Huge loss: ‘Little Jimmy’ dies at 67

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

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.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

MJ from Bay Ridge says:
RIP.. he's always on Third Avenue.. very friendly person.
April 8, 2015, 9 am
Dan from Bay Ridge says:
I remember always seeing him at Lemark Lanes when I was a kid in the summers. Wether bowling or just around the neighborhood on his 3 wheel bicycle. That guy was truly Mr.Bay Ridge.
April 8, 2015, 9:09 am
Gary from bay ridge says:
he was an inspiration to us all, I met him here in bay ridge and jimmy was very friendly, I'm sorry that he's gone we will miss him,
April 8, 2015, 10:08 am
Frank DeCostello from bensonhurst bklyn says:
st Mary m of Jesus sea cadets in our band also worked with us on DeCostello carting years ago in bklyn also always said when am I going to see ya its little jimmy say hello to mr &umrah de and my sister Amy thanks pal !
April 8, 2015, 1:47 pm
Taso Verteouris from bay ride says:
Simplest thing said is " We loved and we will miss him." He was family to us. Jimmy and I were very close over the last 15 years. He was truly an inspiration. Jimmy was always able to put a smile on anyone's face. He will forever remain in our hearts and minds.
April 8, 2015, 2:34 pm
Richie from bay ridge says:
He lived on my block 92nd st, always said hello to my wife and kids. Rest in peace. jimmy.
April 8, 2015, 10:36 pm
Anonymous from Bay ridge says:
Will miss seeing Jimmy on 86 th street come Christmas time ! Rest in peace.
April 9, 2015, 1:25 am
Anonymous from bayridge says:
Rest in piece Little Jimmy ! You were a great guy and were nice to everybody !Rest In Piece My dear friend !Well miss you very much ! Thanks so much Goodbye !
April 9, 2015, 9:07 pm
Kenneth J Joyce from Bayridge Bklyn says:
So sorry to hear of Little Jimmy"s death !He was a wonderful person and was very friendly to everybody who he met.And when he saw you it was like you were an old friend .Again I'm so sorry to learn of his death .RIP Little Jimmy And to his family again my deepest sympathy !
April 9, 2015, 9:15 pm
Eric from SQUAN says:
He was the surprise host of my birthday party in 2012. He told us all these stories that we thought were just part of his act and then in reading his obit, they all ended up being factual. Fun story -- He had green paint on the top of his head from the previous day because he was lil-Shrek for a kid's birthday party and couldnt reach the top of his head to wash the rest of the paint off. He will be missed - great memories.
April 10, 2015, 7:42 am
Mike from bay ridge says:
Great heart & spirit. I had a role for Jimmy in my next film that he was looking forward to. Wish he'd remained here with us.
Sweet passage to the other side, dear Little Jimmy. xo
April 10, 2015, 8:42 pm
Anna from Bay Ridge says:
Someone at my job came up to me and show me news paper with Little Jimmy's photo and said he is dead. I was in disbelieve. I was a teenager when i meet Jimmy. He was really funny, smart, and kind. He would always call me princess :"( Let him god rest in peace with joy and no pain. It hurts to know he is gone but now he stays in our hearts.
April 10, 2015, 9:51 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: