Today is the birthday of Esther Blackmon (1926-2003). Born Esther Parnell in Kenly, North Carolina, she was born with a condition called icthyosis, characterized by dry, scaly skin and no hair, hence her designation as the Alligator Girl. Her brother Bill had the same condition and for many years starting in the 1940s they were exhibited as twins in Joe Hilton’s Side Show. In 1947, Esther married Thomas Blackmon, a musician with the show and they split off and started their own show. The following year, Esther gave birth to her first child and began billing herself as “The World’s Strangest Mother”. She proved to be nearly as prolific as an actual alligator, giving birth to a total of seven children. She continued to perform in carnivals and sideshows until 1982. In the 70s she also appeared in two horror movies: The Sentinel (1977, an excellent film; the Dutchess and I watched it a few months ago. Esther played one of the demons emerging from the mouth of hell!) and The Mutations (1974, in which Esther’s sideshow act is reproduced in its entirety. Here it is!):
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 my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc