Josephine Joseph: He/She from “Freaks”

Josephine Joseph is almost exclusively known today as the He/She in the movie Freaks (1932). His/her most memorable scene was the one where stuttering Rosco Ates says to Hercules (Henry Victor): “I think she-he she-he likes you…but he d-d-d-don’t!” The He/She was a sideshow staple, a purported hermaphrodite who was supposedly split down the middle along sex lines, usually with the male side attired in a Tarzan style “wild man” animal skin, and the female side in a glamorous gown with a single breast on one side. Just what the person possessed for genitalia was left to the imagination, though it was implied that he/she possessed some amount of both male and female sex organs. 

IMDB contends that Josephine Joseph was born July 4, 1891 in Austria. Another source says 1896. Publicity for Freaks says that he/she was 19, meaning a birth year of 1913. Sources say he/she may have been of Romanian extraction. In 1930 this person and “her” husband and manager George Waas were arrested for fraud after performing their act in Blackpool. At that time they were identified as Americans. The couple then left the U.K. and returned to the States. This article explores gender issues suggested by the existence of Josephine Joseph. IMDB gives a death year of 1966, in Wilmington Delaware. Another source says 1991. If more tumbles our way we’ll be sure to share it!

To learn more about the history of variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous