Twirling by Her Teeth by Janet Davis

Cover for Kline: Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny Kline. Click for larger imageResearching the life of Tiny Kline has been filled with unexpected pleasures and surprises. Although never nationally famous, Kline’s daring and graceful performances of speed and flight touched thousands (perhaps millions) of people who saw her live or on film. People have generously shared their experiences with me.

One man in Lakeway, Texas, for example remembered Kline from the Rose Bowl in the 1940s: she zipped across the top of the stadium by her teeth during the halftime show. 

Another woman grew up a couple houses down from Kline in Inglewood, California, in the 1940s and 50s. She and the other neighborhood kids were terrified of Kline, who barked at them to stay out of her garden as she worked ceaselessly chopping up her hard clay soil. From Kline’s Roman rings dangling in the garage (instead of a car), to her thick Hungarian accent, muscled frame, and solitary ways, kids thought of Kline as the mysterious “Boo Radley” of the block.

More recently, a man from New Jersey called to share his Tiny Kline story. A family friend sought advice about dental implants, so this man searched the Internet for information. There, he stumbled upon a wonderful YouTube video of Kline’s harrowing “slide for life” across the skyline of Times Square hanging by her teeth in 1932. He quickly realized that he knew who she was: his father, a policeman, had often talked of an amazing acrobat named Tiny Kline from the 1930s who dangled 1,500 feet aloft from a blimp over the Steel Pier at Atlantic City. He would turn to the sky and see her twirling by her teeth as he patrolled the docks for errant divers, plunging into the ocean to pull people out, when necessary.

Janet M. Davis is an associate professor of American studies and history at the University of Texas, Austin, and the editor of Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny Kline. She will be signing copies of the book at Follett’s Intellectual Property in Austin, Texas, on September 15.

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