Archive for the Bearded Ladies Category

Circus Amok 2016!

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Bearded Ladies, Circus, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Dime Museum and Side Show, Jugglers, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by travsd

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We were fortunate to catch opening day of Circus Amok’s 2016 touring season yesterday at the Abrons Arts Center. It’s a more stripped down, lean and mean show this year, with a smaller cast and fewer sets, elaborate masks, or costumes (and, I believe, a shorter show).

I hope I won’t get in trouble by saying I liked it BETTER. This kind of cut-to-the-chase brevity, simplicity, and economy is a vaudeville VIRTUE, and that’s what I saw yesterday. One act in particular, mixing opera and two performers playing the same accordion, was a BOFFO vaudeville turn. Another act — the sight of artistic director, star, m.c. and woman-with-a-beard Jennifer Miller escaping from a straightjacket to the tune of the old disco hit “I Will Survive” — made me weep at the sheer beauty of it, even though I’d seen it many times before! And weeping is vaudeville (it certainly isn’t burlesque, sideshow or circus). And yesterday WAS September 11 — I imagine I was subconsciously mining every particle of pleasure out of the show I possibly could. I enjoyed it that much. And that’s vaudeville, too. It was either vaudeville or sunstroke. (The concrete outdoor amphitheater at Abrons is like sitting at the focal point of a solar panel.)

But cooler weather is upon us! And Circus Amok will be playing (for free!) at a public park near you (if you live in New York City) through September 18. The full schedule is here.

And now some more pictures!

This very funny ringer did walkaround. It says something about New York that it took me a second to make her as a clown. I've seen crazy people on the street with this much powder or white cream on their face at least 3 dozen times

This very funny ringer did walkaround. It says something about New York that it took me a second to make her for a clown. I’ve seen crazy people on the street with this much powder or white cream on their face at least 3 dozen times. Anyway, she got the whole crowd to yell and scream, which is very fun, because you couldn’t help picturing what people on the sidewalk must have thought as they were walking by

Balancing the ladder on her chin was plenty impressive, but I couldn't resist wishing a little person would appear and clamber up the ladder and jump onto that nearby balcony

Balancing the ladder on her chin was plenty impressive, but I couldn’t resist wishing a little person would appear and clamber up that ladder and jump onto that nearby balcony

No lions were harmed during the production of this circus

No lions were harmed during the production of this circus

Cirkus Amok In Prospect Park!

Posted in Bearded Ladies, BROOKLYN, Circus, Contemporary Variety, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Indie Theatre, PLUGS with tags , , , , on September 15, 2014 by travsd

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Yesterday was so gorgeous we had to take a lengthy constitutional through Prospect Park and came upon the happy surprise of Woman-with-a-Beard Jennifer Miller and her joyous troupe Cirkus Amok in performance. They are never less than 1,000% charming, and whomever’s making those costumes and props gets three thumbs up! They have 7 more free performances scheduled for this season: check out their calendar here. 

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Jane Barnell, a.k.a. Lady Olga

Posted in Bearded Ladies, Dime Museum and Side Show, Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Women with tags , , , , , , , on January 3, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday, according to some sources, of Jane Barnell, known professionally as Lady Olga Roderick. (Two different birth dates are given for her, depending on the source: January 3, 1871 or February 28, 1877. All sources agree that she died in 1951).

Olga is best known to posterity for her role as the bearded lady in Tod Browning’s movie Freaks (1932). This is interesting to me. Unlike many of the performers in that storied film, Olga was possessed of a condition that could be easily gaffed, just a matter of some whiskers and spirit gum. That he cast an authentic sideshow bearded lady I think says something about Browning’s aims in that film. It is not just a movie about a freak show. It is the freak show itself.

Like most of the stars of Freaks, Olga had an amazing life. Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, her parentage was half Russian Jewish, and half Catawba Indian. Olga was hirsute since infancy, prompting her mother to sell her to a circus at age four while her father was away on a business trip. She fell ill while on tour in Germany with the Great Orient Family Circus. They dumped her in an orphanage and her father came and retrieved her. As an adult she was lured back to the sawdust by the John Robinson Circus in the 1890s, and she subsequently worked for a couple of dozen others over her professional career, including Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey; Forepaugh-Sells; the Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island; and Hubert’s Museum in Times Square. At one point her beard was advertised as thirteen inches long, “the longest in the world”.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Betty MacGregor, a.k.a Stella the Bearded Lady

Posted in Bearded Ladies, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Women with tags , , , , on December 28, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Betty “Stella the Bearded Lady” MacGregor (1902-1977). A native of Battle Creek, Michigan she initially spent many years pursuing more traditional careers in teaching and nursing, but had to sneak off to shave up to six times a day so no one would noticed her whiskers. She began working for sideshows in the World War II era, among them Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey, and Ward Hall. She retired sometime after the 1970s, when sideshows were in the depth of their decline. It is said that she spent her last years passing as a man and working as an accountant.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t  miss 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

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Annie Jones, Barnum’s Bearded Lady

Posted in Bearded Ladies, Circus, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Women with tags , , , on July 14, 2013 by travsd

According to some sources, today is the birthday of bearded lady Annie Jones (circa 1860-1902). Already a furry specimen by age nine months, she was hired (under the care of her mother) to be exhibited by P.T. Barnum, for whom she worked for most of her career. She came to be one of his most prominent and well paid attractions, and the best known bearded lady in the country. As the above photo attests she was not just bearded, but substantially hirsute, sporting locks that were several feet long. She was also able to sing and play several musical instruments. When she was still a girl she was reportedly kidnapped by a phrenologist who briefly exhibited her before being captured by police but most scholars believe it was just a publicity stunt of Barnum’s. Jones married twice and died in her early 40s, of TB contracted while she was touring France with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. She passed away at her mother’s home on Cornelia Street in New York’s Greenwich Village.

To find out more about  the history of show business. including sideshowsconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

The de Barcsy Troupe: The Ultimate Freak Family

Posted in Bearded Ladies, Circus, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, Native American Interest, Strong Men with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by travsd

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Sadly, and somewhat surprisingly, I haven’t been able to find a photo of this whole amazing family in one shot. The Baroness Sidonia de Barcsy (born this day in 1866) was a bearded lady; her son Nicu was a 27 inch tall little person. Her husband, a legitimate Hungarian Baron, six foot three and 400 lbs, was a Fat Man and a Strong Man. The whole family toured as a performing unit. The story (at least what I have been able to learn) sounds like a fairy tale; if it’s hokum, no one has taken the trouble to debunk it. The Baron Anton de Barcsy is said to have been an aristocrat and cavalry officer in Hungary. When his young wife gave birth to their two pound son in 1885, she began to sprout a beard. These twin providential miracles are said to have occurred just as the Baron lost his fortune in some bad speculations and political upheaval in his homeland forced him to flee the country. Heading west, and possessing no other marketable skills, they began to exhibit themselves in circuses in the Great Capitals of Europe. How very lucky!

In 1903, they headed to America. Nicu, now 18 took the tile of “Captain”. For the next nine years the family toured with the sideshows of the Campbell Bros., Hagenbeck and Wallace, and Ringling Bros. Circuses. When the Baron passed away in 1912, Sidonia married “The Long Haired Cherokee Buck Man”, a.k.a “Buck” or “Cherokee Buck” a half German-half Native American trick roper whose real name was Frederick Valentine Tischu. The reorganized family continued to play circuses like the Campbell Bros, and Coney Island for the next eight years until Sidonia began to get sick in 1923 and Buck left her for a performing dwarf named Doletta Boykin (or Dodd). Sidonia passed away in 1925. Nicu continued to exhibit himself solo as the Baron de Barcsy until the mid 1930s, whereupon “Little Nick” retired to the family’s house in Drummond, Oklahoma. He lived in that town as a local character until he passed away in 1976.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss 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

Madame Devere

Posted in Bearded Ladies, Circus, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Women with tags , , , on February 13, 2013 by travsd

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Madame Devere is important to our history for having possessed the longest facial hair ever recorded on a bearded lady — 14 inches. While there is some confusion about her birthdate (I’ve seen so many given, let’s just say the 1840s or 50s) and her actual first name (I have seen both Mary and Jane), most accounts agree that she was born and raised in Kentucky, and married to her manager, J.W. Devere.

She comes on to the radar in 1884 when she performed at Huber’s Museum in New York and with Sells Bros. Circus. In 1906 she toured with the Campbell Bros., and in 1908 with Yankee Robinson. According to the Oolwein (Iowa) Register she was passing through that town in 1912 with the Patterson Shows, when she fell ill and died.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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