Horace Ridler (1892-1969) was a self-made British freak billed as The Great Omi and the Zebra Man (although to me he looks more like a poison dart frog). His early years are shrouded in mystery. His own claims that he was a child of privelege who attended private schools and possibly Cambridge or Oxford, and then squandered his fortune, could be true but have the ring of fancy. He soldiered as an officer in World War I, serving in what is now Iraq, and there he got his first tattoos. After the war he he had several more done and became a professional. Around 1927 he began enhancing his appearance until his entire body was covered not only with tattoos but also piercings and he also had his teeth filed. The story he gave audiences was the typical one about being kidnapped in New Guinea and forcibly decorated. He was to become one of the most famous sideshow attractions in the world.
His career seems to gain momentum when he came to the U.S. in 1939 to exhibit himself at the New York World’s Fair. Following this, he toured for a year with Ringling Brothers sideshow, then embarked on a tour of Australia, New Zealand and the American west with various shows. Then he returned to Britain in 1942 and continued performing for another decade.
Here is a clip in which you can see him move about:
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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