|image source: Find A Grave|
“Dainty” Dotty Jensen’s grave is located at the left corner of the Ladies Auxiliary Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association marker in Los Angeles’ Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory. Her remains are among those of over 400 carnival employees and performers in the Showmen’s Rest portion of the cemetery.
Based on her nickname and what I already know about circus history, it wasn’t difficult to figure out before any research that Dotty was most likely a woman of considerable size. Indeed, Dainty Dotty (1909-1952) was a “Fat Lady” with the Ringling Bros. circus between the 1930s and 1940s. (Please see my disclaimer on language used in historical accounts here.)
Frustratingly, I wasn’t able to find out very much about Dotty (whose first name was most likely Dorothy) despite her somewhat public career as a circus performer/attraction. There were a few pieces of the puzzle that came together, particularly after her marriage to tattoo artist Owen Jensen, but there are many details of Dotty’s narrative that remain a mystery.
The earliest information pinning Dotty down to a specific location is from December 28, 1931 with the birth of her son Richard Nathan Strindberg in Illinois. By the time Richard was 8 years old he was a ward of the state at the Illinois Children’s Home And Aid Society. The circumstances of his status as an orphan are unclear, but at some point prior to Dotty’s death in 1952 the two had been reunited. Because there was no father listed, I thought that maybe Dotty’s maiden name was Strindberg. An exhaustive search in that direction resulted in another dead end, but I still might’ve been onto something.
Based on one of Dotty’s obituaries, she worked the carnival circuit for around twenty-five years meaning she entered circus life around 18. Sometime between the 1930s and the early 1940s Dotty was part of an attraction for the Ringling Bros. Circus with Major Mite, “The World’s Smallest Man.” (As an aside, Major Mite also appeared as a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz”.) At the height of her career Dotty weighed 585 pounds, which was excellent for her livelihood as a circus “fat lady” but being obese no doubt wreaked havoc on her health.
From the Billboard‘s April 1, 1944 issue: “Dainty Dotty, fat girl with the Ringling Show in 1942, will be at Eastwood Garden, Detroit, for the season in the Palace of Wonders Museum.” By November 1944 that same publication reported that Dotty was a tattooist at Detroit’s Archie’s Playland Arcade.
In late 1945 Dainty Dotty married Owen Jensen, also a tattoo artist, in Reno, Nevada. After the wedding the couple moved to Los Angeles where the two earned a living decorating human skin together.
In 1946 she had an operation which may or may not have been related to weight loss.By August 1949 she’d “slimmed down” to 350 pounds when her son Owen Jensen, Jr. was born via Caesarian section. She maintained this weight until death visited in the form of a heart attack on December 17, 1952. Dainty Dotty was 43 years old when she shuffled off this mortal coil. One obituary listed that she was survived by her husband, two sons, and a daughter, but I never found evidence of the female child.
The Speed Boys blog has a number of photos of Owen and Dotty that you might be interested in viewing here, including tattoo flash and images of Dotty at work.
Transcriptions of various articles:
Billboard, Nov. 24, 1945: “Dainty Dotty, Fat Lady, and Owen Jensen, tattoo artist, were married recently in Reno, Nev., and have gone to Los Angeles to make their home.”
Billboard, Jan. 5, 1946: “Mrs. Owen Jensen (Dainty Dotty, fat lady) recently underwent an operation in Los Angeles.”
Billboard, Sept. 25, 1948: “Miss Patricia, sword swallower; her husband, and Rasmus Neilsen, tattooed man and weight lifter, all of the Ringling Show, were recent guests at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Jensen in Los Angeles. Mrs. Jensen (Dainty Dotty) formerly was a fat lady with the Big Show.”
Billboard, Sept. 10, 1949 (in the “Births” section) “A son to Mrs. and Mrs. Owen Jensen August 12 in Suburban Hospital, South Gate, Calif. Mother is the former “Dainty Dotty,” circus fat woman; father is an ex-circus tattooer.”
St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 20, 1952: “One of show world’s most colorful and beloved figures, Mrs. Owen (Dainty Dotty) Jensen, the fat lady of Ringling Brothers circus fame, is dead.
The big top star, who infectious laughter shook her 585 pounds to the delight of thousands, died almost unnoticed Wednesday at the age of 43.
Dotty, whose tenure in show business covered a quarter of a century, weighed only 350 pounds when death overtook her.
The huge woman made medical history a little more than three years ago when she trimmed her weight to 350 pounds on doctor’s orders and gave birth to a nine-pound four and one-half ounce son, Owen Jensen Jr., by Caesarian section.”
Billboard, Dec. 27, 1952: “Mrs. Dorothy Jensen, Dainty Dotty of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, died here Wednesday (17) of a heart attack. She was 43. Billed as Dainty Dotty and the Fat Lady, she spent most of her life with circuses and carnivals. Her weight was listed at 583 pounds. Her husband, two sons, and a daughter survive.”
Billboard, Jan 3. 1953: “Jensen-Dainty Dotty, 43, fat lady, December 17 of a heart attack at her home in Los Angeles. Once weighing 585 pounds, she had reduced to 350 pounds at the time of her death. She gained much publicity and made medical history in 1949 by giving birth to a 9 pound 4-1/2 ounce son, Owen Jr. Survived by another son, Richard Strindberg, and her husband, Owen, a tattoo artist. Burial in the Ladies’ Auxiliary plot of the Pacific Coast Showmen’s Rest, Los Angeles.”