Unlike our contemporary Serpentina, snake-charming star of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, the original Serpentina (possibly named Irene Ferrill, b. circa 1898), was billed to be boneless, lacking any bones apart from her skull. Thus she was billed as a snake girl or serpent girl, because she had the ability to sort of bend her body every which way — she was the snake. It was said that it was necessary for her to be carried from place to place. (It’s a clumsy fit, of course. Snakes most assuredly do possess bony skeletons. And for that matter, I’m sure that so did Serpentina, whatever it was that ailed her).
References emerge to her playing in a place called the Globe Cafe in Oakland, California around 1920, and in the late 30s she played a touring “Marine Hippodrome” were she was billed as a “Sea Tiny” (the photo above, from that show, seems altered to represent her as some kind of scaled sea creature.) By 1940, she was with a Ripley’s Belive it Or Not Odditorium.
To find out 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.
And please check out 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