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.
MY INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
As a kid, I was always making up stories in my head and I was blessed to have a great third grade teacher who recognized my ability to write. She gave me time in class to write stories and help me make them into little books with illustrations. I think that belief in my ability to write stories is what ignited the idea that I could be an author and that I have worthwhile stories to tell.
What inspired you to write this book?
My Grandmother Minerva, my Great-Uncle Mace’s older sister, was a wonderful storyteller and told me many stories about her growing up as I was growing up—she had grown up in a completely different circumstance, as a daughter of immigrants who worked hard in their grocery store to make a living. She shared many stories about her brother Mace and how impressed she was by his ability to not pity himself for being a dwarf and to not think less of himself—even though others teased or jeered at him.
When my Grandmother died, Mace’s photo album with his amazing celebrity photos was passed down to my Mom. My family and I would look at it and marvel as the unique history Mace created of pop culture from the mid-40s to the mid70s—he had “celebrity selfies” with Ella Fitzgerald, Joe DiMaggio, Nixon, Ali—all of the famous athletes, politicians and entertainers of the era.
As I looked at the photos, I thought of Mace’s story and wondered not only how did he manage to get these photos considering his limited mobility—but why? What did these photos mean to him and what we can learn from there?
A great story emerged—of a confidant man given a significant challenge who viewed himself as no less than anyone else, despite the message that society continually gave him.
If you could sell this book in one sentence what would it be?
You won’t ever forget Mace Bugen—read “The Little Gate-Crasher” so that you have a smile to return to and encouragement to guide you through tough times to keep you going when you want to give up!
What are you up to next?
I’m leading lots of fun discussions about “The Little Gate-Crasher”—it’s free for your book group and I can Skype or Facetime anywhere in the world! I love hearing what readers have to say. I’ve recently started blogging on Medium—come check it out! I’m working on several children’s books that I’m excited about.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
I am a huge fan of writer Anne Lamott. The honesty and vulnerability in her writing inspires me. Memoir requires courage and she shares the wisdom she’s gained in her life with generosity and vulnerability. Down the road, I want to share more personal memoir and am holding her as my inspiration.
Thank you so much!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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