Archive for the Pin Heads Category

The Snow Twins

Posted in Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Movies, Pin Heads, Women with tags , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by travsd

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Jenny Lee and Elvira Snow are the two pinheads in the movie Freaks who are not Schlitzie. Billed betimes as “Pip and Zip” or “Pip and Flip” or “Pippo and Zippo”, the women were microcephalic and came from Georgia, though they were often advertised as being “from the Yucatan”. They weren’t actually twins. IMDB gives Elvira’s birthday as March 2, 1901; Jenny Lee was said to be 12 years younger. Essentially rented from their family, the two spent the bulk of their careers as stars of the World Circus Sideshow in Coney Island from the late 20s into the early years of the Depression. Both sisters were said to have the mental capacity of toddlers and to require constant watching and care. Jenny Lee died young, in 1934. Elvira passed away in 1976.

To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable 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 Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Schlitzie!

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Movies, Pin Heads, Silent Film with tags , , , , on September 10, 2013 by travsd

Schlitzie

Today is the most commonly accepted birthday for the muumuu-wearing microcephalic sideshow performer Schlitzie (1901-1971). best known for his performance in Tod Browning’s 1932 movie Freaks, little is known about this performer’s origins or even his given name (which may possibly have been Simon Metz). What is known is that by the 1920s Schlitzie was already a major sideshow star (often billed as an “Aztec”, a “pinhead” or even a “Monkey Girl”) in such premium venues as the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Tom Mix Circus, Clyde Beatty Circus, and others. In 1935 chimp trainer George Surtees became Schlitzie’s legal guardian and manager. Other films Schlitzie appeared in besides Freaks included The Sideshow (1932), Island of Lost Souls (1932) and Meet Boston Blackie (1941).

And now, Schlitzie’s big scene:

To learn more about the history of show businessconsult 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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Also 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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The Aztec Children

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Native American Interest, Pin Heads with tags , , , on November 14, 2012 by travsd

Maximo and Bartolo, the so-called Aztec Children were two microcephalic unfortunates from St. Salvator,  hired by P.T. Barnum starting in 1848-49 as representatives of an ancient, vanished race. The children had been sold to a promoter by their mother, who unwittingly believed that they were being taken to an American hospital to be cured of their condition. Instead they were exhibited to the public as “ethnological curiosities” for the next 40 years.

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. 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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Zip the Pinhead

Posted in African American Interest, BUNKUM, Circus, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Pin Heads with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2012 by travsd

William Henry Johnson (ca. 1842-1926) was so revered in the show business community that in his latter years he was known as “the Dean of Freaks”. Born the son of former slaves, despite the odd shape of his head, he was likely neither retarded nor microcephalic (the condition most pinheads are born with). Around 1857 he was recruited for Van Emburgh’s Circus in Somerville, NJ. This is how he came to the attention of P.T. Barnum, who hired him for his American Museum in 1860. Johnson became one of Barnum’s most famous attractions as “Zip, the Pin Head”. Charles Darwin had published The Origin of Species the year before; the whole world was talking about it. It was Barnum’s inspiration to augment the effect of Johnson’s unusual appearance by shaving his head down to a tuft at the top, put him in a fur suit, and claim that he was one of a race of such men discovered in Africa, a “missing link”, billed variously as a “wild man”, a “monkey man”, and a man-monkey”. Johnson would act the part, grunting, squealing, and so forth. (It his ability to have done so and to stay in character, among other things,  that leads modern historians to speculate that he was not retarded). In 1867, Charles Dickens visited the exhibit and famously asked “What Is It?”, and thereafter that became Zip’s tagline.

When the last iteration of the American Museum burned down, Zip toured with Barnum’s many circuses, before and after his outfit merged with Bailey and then the Ringling Bros. After this he made his base of operations Coney Island, which is where he became “the Dean of Freaks”.

He is of course the inspiration for Bill Griffith’s underground comic strip “Zippy the Pinhead”, which was my first exposure to the name, devouring it every week in the Providence New Paper in the 1980s.

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. 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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