The Real-life Big Tex: Jack Earle, a Larger Than Life Texan

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Tony Maples Photography


Jack Earle wasn’t born in Texas, but he got here as fast as he could and grew to embody the saying “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Born Jacob Rheuben Erlich on July 3, 1906, this multi-talented man was a performer, salesman, and gentle soul. He was also one of the world’s tallest humans at the time of his death, topping at 8 feet 6.5 inches.

While on a trip to Los Angeles at age 13 and already over seven feet tall, he was spotted by a Hollywood connection and offered employment. Jacob changed his name to Jack Earle and appeared in 48 films. This path ended abruptly, however, when he fell from scaffolding and broke his nose. While in the hospital, he lost his eyesight and a tumor was discovered. After several months of X-ray treatments, his eyesight returned. With this renewed ability, Jack matriculated and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso.


The next stage of Jack’s life revolved around sideshow performing. A one-year engagement with Ringling Bros. (offered after Jack was discovered to be 13 inches taller than the existing performer) rolled into a 14-year employment. From here, Jack became a wine salesman, who impressed with knowledge and nine-inch-long business cards. Through the duration of a year, Jack often spent up to 11 months on the road, crisscrossing the land three or four times. Ever the Texan, Jack Earle was proud to don his custom-made cowboy boots for shows and meetings!


Facebook/Brunhilde De Ridder

Jack’s talents were also artistic in nature; he attended art school and explored various media including painting, sculpture, photography, and poetry. Also an avid golfer, a special extra-long set of clubs were made for him by the Chicago Golf Company. No cheating took place though: the club heads were of standard size. Never married and without children, Jack was a friend to all he encountered. In 1951, he retired to a ranch in El Paso and spent his spare time weaving stories of magical giants for children in orphanages. Jack died of kidney failure on July 18, 1952 at 46 years old. A book called The Long Shadows has been written about his life. A great man in height and spirit, perhaps next time you put on your cowboy boots, Jack Earle will come to mind!