The Little Gate-Crasher
by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
Mace Bugen might have been an achondroplastic dwarf, 43 inches tall with an average size head and torso set on small, twisted legs—but that didn’t mean he was an idiot or a pushover. In truth, he was smarter than most; over the years, he learned to effectively turn what society in those days called a handicap into a powerful tool he could use to his advantage.
“When I was a kid,” he once said, “I’d ask myself, Why is that guy on the football team? Why can’t I be on the team? Why didn’t God give me the height so I could be the hero?”
“Then at some point I figured it out: I gotta do something special to let ’em know I’m me.”
In The Little Gate Crasher: The Life And Photos Of Mace Bugen, I remember my amazing great-Uncle Mace Bugen through his journey as a first-generation Jewish-American kid in working class Philipsburg, NJ to becoming the first celebrity selfie-artist—way ahead of his time.
Featuring vintage photos of Mace with his exploits, The Little Gate Crasher captures three decades of American pop culture, seen through the unique lens of Mace and his gate-crashing exploits.
Underneath his antics, we meet a complex man who continually defies others expectations and meets life on his own terms. Mace becomes a successful businessman and devoted son to his aging parents. But in his gate-crashing antics, we best get to see Mace’s unique combination of guile, cunning and sense of entitlement, which he used to engineer photos of himself with some of the biggest celebrities of his day. If people were going to stare at him all of his life, he would give them something to see.
The Little Gate Crasher features over 50 vintage photos of Mace with celebrities, athletes and politicians, including Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Muhammed Ali, Richard Nixon, Jane Russel, Joe DiMaggio and more.
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is an experienced educator, author and speaker. At Jewish Learning Venture, she works as Director of Whole Community Inclusion and leads disability awareness programs for the Philadelphia Jewish community. Her most recent book The Little Gate Crasher, a memoir of her Great-Uncle, who overcame society’s prejudices about dwarfism to lead a remarkable life, was one of the national book selections for 2017 Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month. Gabby writes for and edits The New York Jewish Week’s The New Normal: Blogging Disability and is also a featured Philly parenting blogger for WHYY’s newsworks. Gabby holds a B.F.A. in theatre and creative writing from Emerson College and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
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Q & A with Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
“The Little Gate-Crasher” is a memoir about the most amazing person in my family—my Great-Uncle Mace Bugen.
My Grandmother Minerva, my Great-Uncle Mace’s older sister, was a wonderful storyteller and told me many stories about her childhood as I was growing up—she had grown up in a completely different circumstance, as a daughter of immigrants who had recently come to America and who worked hard in their grocery store to make a living. It was the Great depression and every penny counted. My Grandma shared many stories about her brother Mace and how impressed she was by his ability to not pity himself for being a dwarf and to not think less of himself—even though others teased or jeered at him.
When my Grandmother died, Mace’s photo album with his amazing celebrity photos was passed down to my Mom. My family and I would look at it and marvel as the unique history Mace created of pop culture from the mid-40s to the mid-70s—he had “celebrity selfies” with Ella Fitzgerald, Joe DiMaggio, Nixon, Ali—all of the famous athletes, politicians and entertainers of the era.
As I looked at the photos, I thought of Mace’s story and wondered not only how did he manage to get these photos considering his limited mobility—but why? What did these photos mean to him and what we can learn from there?
A great story emerged—of a confidant man given a significant challenge who viewed himself as no less than anyone else, despite the message that society continually gave him.
What was your favorite thing about each character?
Writing this book allowed me to get to know more about my family than ever before. I discovered so many amazing things about my Uncle and also about my great-Grandparents, who raised him with unconditional love and the belief that he was no less than anyone else.
Do you have a playlist you listen to when writing?
Although I love music, I prefer silence when I write. Once I get in the flow, I don’t want any distraction!
Any favorite foods/drinks you like while writing?
I’m a hard core coffee addict. I start my day around 6am with two strong cups—just black. That’s my ritual before I sit down and start writing.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My third grade teacher gave us a writing assignment and she recognized that I had some ability! She gave me time in class to continue to write stories. That belief in me at a young age gave me the confidence to keep writing. I’ve studied and written poetry and playwrighting and later came to nonfiction and memoir. This is my groove!
What are some are your favorite reads?
I am always reading! Right now, I’m really into memoir…I’ve recently read Roxane Gay and Anne Lamott. I also just read all of Elena Ferrante’s “Neopolitan Novels”’—I couldn’t put them down and stayed up into the night reading.