Mace Bugen might have been an achondroplastic dwarf—forty-three inches tall with an average-sized head and a 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.
At a time before cell phones or Andy Warhol, you could say that Bugen was the world’s first practitioner of the celebrity selfie. Or maybe you could say more accurately that he was the world’s first selfie photobomber. Over a period of three decades, using his unique combination of guile, cunning, disability, and sense of entitlement, Mace engineered photos of himself with some of the biggest celebrities of his day, among them Muhammad Ali, Jonas Salk, Jane Russell, Sammy Davis Jr, Joe DiMaggio, and Richard Nixon.
In a column dated September 28, 1955, Walter Winchell, the iconic and fedora wearing syndicated gossip columnist, included this item in his roundup: “The dwarf who crashes the gate at most major sports events (past the cops and attendants) is ‘Mace’ Bugen, an insurance and realty man of Phillipsburg, N.J.” Thereafter he was known wherever he went as The Little Gate-Crasher.
“When I was a kid,” Mace Bugen 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.”
Read this moving and detailed account by his great niece, with photos included.