Today is the birthday of Frieda Pushnik (1923-2000). Born without arms or legs (except a small stump for a left arm) she was sometimes billed as “The Little Half Girl.” It was said that she could thread a needle, do jigsaw puzzles, apply makeup, crochet, dress herself and type on a typewriter. She could also write with a pen, winning several school awards for her penmanship.
Ag age ten she began working at Robert Ripley’s first Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium at the World’s Fair in Chicago. For her five minute routine she would be carried onstage on a plush pillow, then introduce herself and demonstrate her many skills. She later toured with the Odditorium, staying with Ripley until the end of the decade. In 1943, she went to work for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey sideshow. (At the same time, her sister Erma was working as a trapeze artist and dancing girl under the big tent; she later went to work in the back office).
In 1956, Frieda retired from live performance, although she occasionally appeared in movies, such as The House of the Damned (1963) and Sideshow (1981).
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.