*** boy prodigies: other types

Boy Prodigies: Non-Musical Prodigies

Figure 1.--

When we think of prodigies we are primarily thinking about music prodigies--usually boys who played a musical imstrument an early age. In recent years, child singer have also been prominent. There have been some child prodigies, again mostly boys, in other areas as well. HBC is including non-music prodigies in the main prodigy list for organizational simplicity. The vast majority of the listings are in fact music prodigies. We currently have only a small number of non-music prodigies. We will eventually prepare a separte list to make them easier to locate, but at present they are simply listed under the main prodigy list. Some of the different types of prodigies include:

Child Actors

Children have performed to considerable acclaim on theatrical productions. In the theater both boys and girls were involved.

Live Theater

Some of the first children involved in live theater played Little Lord Fauntleroy. Boys were involved in the Elizabethan theater and played female roles, as it was not considered proper for women to perform at the time, but this convention waned as women entred the stage. In addition the Elizabethan boys were not really considered prodigies at the time. The first such theartrical child prodigies were the children playing LittleLord Fauntleroy.


When the advent of cinema at the turn of the 20th century, a new phenomenon appeared, chilod movie stars. The boys that appeared in these movies were often smartly dresses, especially for publicity photographs. In some cases, parents and guardians liked to dress them in juvenile fashions so as to prolong their child movie careers. Others were dressed in clothes approapriate for their age. Thus they reflect popular styles for boys from well to do families. Many affluent mothers often dress their clothes in very conservative fashions. Generally speaking the child stars did not wear the more conservative styles.

Child Chess Masters

Some children have achied achieved considerable prominence as chess masters. A chess prodigy is a child who can win games against experienced adult players, in come cases even grand masters. Of course, expectations for these children as adults players can be high. Someindeed becaome World Champions, others do not improve as they grow oldr. We are unsure why this is. There are many examples of these children, almost always boys. Here it could be that the came itself attracts boys more than girls, but we suspect more is involved. Unlike sports, size and motor skills are not important. It is likely that it is the same reason that most math prodigies are boys and most science Nobel prises are won by men. Of course in the 19th and early-20th century, women had fewer educational opportunities, but this is no mlonger the case and we continue to see gender firrences in these areas. Some of the most notable chess prodigies were Paul Morphy (1837�1884) and Jos� Ra�l Capablanca (1888-1942), both of whom won matches against strong adult opponents at the age of 12. Samuel Reshevsky (1911-92), who was giving simultaneous exhibitions against a room full of adult masters at the age of a mere 6 years. Morphy went on to be unofficial World Champion (before the official title existed), Capablanca became the third World Champion, and Reshevsky�while never attaining the title�was amongst the top few players in the world for many decades. Bobby Fisher is one of the most notable among modern players. HBC at this time has little information on the suject. A good source of information is: Fred Waitzkin, Searching for Bobby Fischer: The World of Chess Observed by the Father of a Child Prodigy (New York : Random House, c1988), 226p.

Child Preachers?

Some children have been recogonized as moving preachers. This seems to have been a uniquely American phenomenon. And an entirely Protestant one. As far as I know they were always boys. One is reminded of course of the novel Elmer Gantry and the movie The Apostle, with Robert Duvall, whose character preached as a boy in the Pentecostal church. We believe there have been quite a number of these children, especially in evangelical fundamentalist churches. Presumably this is why most of the boys we have noted have been Americans. Since the 1930s, however, the phenomenon has become less common. These boys appear to have only preched locally and HBC has been unable to find much information about them.

Child Genuises

There have also been reports of child genuises. Too often, however, they were made into side-show attractions. It is, however, more difficult to exploit a child's intelligence than his or her musical abilities.

William James Sidis (U.S., 1898-1944)

A HBC reader has suggested including William James Sidis in the non-musical prodigy list. While not the world's most famous prodigy, William was probably the possessor of the highest I.Q. ever recorded, probanly about 250-300. Yes, higher even than Einstein's! A book you must about William is The Prodigy" (Sidis' biograohy) by Amy Wallace. The cover photo shows William, around age 10, in the 'Russian tunic suit' so popular at the time. The tunic suit had very plain lines. A HBC reader speculates, "I've always thought of the Russian outfit as reaction to the Little Lord Fauntleroy craze." William was a very interesting child, needless to say, but his parents treated him like a performing monkey which doubtless was the cause of the eccentric, reclusive personality he developed. His abilities are astonishing. He was reading the New York Times at age 18 months. He was not hyst reading, but writing French poetry at age 5 years. He was speaking 8 languages at 6 years of age. William passed the entramce exam for Harvard University at age 9 years. he reportedkly was giving lecgtures at the Harvard at the Mathematical Club at ahe 11 years. He graduated sum Laude age age 16 years. Tragucally, he never made a significant contribution with all that incredible intellect. He ssems to have died, a penniless recluse, at the age 46 years.


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Created: June 13, 2000
Last updated: 9:04 PM 1/15/2023