Good night, sweet prince.
Bay Ridge fixture James “Little Jimmy” Mastrangelo — a Coney Island icon, author, Latin dancer, and former Oompah Loompah perhaps best known for playing “Little Uncle Sam” at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest— passed away on April 6 after a two-year battl with prostate cancer. He was 67.
He is remembered by friends and family as People’s Playground royalty.
“To me, the prince of Coney Island is dead, and it is a sad, sad day,” said George Shea, emcee of the hot dog-eating contest and a long-time friend of Mastrangelo. “I speak for the entire Coney Island community when I say we all loved Jimmy. He was born to the stage — he was born to perform.”
The Bensonhurst-born entertainer, Bay Ridge resident, and adopted son of Coney Island was as Brooklyn as it gets, his sister said.
“He never wanted to leave Brooklyn,” said Maria DeStefano, who lives in New Jersey. “I’d get him to come out to visit me a couple times, but he would never stay long. He’d look at his watch and say ‘I have to get on the seven o’clock bus.’ ”
Many know Mastrangelo for his role as “Little Uncle Sam” in Shea’s July Fourth hot dog-eating contest, but he also appeared as an Oompah Loompah in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” published a book, and was an accomplished Latin dancer who proudly carried a photo of himself with mambo maestro Tito Puente, friends said.
“I’m a professional dancer and the world’s smallest maitre d’,” Mastrangelo told the New York Times in 1997.
When he wasn’t on the Boardwalk, Mastrangelo picked up odd jobs amusing folks in Bay Ridge, another friend said.
“He always wanted to entertain,” said Leo Lyaourezos, who owns Leo’s Casa Calamari. “At birthday parties he always wanted to carry the cake. He was great with kids.”
Mastangelo died just two days shy of his 68th birthday, his sister said.
“I have all his birthday balloons and a cake I made him,” she said.
DeStefano is encouraging the public to attend her brother’s wake to celebrate the little person and his larger-than-life reputation.
“He was a little person, but he lived a bigger life than most big people,” she said. “He brought out the best in anybody. I’m sure he’s up there dancing in the heavens.”
The wake will be at McLaughlin’s Funeral Home [9620 Third Ave. between 96th and 97th streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 238–3600] April 8 from 2–5 pm and 7–9 pm.