Maximilian Willian Gruber
"Della" Bono Gruber
December 25, 1874
Died: May 4, 1944
Max Alfred Gruber
Born: November 18, 1898,
Died: November 14,1952, Portland, Maine
Born: 1903, England
Died: June 1968, Bronx, NY
of the entertainment circuit, Max Gruber and Adele Bono married in 1896 in
Norway, and together they traveled with a variety of carnivals and circuses
in England. In the winter of 1901-02, Gruber served as Equestrian Director
for the Humphrey E. Brammall circus.
In 1908, at the urging of a New York theatrical agent, the
Grubers brought their act to America as performers in the Keith and Orpheum
vaudeville circuits. In their first appearance in New York, they shared the
The Grubers had learned of Actor's Colony from other vaudeville performers
and the couple visited Muskegon for the first time as an act in the Herbert
Kline Carnival in 1911. The circus disbanded in Muskegon following their
performance, and the Grubers had time to visit with friends from their days
in vaudeville. Impressed with the area and
the collection of performers in the Actor's Colony, the couple chose to settle
Originally, the act featured Minnie the elephant, (acquired in 1899) a
horse and a Shetland pony. The animals were well-known as performers on the
vaudeville stages of America and over the years had toured with a variety
of shows, In 1913, they joined
Buffalo Bill Cody's
Residents of Muskegon became very familiar with Gruber and his animals
because of their frequent visits to Lake Michigan Park, and Minnie's strolls
in the lake. A member of the Rotary Club and the Muskegon Exchange club Max
and Minnie would make appearances around town. She served as official
mascot for a number of Actors' Colony baseball games.
After years of touring, the Grubers were offered the chance to sell the
act to Reas Bros. Circus in Mexico around the winter of 1919-1920.
Max accepted the offer and the Grubers retired from performing. However,
the retirement was short-lived, as soon after Max accepted a position
with Reas Bros to serve as the show's animal trainer. It was during
this time that he became personally acquainted with Mexican
About the winter of 1925-26 Gruber acquired Minnie
II, a three-year-old elephant. The elephant was taken to
Bluffton for training, however, shortly after her arrival in Muskegon
she passed away. Soon after, the Grubers welcomed Little Eva,
"It is noted with interest" reported a Patterson,
NJ newspaper in 1927, "that Eva is one of the few white trained elephants in
captivity. She was brought from Siam and her progenitors are among the
sacred white head of that country. She is small for her age and has been in
the United States less than a year."
Joined by Topsy, a two-year-old zebra and Ringo, a Great
Dane, the act was christened "Oddities of the Jungle." Topsy
was, according to media, was "the only performing zebra in the history of
Packed into truck custom-built by Muskegon-based
Fitzjohn Corporation for the act, the Gruber's returned to country's
vaudeville stages with Eva, "the human elephant" and Topsy, "the wonder
zebra." Eva would make frequent appearances, selling papers on the
street corners, or pedaling a huge tricycle down the main street of the
towns they visited. She bowled on a portable bowling
alley built by the local Brunswick plant. Topsy would dance to Eva's drumming and organ
grinding, and skipped rope for the entertainment of the masses.
In 1936 and 1937, Gruber and the act toured the nation with the
Circus. However, slowed by Max's health, the Grubers retired from performing
in 1938, selling the circus,
including Eva the elephant and Topsy the zebra to "Bud" E.
Anderson of Emporia, Kansas, "once a famous cowboy film star."
Anderson's company later toured the country as Bud E.
Anderson's Jungle Oddities and 3
Like Keaton, Little Eva also made the move to
Hollywood. It is said that she became a star in her own right,
appearing with Johnny Weissmuller in several early Tarzan movies.
Max passed away in 1939. Following his death, Adele had the barn that once housed
the animals remodeled into apartments. The three-unit dwelling
still stands and is christened "Memories".