Freaks of Nature
"But for the accident of
birth...You might be even as they are!"
Martha the Armless Wonder
Zip and Pip Prince Randian
Violet and Daisy Hilton Frances O'Conner Angelo Rossitto Peter Robinson
Schlitze Harry and Daisy Earles Koo Koo the Bird Girl Elizabeth Green
Johnny Eckhardt Josephine Joseph Olga Roderick
Some stills link to hidden soundbites
Martha the Armless Wonder
Billed as the "Armless Wonder", Martha Morris, like most other armless
people, could display amazing dexterity including the ability to eat, drink and write
using her feet.
Zip and Pip
Jennie Lee and Elvira Snow, also known as "The Snow Twins", suffered
from microcephaly, characterised by abnormally small craniums which gave rise at the time
to the term "pinhead". Like most microcephaly sufferers Zip and Pip were
mentally retarded, but although based at Coney Island, they also travelled with the World
Circus Sideshow for many years.
Born without limbs in British Guyana, South America in 1871, Prince Randian was
brought to America before the turn of the century by legendary showman P.T. Barnum who
billed him as "The Human Caterpillar", "The Living Torso" or "The
Prince Randian, a Hindu, was said to possess a quiet sense of humour and was able to speak
Hindu, English, German and French. His personal philosophy was that no physical handicap
need matter if the mind is dominant. He was able to write, paint, shave and roll his own
cigarettes using only his mouth, the latter feat is demonstrated in the film Freaks.
Prince Randian's only dialogue in the film is almost indecipherable, but he apparently
remarks to one of the Rollo brothers, "Can you do anything with your
During the carnival's off-season, Prince Randian resided in Patterson, New Jersey with his
devoted wife and several children. His last public appearance was an evening show at Sam
Wagner's 14th. Street Museum on December 19th. 1934. He collapsed and died shortly after
at the age of 63.
Daisy and Violet Hilton
The Famed Hilton sisters were born in Brighton, England on February 5th. 1908 and
were joined at the hips and buttocks while sharing the same blood circulatory system. Both
sisters also claimed that they could seperate themselves mentally.
Their unmarried mother sold the twins to their midwife Mrs. Mary Hilton shortly after
their birth, then at a young age they were touring the sideshows under their adopted name.
After their guardian died and with the help of a lawyer, the Hilton twins managed to free
themselves from legal guardianship and received $100 thousand in the ensuing lawsuit.
they claimed to dislike the life of the carnival, they were amongst the highest paid
freaks on record, earning $5 thousand a week while on the road touring with circuses and
Daisy Hilton once told a reporter, "We don't mind having people stare at us.
We're used to it. We've never known anything else."
Both girls had many romances, and both had been married and divorced to husbands who
cheated them of vast amounts of their money.
Curiously there is no mention of their appearance in Freaks in any of their publicity
releases, interviews or even in their memoirs. Their only other film appearance was in the
exploitation classic Chained for Life (1950) billed
as the Hamilton Sisters and the sequel TORN BY A KNIFE.
During a promotional tour, the sisters found themselves stranded in Charlotte, North
Carolina where they found work at a Park and Shop grocery store on Wilkinson Boulevard. In
their red and white checked shirts they would weigh the produce on twin scales for the
customers. On the 6th. January 1969 the Hiltons failed to report for work and when the
police were notified they were discovered to have died from influenza.
Born in Granite City, Minnesota in 1914, Frances, like Martha, was born without arms. She
compensated the lack of hands with the skillful use of her feet. She was able to sew and
dress herself and never displayed any hint of self-pity while enjoying her life to the
She toured with the Cole Brothers Circus for many years, usually billed as "The
Living Venus de Milo". Her time was divided between her summer road touring and at
She died at Long Beach, California in 1982.
Little Angelo was born in Omaha, Nebraska during 1908. At 2 foot 11 inches high, he
originally intended to study law, but entered the motion picture business instead in 1926
with a role in THE BELOVED ROGUE alongside Conrad
Veidt and John Barrymore who became a
great friend of Angelo and encouraged him to continue his acting career.
He next appeared with Lon Chaney and Anita
Page in WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1928). In 1929 he appeared in Seven Footprints to Satan and as one of the underwater creatures in Mysterious Island.
Despite these appearances employment for a man his size was limited so he supplemented his
income by operating a newsstand in Hollywood. In 1932 he was called by MGM to appear in Freaks and then spent the
remainder of the Thirties playing bit parts including a pygmy in Cecil B. DeMille's SIGN
OF THE CROSS; as one of the three Little Pigs in Laurel and Hardy's Babes in Toyland; and as one of the
forest creatures in Max Reinhardt's visual feast A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM (1935).
Due to his stature, Angelo also found himself as Shirley Temple's stand-in for many of her
films with Twentieth Century Fox.
In 1939, Angelo co-founded the Little People of America organisation with initailly seven
members, now the society has a membership that runs into the thousands.
In 1941, as a publicity stunt, Angelo ran for mayor of Los Angeles. He came second to
last. 1941 also began Angelo's association with Bela
Lugosi who referred to him as his favourite character actor after appearing in Spooks Run Wild. The association continued with The Corpse Vanishes (1942) and Bela's only colour
feature film Scared to Death (1947).
Angelo continued his career with bit parts over the next three decades, notching up
appearances in such genre offerings as Sherlock
Holmes and the Spider Woman (1944), Mesa of the
Lost Women (1949), Dementia
(1955), Jungle Moon Men (1955) with Johnny Weismuller, Invasion
of the Saucermen (1957), The
Magic Sword (1961), the downright awful Blood
of Frankenstein (1970) and BRAIN OF BLOOD (1971). The Seventies saw Angelo mostly
working in television shows like "HR Pufenstuf".
Angelo's eyesight suffered during the Sixties and by the early Eighties he was almost
blind. In 1985 he was cast as Master Blaster in his biggest and favourite role for the
film MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME. His last film credit was for THE OFFSPRING with Vincent
Price in 1987.
After sixty years in show business, Angelo retired to a rest hime in Fairfax, Hollywood.
His remaining years were happy ones until his illustrious life ended on September 21st.
1991 at the age of 83.
Billed as "The Living Skeleton", Peter Robinson weighed in at a scant 60lbs. He
travelled with Ringling Brothers Circus for many years and was married to Bunny Smith, the
fat lady who weighed 462lbs. Many "skeletons" were married to the Fat Ladies in
the circuses for publicity purposes.
Robinson's main hobby was talking politics.
Schlitze was born in Yucatan, Mexico during the 1880's and had a sister who also suffered
from microcephaly. Despite being male, Schlitze wore dresses to simplify his toilet needs,
but he was unusually intelligent for a microcephaly sufferer and could sing a few notes,
dance a few steps and even count to ten. It was said that Schlitze loved hats, new
dresses, bits of string, games and Freaks director Tod Browning, even to the point of imitating the
tone of his voice.
Up until a tour of St. Louis, Schlitze was billed as "Maggie, the last of the
Aztecs", but then a well known beer company gave him the name of Schlitze.
His nature was of a fun loving and extremely affectionate child and also expressed a
liking for young Jackie Cooper, much to the actor's terror.
Schlitze also appeared briefly in a carnival scene of Columbia's MEET BOSTON BLACKIE
(1941) with Chester Morris.
After 30 years of exhibition, Schlitze's owner and manager died forcing him into an
institution where the attendants never had the time to provide him with the attention he
craved. Sam Alexander, a Canadian promoter, found Schlitze literally dying of lonliness.
Alexander persuaded the authorities to place Schlitze in his care and he took him on the
Schlitze died in California during 1961 at the age of 80, an unusually long life for a
Harry and Daisy Earles
Born in Germany, Harry and Daisy's family name was Scheider. Harry, Daisy and their two
sisters Grace and Tiny travelled to America and appeared at Coney Island as The Doll
Family before adopting the surname Earles and appearing professionally in carnivals,
circuses and vaudeville.
Harry Earles, born Kurt Scheider, was 39 inches high and had
already worked with Tod Browning before Freaks in 1925 on The Unholy Three as the ruthless midget
Tweedledee. He later reprised the role for the 1930 sound remake again with Lon Chaney.
As a point of interest it was Harry that brought Tod Browning's attention to the Clarence
A. "Tod" Robbins novel on which the film Freaks was based.
After 1932 Harry left the motion picture industry to tour with the Ringling Brothers and
the Barnum & Bailey Circuses.
The entire Earles family, including Daisy who was known as "The Midget Mae West"
and actually grew a few inches taller later in life, all appeared in MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939). Harry can be seen as one of
the Lollipop Boys.
After 25 years with the circus, Harry retired to Sarasota, Florida where he lived until
his death in 1985.
As a side note Harry can also be seen in Laurel and Hardy's SAILORS BEWARE (1927) and
Koo Koo the Bird Girl
Born in 1880, Koo Koo's real name was Minnie Woolsey who suffered from a skeletal disorder
and was completely blind. Billed as "The Blind Girl From Mars", she would never
react to anything around her and would sit motionless for hours in a chair. She managed to
parade in a feathered costume on the set of Freaks and can be seen dancing on the
table during the wedding feast scene.
Billed as "The Stork Woman", Tod
Browning once described her as a Jewish girl from Springfield, Massachusetts who owned
five apartment houses. It was also claimed that Elizabeth was an avid movie fan and only
signed the contract to appear in Freaks so that she could possibly get
Ronald Coleman's autograph.
Anton La Vey, who had worked in the circus with several freaks and later founded the
Church of Satan, claimed that Betty Green was not a freak at all, but she had entered the
profitable circus life by exaggerating her worst features through deliberately sucking in
her cheeks and bulging her eyes out.
The boy without legs and a shortened torso was born in Baltimore, Maryland on
August 27th. 1911, the second of identical twins. His brother Robert was physically normal
and later joined the Navy.
At age 11, Johnny and Robert Eckhardt developed a fascination for the carnival after a
stage magician named Rabsid Rasha offered them a break into the business and developed
their act that consisted of pretending to saw Johnny in half. A midget acting as Johnny's
legs would then run off stage chased by Johnny.
In school he was an exceptional student, excelling in music, art and philosophy. In 1931
Johnny was appearing at the Canadian exposition when he was approached by talent scouts
for Tod Browning at MGM Studios for a screen
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Johnny was introduced to "the family" by Tod
himself who called him Mr. Johnny. In an interview of 1980, Johnny recalled that "Browning
wanted me to stay as close to him as possible. He told me whenever I have an empty seat or
chair, you are to sit alongside me while we shoot."
The late Olga Baclanova, fondly remembered
Johnny as being very handsome. "When we finished the picture he came and gave
me a present. He had made a circus ring made from matches. He said he had made it in my
After Freaks, Johnny returned to the
sideshows performing various feats of strength and often worked with children who he
simply adored. All too often, however, Johnny would become a victim of a greedy and
irresponsible manager who cheated him out of much of the money that was due to him.
During the off-season, Johnny would tour the music halls with his own twelve-piece
orchestra and himself leading on the piano.
He made relatively few film appearances, but appeared alongside Johnny Weismuller in MGM's
TARZAN ESCAPES (1936) as the Gooney-Bird.
Sadly, Johnny withdrew completely from public life in the early Eighties, when burglars
who broke into his home in Baltimore. One sat on him while the other ransacked the house.
After this sordid experience his remaining years were spent in bitter seclusion.
"If I want to see freaks," he remarked, "all I
have to do is look out the window".
He refused to speak about his early days in show business and died on 5th.
January 1991 at the age of 79.
Born in Austria after the turn of the century, there is no evidence to confirm
that he or she was a true hermaphrodite. In the sideshows, very few exhibitors displayed
true "half-and-halves", but very often they could still carry the whole show.
"The Bearded Lady" was born Jane Barnell in 1874. Jane's father often
went out of town on business and her mother would take her to the circus, but one day her
mother came home without her.
The Great Orient Family Circus was a small show that took Jane in as a member of their
"family". Later on they signed with a larger circus and successfully toured
around Europe. However, in one town she fell ill and had to be hospitalised. When she
recovered, Jane discovered that the circus had left without her and that she was stranded.
She was promptly placed in an orphanage where her father finally tracked her down and was
taken to work on her grandmother's farm.
A neighbour who worked as a strongman during the circus season, persuaded Jane to stop
shaving off her whiskers and make her money under the big top again. She took his advice
and signed on with the John Robinson Circus and then went on to appear for a time with
most of the major circus operations.
Before the 1900's, Jane had been married three times and had given birth to two children.
After appearing in Freaks, she vowed never to work in
Hollywood again as she found Browning's film "to be an insult to all freaks
everywhere" and sorely regretted appearing in it.
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