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March 5, 2021

Portraits of the World Famous Circus Fat Lady Mary Alice Ward From the 1930s

“Alice from Dallas” was a beauty pageant in the 1950s. It was a song by Moon Mullican in 1958. It was the name of a B-17 bomber during World War II and it’s also a children’s book that was published a couple of years ago. But before that, and for decades, there was only one famous Alice from Dallas, and she was a big, big star. By some accounts, 650 pounds large.

Mary Alice Ward was born in 1893 in Wylie and moved to Dallas when she was about 15. She was a patient at Parkland Hospital in 1913 when she was discovered by Doc Palmer of the Sells Floto Circus. The doctors at Parkland wanted Alice, then 20 years old and about 400 pounds, to lose 100 pounds. The flamboyant Palmer supposedly said, “You’re ruining the greatest fat woman that ever lived!”

That was the beginning of a globetrotting show business career for the Dallas girl with a pretty face and enormous waist. She eventually went to work for Ringling Bros., and that’s where she met her husband, the tattooed man, Frank T. Julian.

Julian was born in Italy in 1880 and was covered in tattoos of the American presidents. According to a March 1955 profile by the great Frank X. Tolbert, the tattooed man was extremely proud of his famous wife. “She was champion for 30 years,” he told Tolbert. “There’ll never be another fat woman like Alice.”

Although she was big (Ringling Bros. posters claimed her waist measured 6 feet), she was lithe. Alice could walk miles from the tent to the train keeping up with anyone, Julian said.

Their 1921 wedding made headlines nationwide. Olga the bearded lady was maid of honor, and 20-inch-tall Major Mite was best man. They lived the carny’s dream. Alice was sweet and motherly; all the circus sideshow people loved her, according to Tolbert’s profile. And Alice loved that life.

“I miss the crowds and music,” Alice told Tolbert. “I just flat miss the circus. So does Frank.” She told Tolbert she was lonely, and she wished the circus would come to town. The day he visited the Julians’ home at 626 N. Jester, Alice had been painting woodwork inside the house. She’d dropped weight and was down to about 425 pounds. Frank, then 75, had suffered a stroke.

The Julians wintered in Oak Cliff for decades, and they lived here for several years after their retirement from the circus. Alice died of cancer at age 62 in November 1955. Frank moved to a convalescent home in Dallas, where he died in December 1956. They’re buried at Restland Memorial Park.

It was a quiet end to the fantastic show-biz life of the original Alice from Dallas.

(This original article was published on Oak Cliff)


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