The Greatest Showman: How much is real?

If The Greatest Showman is based on a true story, how much of the story is true?

By Emma Petermann

Ever since the release of the critically acclaimed production The Greatest Showman, people can’t get enough. The movie-musical has everything you could ever want, including singing, dancing, and marvelous acting that keeps audiences coming back for more.

Hugh Jackman plays Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in this movie-musical. Jackman is also well known for portraying the character of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and he is well-fit for the role of a “singing showman.” Other recognizable actors include Zac Efron and Zendaya, who play Philip Carlye, Barnum’s sidekick, and Anne Wheeler, the trapeze artist. While this movie is based on a true story, most characters (such as Carlye and Wheeler) are fictional.

As fans go crazy, some critics are complaining that the story of P.T. Barnum is over-dramatized in the movie. Did all of this actually happen to the famous P.T. Barnum? Let’s look at some prominent differences between the real and the reel.

1. Was P.T. Barnum nearly broke before he opened his museum?

This is somewhat true. However, he hadn’t been laid off from a desk job. After lotteries were banned in Connecticut, P.T. Barnum sold his general store since the statewide lottery network had been his main source of income.

2. Did P.T. Barnum almost have a love affair with opera singer Jenny Lind?

No. In the movie, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) initially becomes infatuated with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who quits the tour in a huff after he rejects her advances. This is fiction. There is no evidence that the two ever had a romantic relationship.

3. Did P.T. Barnum bring the dwarf Charles Stratton into the circus when Stratton was 22-years-old?

No. Charles Sherwood Stratton, who went by the stage name General Tom Thumb, was recruited by P.T. Barnum when he was only 4-years-old, not 22 like in the movie.

4. Did P.T. Barnum’s museum really burn down?

Yes. The Greatest Showman true story confirms that Barnum’s American Museum burned to the ground in a fire on July 13, 1865. The origin of the fire was never discovered, but it is possible that it could’ve been protestors, considering he had many.

5. How old was P.T. Barnum when he started the circus?

P.T. Barnum didn’t start his circus until he was 60-years-old, which was five years after his museum burned to the ground. The Greatest Showman depicts Barnum as being younger when he gets into the circus business.

While some fans may be sad to hear this, don’t fret too much. It is still a good movie in and of itself. So keep singing along to your favorite songs from the soundtrack. Maybe The Greatest Showman doesn’t tell the true, full story of P.T. Barnum, but it still tells a wonderful story that we will not soon forget.

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