Archive for the Skin Conditions Category

The Elephant Man

Posted in Bone Conditions, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Dime Museum and Side Show, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Movies, Skin Conditions with tags , , , , , on January 20, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the brilliant film maker David Lynch (b. 1946). I was all of twelve when his first movie Eraserhead (1977) came out, and that only played the art circuits. Like most others, my introduction to Lynch came with his first mainstream success The Elephant Man (1980). I just watched it again a couple of weeks ago after not having screened it in many years. It is absolutely timeless. Based on the real life story of the exploited human curiosity Joseph Merrick (called John in this film), a man who suffered from multiple extreme deformities, for this film Lynch intelligently drew from the masterpieces of Gothic horror from the late silent through early sound eras for his aesthetic model. Shooting in grainy black and white, he evokes the gritty, industrial landscape of Victorian England where the tale is laid, but also puts you in mind of the carnivalesque nightmares of Tod Browning and James Whale. And while the film is acted realistically, there is more than a smattering of the old melodrama in this poetic fairy tale. Much like Quasimodo, Merrick is literally pushed to the wall, yelling in the film’s most quoted scene “I’m not an animal! I’m a human being!”

Cast with a hugely solid ensemble of prestige acting talent (John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Hopkins, Ann Bancroft, and John Hurt) the real star for me is the wizard behind the camera. This is a gorgeous movie to look at. As invariably happens when something I deem revolutionary comes along (especially when I was younger) I thought the film portended change and naively believed one was coming. That is, I thought we were looking at a new rebirth of black and white Gothic horror and that I might get to see many more films like this. But Lynch’s next film was the 1984 space opera Dune — a different flavor of weird altogether.

And now, the famous scene:

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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Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man

Posted in Bone Conditions, British Music Hall, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Skin Conditions with tags , , , , on August 5, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Joseph Merrick (sometimes known incorrectly as “John”, 1862-1890).

Born normal, the physical deformities that gave him his nickname began to emerge in childhood and were fully manifested by the time he was an adult. After years of attempting to make his living first as an apprentice cigarmaker, then as a street hawker, he endured periods of homelessness and spent several years in the work house before embarking on a career as a human oddity in 1884 at the age of 22. Several music hall professionals collaborated on the enterprise, showing him in converted storefronts and billing him as “The Elephant Man, Half a Man and Half an Elephant.” His career as a professional freak was short, lasting about two years. By then attitudes about the exhibition of human curiosities were changing; and Merrick’s was a particularly shocking case.

The remainder of his short life was spent in a hospital under the care of the physician Sir Frederic Treves — as you no doubt know if you’ve seen either the 1979 stage play or the 1980 film on the subject. Before the play and the film, Merrick was not as well known in the United States as Barnum’s most famous prodigies such as Tom Thumb, Chang and Eng, Zip the Pinhead, or Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy. Now I daresay his name is roughly as well known, for better or worse.

It should be said that Merrick was a most singular case. Many people have gotten the false notion from the film that special people were invariably cruelly used and exploited in show business. Having investigated the lives of over 150 of them by this point, I have found that to be the exception rather than the rule, and a rare one at that. At any event, Merrick was treated with terrific humanity by society during the last four years of his life. His death at age 27 was self-inflicted. Throughout his life his condition had demanded that he sleep upright due to the weight of his head, which would either strangulate him or break his neck were he to lie down. One night — for whatever reason — he decided to lie down.

To find out 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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And 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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On the Night They Murdered Lobster Boy: The Karmic Boomerang of Grady Stiles, Jr.

Posted in Bone Conditions, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Limbs, Missing or Small, Skin Conditions with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by travsd

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Grady Stiles, Jr. (1937-1992) was born on June 26. Stiles was the sixth in the bloodline of a family prone to ectrodactyly, a condition in which the extremities are hardened and fused, somewhat resembling the claws of a crustacean. Stiles, like his father before him, worked in carnival sideshows; two of his children, having the same condition, joined the family business. Billed as the Lobster Boy, Stiles worked for a number of traveling shows before he started his own personal family operation, over which he exerted tyrannical control. Despite what might be thought to be a handicap, Stiles grew unbelievably strong in his upper body, and the claws were tough and hard. He used them to strike and terrorize his family on an almost daily basis over a long period of years.

After years of drunkenness and physical abuse (including the murder of his own son-in-law, for which Stiles only received probation), Stiles’s wife and son hired a 17 year old hitman to shoot him in the back of the head in his Gibtown trailer. This of course yielded a sideshow of a different order: media coverage of the trial, books, television shows and movies about the lurid story were turned out with great profusion and rapidity. Several of his offspring continue to perform to this day.

The character of Jimmy Darling in American Horror Story: Freak Show seemed pretty clearly inspired by Stiles.

To find out 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.

Count Orloff, The Human Window Pane

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Skin Conditions with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by travsd

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Ivannow Wladislaus von Dziarski-Orloff (1864-1904) was billed (among other things) as the Transparent Man, or the Human Window Pane. In addition to completely atrophied limbs, he had skin you could see through, showing all the blood vessels at work. It was also said that you could shine a light through him. Born in Budapest, he enjoyed a normal childhood, but then began wasting away at age 14. The condition caused him great pain, for which he took opium, which became a kind of trademark. He was frequently also billed incorrectly as an ossified man, but rather than being stiff, immobile and brittle like Jonathan R. Bass, he was bendable as though he had no bones, something of an opposite condition. After being exhibited in medical schools in Europe, he toured the U.S. with his own sideshow.

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.

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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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Captain Fred Walters, “The Blue Man”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Skin Conditions with tags , , , on May 5, 2013 by travsd

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Captain Fred Walters (1855-1923) was an officer in the British army who was prescribed a compound containing silver to treat a certain neural condition. The regular ingestion of silver turned his skin blue. In 1891 he began to tour American sideshows, displaying his blue skin for fun and profit. He continued to consume silver over the years, growing bluer all the while, but the gambit eventually took its toll. He died of silver poisoning in 1923. The man literally died (dyed) for his art. When he passed away, I’m told his family was very blue. Okay, I’ll stop.

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.

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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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The Monkey Girl and the Alligator Boy

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Hairy People, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Skin Conditions with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Percilla Roman Bejano (1911-2001). Born covered head to toe in fur, and possessing two rows of teeth, she was billed as The Monkey Girl and exhibited alongside chimpanzees and orangutans in Lauther’s European Wonder Show starting at age three. The act did especially well in the aftermath of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In 1936 she was signed over to the Johnny J. Jones’s Exposition’s “Wonders of the 20th Century” exhibit. There she met and fell in love with Lobello, the Alligator Boy (1914-1995), who was covered head to toe in reptilian scales. The two married in 1938, and were now thenceforth billed as Londo and Lobello, the World’s Strangest Married Couple. In 1945, they toured with a Ripley’s Believe it or Not show. In the 50s and 60s they traveled with their own outfit; and they performed in the James E. Strates shows as late as the 1970s. By the 1980s they had retired but for the occasional tv appearance. When Emmitt died in 1995, Percilla kept her face clean shaven thereafter.

To find out about  the history of vaudeville, 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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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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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James Morris, “The Rubber Man”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Skin Conditions with tags , , , , on April 25, 2013 by travsd

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Born in 1859 in upstate Copenhagen, New York James Morris possessed the unique gift of being able to stretch his skin out like taffy, sometimes as far out as 18 inches.  He could pull his skin over his face like a turtleneck. He would amuse friends and co-workers with the ability at first; he began doing it professionally at J.E. Sackett’s dime museum in Providence. In 1882 he joined P.T. Barnum’s circus and toured with the show for many years throughout the United States and Europe. There are accounts of him plying his trade as late as 1898.  Though he made good money at his act, he also drank and gambled and had to earn money as a barber on the side. It is not known what became of him after the turn of the century.

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

safe_image

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 Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

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