PERCILLA – The Monkey Girl

PERCILLA - The Monkey Girl

The case of Julia Pastrana has long been held as a tragic example of exploitation. The remarkable bearded prodigy lived a life of manipulation and in death her body was abused and disgraced by callous souls and ignorance. The life of her contemporary could have easily followed the same shadowed path however her story is of true love, inner beauty and respect.

During her long life Percilla Lauther was known by many names. Originally she was descriptively dubbed ‘the hairy little girl’ and later as ‘the monkey girl’, but it is quite likely that she will forever be remembered by those dear to her as Percilla Bejano – loving wife of Emmitt the Alligator-Skinned Man.

The hirsute Percilla was born on April 26 of 1911 in the Puerto Rican town of Bayamon. Percilla had been born with hypertrichosis, she possessed two rows of teeth and drew immediate attention from the public and the medical community. Percilla’s father was a native of Spain and he did not know what to make of his hairy daughter initially. Percilla’s parents traveled to New York City seeking answers from American doctors and there they remained for seven months until Percilla’s father developed the idea of exhibiting his daughter for profit.

Percilla’s father was not a greedy man. He merely saw an opportunity to make the most of the situation nature had thrust upon his daughter. However his limited knowledge of English and business made promoting Percilla difficult and he approached showman Karl. L. Lauther for assistance. Lauther was an accomplished promoter and he owned and operated several shows during his lifetime. He took an instant interest in Percilla and hired her on the spot. Lauther also hired an assistant to help Percilla’s father care for the child after his wife returned to Puerto Rico. That arrangement was short lived however, as Percilla’s father was shot and killed in Gainesville. Upon his death, and according to his final wish, Lauther adopted young Percilla as his own daughter.

Percilla never said anything ill of her adoptive father, thus one may assume that he was a compassionate and loving man. In fact all evidence indicates that despite exhibiting Percilla for profit, Lauther was extremely sensitive to the public perception of his adoptive daughter. Lauther disliked the fact that the public took to calling Percilla a ‘monkey girl’ and verbally lashed out at anyone bold enough to call her a ‘freak’. But the ‘Monkey Girl’ moniker stuck and Lauther gave in and began to publicly pair Percilla with a trained chimpanzee named Josephine. He may have had the last laugh, however, as the two attractions were juxtaposed. Percilla would warmly and graciously welcome guests to her exhibit while Josephine would rudely smoke cigarettes and spit.

In the late 1930’s, while performing with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition, Percilla met fellow marvel Emmitt Bejano, the Alligator-Skinned Man. Despite her heavy beard and his ichthyosis a sweet romance blossomed between the unique couple. The pair saw past their physical differences. Emmitt was a man with calloused skin who spent performance intermissions submerged in vats of ice water because he could not sweat. Emmitt was quite literally ‘thick skinned’ and he had a ‘hard shell to crack’ but beneath he was a compassionate, gentle, charming and passionate man. Percilla, despite looking more beast than beauty, was elegant, eloquent and possessed an enchanting singing voice. Before long Percilla realized that the gentle Emmitt was the love of her life and the two eloped in 1938.

A year later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Francine, into their family. Unfortunately pneumonia extinguished her life after a scant four months.

When Emmitt and Percilla returned to exhibition they were promoted as the World’s Strangest Married Couple. Percilla and Emmitt shared the stage and most notably worked for Ringling Brothers and other shows successfully for over a decade. They appeared together in the 1980 film Carny opposite Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Eventually the couple grew tired of life in the public eye and opted to retire to a private life in Gibsonton, Florida. There the two remained madly in love for many more years. Their union ended with Emmitt’s passing in 1995.

Percilla carried on, clean shaven for the first time in her life, and briefly appeared in various documentaries and on the Jerry Springer show where she charmed the audience with stories of her beloved Emmitt and by shyly singing his favourite song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.

Percilla herself passed away in her sleep in February of 2001. She is dearly missed by all who knew her.

Image: ‘Priscilla’ circa 1940.
You may read Percilla’s pitch book here.
A transcript of her Jerry Springer appearance can be found here

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

29 Comments

  • Reply October 2, 2007

    Anonymous

    Thats so cool.
    She’s amazing

  • Reply October 13, 2007

    Anonymous

    So romantic.

  • Reply October 27, 2007

    Anonymous

    Marvellous

  • Reply April 23, 2008

    Anonymous

    This is such a beautiful article.

  • Reply June 12, 2008

    Anonymous

    As a child, I saw both Percilla and her husband, Emmitt, in the freak show at the Dallas State Fair. They were both charming and lovely. Very kind and patient with the audience.

  • Reply August 14, 2008

    Shea

    That’s so sweet and amazing! I love this website.

  • Reply September 18, 2008

    Rococo

    wow she from my town Bayamon,Puerto Rico thats so cool, love her.

  • Reply October 19, 2008

    Arger

    owww so romantic I love this article!!
    :D eternal love

  • Reply June 8, 2009

    Kin

    Percilla and Emmitt were my wife’s aunt and uncle. Beautiful people.

  • Reply June 20, 2009

    Mr U. Frea

    I love the way that the relations to these wonderful people leave commments on this site. Makes it such a nicer experience.

  • Reply June 24, 2009

    Sannah

    I read the Jerry Springer interview and noticed there was an obit on the last page. It said she was survived by a son?
    I vaguely remember seeing that interview and she seemed so very lovely and gracious. True beauty is always more than skin deep.

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  • Reply October 17, 2009

    Jens Larson

    I, too, had the good fortune to meet Percilla and Emmitt. It was at the Tulsa State Fair in the fall of 1981. When they learned that the group of five people I was with were all show people ourselves, they welcomed us as colleagues and were extremely gracious and talkative. Emmitt did miss the “good old days” when it was easier for them to make a living in the entertainment business, but Percilla was unwaveringly positive. They were both very proud of their son who was in the Armed Services at the time. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me to meet these great folks.

  • Reply December 26, 2009

    Anonymous

    I think that that’s just such beautilfull story. And yah now some people say that this website is wierd and what ever else, but yah now storys like this just prove that it;s way more that that.

    i love her!

  • Reply March 13, 2010

    caroline tucker

    she did so much despite her difference. she was so compassionate despite her difference. she loved like no one else could and gave what she could despite her difference. this goes to show that no one could have been the same after spending just 5 minutes with percilla- the lovely different girl.

  • Reply May 12, 2010

    isabella

    i love it.Love is a wonderful thing when it s real when it s 4 life.

  • Reply August 2, 2010

    anonymous

    Beautiful story!

  • […] agli stessi livelli. Se le sorelle Hilton [1], Johnny Eck [2] o la più giovane e fortunata Percilla Bejano (amica di Mannix) – tanto per fare nomi ancora molto famosi – sono stati artisti di […]

  • Reply November 19, 2011

    Cindy

    My fav store from my Dad of Emmitt and Percilla was when my mom and dad was dating… dad grew up around them and when him and my mom was dating they went to the Ohio State Fair and dad walked around to the back of their tent and my mom was like what are you doing, he walked up to the tent and said hey it’s Parker and they of course said come in, come in. My mom was surpised at first but they all visited and cought up and my mom thought they was very nice. I loved hear my dads stories of growing up on the fair.

  • Reply December 16, 2011

    Bree

    Emmitt does not have a page? Would be nice if maybe someone had a picture of the couple. Good tale.

  • Reply January 4, 2012

    Yuli

    Such a beautiful love story..
    I Would love to see any documentaries featuring her and the Jerry Springer interview, I searched but did not find any. Any help anyone?…

  • Reply January 14, 2012

    maya

    I’m from bayamon and I never knew about her.
    Thanks!!!!

  • Reply September 19, 2012

    Dee

    Such a beautiful story.

  • Reply November 24, 2012

    Robin Booth

    My Grandmother “Kitty” knew Percilla and Emmitt Bejano personally as she performed with them in the 1930″s with the United shows of America. My Dad was born during that time He went by Bobby Conroy. The Gibb siamese twins would babysit him. I have many photos of my grandmother and my father with the sideshow.These pictures include Dick Rockford,Abe goldberg and Ellen johnson who was billed as “The Fat Lady. When my grandmother left the shows They still came by when in town. Percilla loved her little dogs. My Dad and grandmother are gone now and I wish they had told me more about their time with the circus but My dad never talked much about it and I was young so I don’t remember all my grandmother told me. Wish I had written it down. I do know that my grandmother was the snake charmer and got cut in half in the box and my grandfather was a hawker and sat on the electric chair. I’d really like to know more but don’t know where to look. Percilla and Emmitt were special people…

  • […] via The Human Marvels […]

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