Today is the birthday of Vivian Wheeler (b. 1948), notable in these annals for oh so many interesting reasons. Wheeler was born a hermaphrodite; since her parents already had two sons they had the male organs removed, making her technically female. But like her mother and her maternal grandmother, she continued to produce in profusion one attribute most females do not possess: facial hair. As a child she helped pay her own way by working in sideshows. As a young woman she tried to settle down, shaved her beard, went through several failed marriages and had two children, who were later put up for adoption. (Because of her male bone structure both were delivered by cesarian section). By 1981 she was back in the sideshows, often billed as Malinda Maxey. She has been in the Guinness Book of World Records numerous times since 2001 for possessing the longest female beard, which has ranged in length from 11 to 17 inches. In 2010 she receive a huge amount of international publicity when her biological son tracked her down: the headlines “Adopted Son Discovers His Mother to be a Bearded Lady” spread like wildfire around the world; articles about the incident continue to run to this day.
Here is a local news segment about her incredible story:
To find out more 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.