In 1933 on June 1st it was a bad day for Jack Morgan Jnr, head of the Morgan Financial Group, who had been summoned before a Senate Banking Committee. Visibly distressed under such public scrutiny while being badgered by the Banking committee’s chief counsel, Ferdinand Pecora, the proceedings became something a public carnival. But it would be Charles Leef’s escapade that would really distress Morgan.
Morgan was the nation’s most powerful banker and to see him being cross examined caused a media frenzy. The court had to request photographers to stop snapping flashbulbs and moving around because nobody could see or hear the witnesses. The Senator for Virginia, Carter Glass made a comment that he “was in a circus….. and the only things lacking now are peanuts and coloured lemonade”.
The next day at the court arrived a real life circus. Charles Leef, the publicity agent for Barnum & Bailey Circus, had seized on Glass’s comment and brought with him Lya Graf, a thirty two year old midget. As the hearing began, Leef took a seat beside Jack Morgan and put the twenty seven inch tall Graf on his lap. To the horror of Morgan’s partners in his firm, Jack started talking to Lya, believing she was a child. Newspapermen from all over the U.S. snapped shots of the event. These pictures became some of the most famous of the decade.
Great coverage from guerrilla stunts always reward the brave who dare to hijack. Morgan was naturally appalled by the event, but the sadder outcome was that of Lya’s as she felt great shame at being used in such a way. She moved back to her home town of Germany in 1935 but was prosecuted by the Nazis for her Jewish origins and she died in Auschwitz during world war II.