Today is the birthday of Otis Jordan (1926-1990). He’ll always have a special place in our heart because (as it happens) he is the only one of the historical “human anomalies” in these annals your correspondent ever saw perform live. Furthermore, it was on my first ever trip to Coney Island in 1989, a very meaningful occasion for me personally. Otis was billed as “The Human Cigarette Factory”, and true to the advertisement he did perform Prince Randian’s old trick of rolling, lighting and smoking his own cigarette using nothing but his mouth. Unlike Randian, Jordan did have limbs, they were simply withered and useless.
For several years he tried conventional work; it wasn’t until 1963 that he joined a sideshow, billed as “The Frog Man”. Over the years he worked for Dick Burnett, Elsie Sutton, Jeff Murray, Dean Potter, Ward Hall, James Taylor (of Shocked and Amazed and the American Dime Museum), and finally, starting in 1987 the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. It turns out the summer I saw him was his last on the midway; he died of kidney disease a few months later.
To find out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
Otis was one of the sweetest people I ever met. I worked closely with him while he was working at the Sideshow in Coney…one of his favourite remarks was “I’m sick of this; I’m gonna run away and join the circus!” He was a true gentleman, and a wonderful performer. He is sorely missed!