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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 self-performing 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.

More or less a Dead Horse Trope these days, but expect them to pop up in stories set in the 19th and early 20th century. (They've actually been banned in quite a few cities, both because of complaints about the excessive noise they make and because of copyright violations by some of the musicians.)

See also One-Man Band. Not related to putting someone's privates in a meatgrinder.


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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 Batman Returns the Penguin's circus gang had an evil organ grinder amongst their ranks, and he was apparently very high in command. His organ contained 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. His very presence was also kind of a stretch, since organ grinders are usually thought of as stand-alone street entertainers rather than members of circus troupes.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • 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.


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

     Video Games  

     Western Animation  

  • Looney Tunes: In Hurdy-Gurdy Hare, Bugs Bunny takes over an organ grinder's monkey's job after he catches the real monkey pocketing the profits.
  • An organ grinder occasionally shows up in Cow and Chicken, though the 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.)
  • Monkey from Dexter's Laboratory had an enemy who was a hypnotic organ grinder.
  • In Hey Arnold! Helga gets bit by an organ grinder's monkey.
  • An organ grinder appears in the "Rhapsody In Blue" segment of Fantasia 2000.
  • In the Droopy cartoon Dixieland Droopy, Droop 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.
  • The Popeye cartoon "Organ Grinder's Swing" has Wimpy being one of these.