Today is the birthday of Grady Stiles, Jr. (1937-1992). Stiles was the sixth in the bloodline of a family prone to ectrodactyly, a condition in which the extremities are hardened and fused, somewhat resembling the claws of a crustacean. Stiles, like his father before him, worked in carnival sideshows; two of his children, having the same condition, joined the family business. Billed as the Lobster Boy, Stiles worked for a number of traveling shows before he started his own personal family operation, over which he exerted tyrannical control. Despite what might be thought to be a handicap, Stiles grew unbelievably strong in his upper body, and the claws were tough and hard. He used them to strike and terrorize his family on an almost daily basis.
After years of drunkenness and physical abuse (including the murder of his own son-in-law, for which Stiles only received probation), Stiles’s wife and son hired a 17 year old hitman to shoot him in the back of the head in his Gibtown trailer. This of course yielded a sideshow of a different order: media coverage of the trial, books, television shows and movies about the lurid story were turned out with great profusion and rapidity. Several of his offspring continue to perform to this day.
To find out about the history of show business, 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 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