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Organ Grinder

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A specific type of Street Performer, the Organ Grinder is a Street Musician who would make a living turning the crank on a small, self-performing Pipe Organ (sometimes mistakenly called a hurdy-gurdy), usually with a trained monkey on a leash dancing around—alternatively, the monkey is the one turning the organ, and the human is just there to hold the leash. The monkey will often be a capuchin monkey, as they are easy to train and have been historically associated with organ grinders.

The organ grinder plays a small pneumatic organ by cranking a handle. The organs are typically wheeled. The organ grinder may rent the instrument by the day or week. In the US, there were allegations that the Mafia was involved in renting the instruments. The fairground calliope or circus organ, which is often mounted in merry-go-round rides, is a related type of instrument, as it is also a mechanical pneumatic organ. However, the fairground organ is larger and is typically mounted permanently on a ride, and uses steam or an electric motor.

More or less a Dead Horse Trope these days, but expect them to pop up in Period Piece stories set in the 19th and early 20th century. Fictional depictions may show the organ grinder being a lookout or they may even have a weapon hidden in the instrument.

During their heyday in the 1800s, they were not well-liked by authorities, who viewed organ grinders as lower-class, disreputable types. They were banned in some cities, because of complaints about the excessive noise they make, concerns about sidewalk congestion, and regulations against street performers requesting tips (some UK ordinances considered it a form of begging and a public nuisance). As well, music publishers sought to deal with organ grinders' copyright violations, as some of the musicians performed popular songs without paying royalties to the music publisher.

See also One-Man Band. Not to be confused with Meatgrinder Surgery or anything of the sort.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Drocell Keinz in the anime adaptation of Black Butler was first introduced carrying an organ grinder which played My Fair Lady.
  • Princess Tutu gave us Edel. Her organ grinder was also a portable jewelry display case since she sold the trinkets.

  • Buster Keaton films:
    • In The Cameraman, Buster is in hot pursuit of a story to film when he crashes right into an organ grinder and his monkey. The monkey appears to be dead, so Buster has to pay the organ grinder. The monkey is only stunned, however, and soon wakes up to make more complications for Buster.
    • Go West has an amazingly racist gag in which Buster encounters an organ grinder playing, not for a monkey, but for a black man who is dancing in the street.
  • In M, an organ player is among the beggars tasked with keeping their eyes out for the murderer.
  • The first shot of Scarlet Street shows an organ grinder and his monkey performing on a sidewalk. This is either Foreshadowing of or symbolism for how the milquetoast protagonist is controlled and manipulated by his Femme Fatale lover.
  • In Scarface, there's one outside that amuses Cesca.
  • In Soviet propaganda film Strike, an organ grinder with a dancing bear appears. He is actually a spy sent by management to spy on the striking workers.
  • In The Poor Little Rich Girl, the titular Lonely Rich Kid hears an organ grinder (without a monkey) and pays him to come into her house.
  • In Mighty Joe Young (1949), the titular giant gorilla Joe is involved in a humiliating performance playing an organ grinder's monkey with Jill, acting as a little girl, turning the handle.
  • In La Scoumoune (1972), there's Migli, the recurring mustachioed supporting character who's sometimes seen playing the film's theme (composed by François de Roubaix) on his portable barrel organ. He was played by Mexican actor Enrique Lucero.
  • In Batman Returns, the Penguin's circus gang has an evil organ grinder (complete with monkey) amongst their ranks, and he is seemingly The Dragon. His organ contains a hand-cranked gatling gun, and in the Super Nintendo game based on the movie, he fires bullets at Batman and then just tries to hit Batman with the organ when he gets too close.
  • Tia Dalma uses an organ grinder as a signal to some of the Black Pearl pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. For bonus points, Barbossa's monkey was hanging out with her while she had it. And then it turns out the organ grinder had a bomb stuffed in it.
  • One can be seen on the street in one scene of the Mexican film Santa Claus (1959). He's easy to miss, unless you're watching the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version:
  • In the Shirley Temple version of Heidi, an organ grinder's monkey makes its way to the window of the Sesemann's mansion on a cold snowy day; Hilarity Ensues when Heidi is moved by both her compassion and the monkey's politeness to let it inside.
  • She Done Him Wrong uses one to help establish The Gay '90s setting.
  • Dillinger: An organ grinder is seen on the street as Dillinger and Helen make their fatal trip to the Biograph Theater.
  • The Return of the Pink Panther: Inspector Clouseau accosts a "blind" street musician with an accordion and a monkey for not having a busking license, distracting him from the bank robbery going on in the background (the musician was the robbers' lookout).
  • Vivo has Andrés, a street performer skilled with many instruments, one of which is an organ that doubles as a house for his partner Vivonote .

  • There's an old, old joke where one character is cooking a chicken on a spit, and a second character (usually The Ditz or The Stoner, depending on the era) stops to watch. After a few minutes, he speaks up: "Hey, man, I hate to tell you this... but your music stopped and your monkey's on fire."

  • In Margaret Sidney's Five Little Peppers and How They Grew an organ grinder stops at their house to perform for them. The littlest Pepper, Phronsie, follows him when he leaves and the other children have to chase after them.
  • The Thinking Machine: In "The Problem of the Organ Grinder", Van Dusen investigates when an organ grinder's monkey is stabbed to death while Hatch is held at knifepoint. The organ grinder is later found beaten into unconsciousness in an alleyway.
  • Years of Grace: As war looms in April 1898 and Jane worries about Stephen enlisting, she hears an organ grinder and his monkey and momentarily cheers up. To Jane, organ grinders are a symbol of the coming of spring.

  • Eden Weint Im Grab's Moritat des Leierkastenmanns (Murder ballad of the Organ Grinder) feartures one as first person narrator.

    Video Games 
  • The Legend of Zelda features the recurring character Guru Guru, a music man most known for his very unique organ grinder instrument, his love of going around and around and around, and his Hair-Trigger Temper.
  • Brother Triumphator from Turgor is a giant humanoid mounted inside a barrel organ. In the battle with him, he keeps turning the crank of his organ to play his own Battle Theme Music, occasionally stopping to teleport away from the beating.
  • The organ grinder is one of the most nefarious enemies in the old text-adventure game Beyond Zork.
  • Dishonored has the Overseer Music Boxes, organ grinders worn by the foot soldiers of the Abby of the Everyman. The music boxes negate the magic of the Outsider by creating "mathematically pure notes" and can attack with waves of sound.
  • An organ grinder and his monkey are minor characters in Labyrinths of the World 2: Forbidden Muse.
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge: Guybrush steals a piano-playing monkey in order to have it help operate a water-pump.

    Western Animation 
  • Cow and Chicken: There is a slightly recurring organ grinder character with a monkey has since decomposed into a skeleton, and the machine is literally grinding organs into powder. (It's uncertain as to whether the machine is grinding the musical instrument or body parts.)
  • Dexter's Laboratory: The Dial M fore Monkey short "Organ Grindor" features the titular villain, a hypnotic organ grinder.
  • Droopy: In Dixieland Droopy, Droopy practices being a jazz band conductor to a record, but after he's kicked out of his home, he looks for other places to play the record, and one of them is an organ grinder's organ.
  • Hey Arnold!: In "Monkey Business", Helga gets bit by an organ grinder's monkey, causing her to believe she contracted a deadly disease.
  • House of Mouse: In the short "Mickey's Mistake", Mickey Mouse disguises himself as a organ grinder with Pluto as his monkey named Saturn.
  • Looney Tunes: In The Hurdy-Gurdy Hare, Bugs Bunny becomes a grinder and takes over the monkey's job after he catches him pocketing the profits.
  • Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: In Hungry Hobos, Oswald and Pete try to hide from a policeman by disguising themselves as a monkey and grinder, respectively; Pete builds an impromptu hurdy-gurdy by hiding a cat, dog and pig in a box and cranking a car's motor inside to beat them and create noise.
  • An organ grinder appears in the "Rhapsody In Blue" segment of Fantasia 2000.
  • Popeye: In The Organ Grinder's Swing, Wimpy is an organ grinder with a monkey; Popeye enjoys his music, while Bluto hates it, leading to a brawl to decide whether he stays or goes. Bluto eventually stomps the machine down to splinters, but one spinach-powered pounding later, he is smashed into a piano and Popeye cranks his arm so that he rotates and creates music.