seal Boy

real photograph postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, circa 1940
signed in ink on reverse: "Permanent Address, c/o Boston Stores [?] Surf Ave; + W. 12th St, Coney Island, N.Y."
photographer: Photo Color Studios, Inc., New York

The message on the back of this photograph leads me to believe it was given to a personal friend or business contact, as I assume the address in Coney Island was Sealo's own. The card itself is another version of the first card displayed above with the addition of two more inset images: Sealo with and without a shirt, frowning slightly to offset his smirk in the central image.

Sealo, The Seal Boy

real photograph postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, 1949
"To just a swell person" signed in ink on front, and on the reverse: "Compliments of Sealo, Ringling Bros. Circus 1949. Wishing you the best in your coming years"
photographer: unknown

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2003 - 2010