SAM ALEXANDER – The Man with Two Faces

SAM-ALEXANDER---The-Man-with-Two-Faces

Most marvels are simply born unique. Other marvels are self-made via years of perseverance, dedication and training. Some are created via events of misfortune and Sam Alexander turned his misfortune into a lucrative career as a unique attraction few would ever forget.

Sam Alexander was born a relatively average man. In his early 20’s he was actively pursuing a career in theatre and had been recently promoted at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago when personal disaster struck. Although the details are a little sketchy, Sam was ultimately involved in a huge gasoline explosion that was the result of his own carelessness. While he was able to instinctively save his eyes by raising his arm, he received deep burns around his lips and lower face. Even more unfortunate, his wounds festered and became severely infected. Doctors were forced to remove much of his lower face and lips, practically to the bone. As a result, Sam Alexander was left with a permanent and disturbing teeth-gnashing grimace and a gruesome visage.

Sam spent thirteen months physically recovering from his wounds in a Chicago hospital. His mental scars perhaps ran deeper than his physical ones as he was forced to endure the gasps of new nurses and the lack of eye contact from visiting loved ones. Following his recovery, Sam Alexander was placed in a halfway house, a facility for people with little or no hope of social recovery. However his fortunes changed slightly when a doctor referred him to a prosthetics master and a lifelike mask was cast and created in an effort to fake a normal appearance. In a certain light, the facade was somewhat convincing but extremely limiting and Sam Alexander was still despondent as his saw little chance to earn a livelihood in a society that was appearance driven.

Sam was a driven and ambitious man, which made his confinement all the more unbearable. One morning, as Sam read the paper, he saw an ad for the Pete Kortes Sideshow. The show was touring and was set up close to the halfway house. Same attended the show, introduced himself to Kortes and unmasked to show the ringmaster what he had to offer. Kortes was horrified and hired Sam on the spot. Sam began touring almost immediately and instantly caused a stir.

Billed as ‘The Man with Two Faces’, Sam’s exhibition consisted primarily of a stage monologue detailing his story. Sam was a soft-spoken man with a gentle manner and soothing voice. He so lulled the crowd with his tale of heartbreak that when he revealed his face in a surprising flourish, people screamed and women cried. His showcase was so disturbing that Kortes made Sam the Blow Off attraction, an extra attraction patrons had to pay a premium to see and he was sincerely billed as ‘not for the weak of heart’.At more than one venue, Sam Alexander was paid not to perform.

Man with Two Faces

Sam Alexander was soon in demand. During his career he joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show, the Clyde Beatty Circus and worked for venerable showman Ward Hall from 1960 to 1967. Sam Alexander eventually even created and ran his own sideshow and was ultimately responsible for rescuing the legendary Schlitzie the Pinhead from institutionalized life.

Despite it eventually becoming his livelihood, Sam Alexander endured seventy-two operations in his lifetime in the effort to restore his damaged face. While the operations were never quite completely successful, Sam eventually retired his mask regardless of the patchwork appearance his face bore. Sam was a man without a prejudice or bitter bone in his body and he was determined to live the last years of his life as himself – without hiding behind a mask.

Sam Alexander passed away in 1997 and today is remembered fondly by all who knew him as a man with a kind heart and a face to match.

image: courtesy Quasi-Modo

25 Comments

  • Reply December 11, 2008

    Aurafox

    Wow, poor guy. He reminds me of Merrick.

  • Reply December 15, 2008

    Wes

    What Sam wore on the outside, most of us wear on the inside. Maybe what disturbed most people when they saw him was a true visualization of what our other internal face looks like.

    Even though his face was horrible disfigured, Sam continued to be who he was, kind, and that should be a lesson for all of us.

  • Reply January 2, 2009

    J Tithonus Pednaud

    Very well put, Wes.

  • Reply January 4, 2009

    Laurus Nobilis

    Interesting life story indeed.

  • Reply January 11, 2009

    Giorgio

    Reminds me of a novella by Ray Russell titled “Sardonicus”. Try to find it; it’s worth your time!

  • Reply February 6, 2009

    Saty

    I did not think, that it could be possible..

  • Reply February 16, 2009

    Beer

    Your inforation is very usefulp! Thank you!

  • Reply March 15, 2009

    Guy Gauthier

    Hi! every one, I’ve met Sam Alexander when he was the sides show manager and owner at the Belmont amusement park in Montreal,Canada. He always whore a surirgical mask, first not to scare or embarass people and to marchandising raison, for .25 you could see his face.

    I was a ride operator then and i was 16 years old, working whith these people and ambiance were the best time of my life.

    see you

    Guy

  • Reply May 14, 2009

    Bruno Loyale

    It was a wonderful experience to have Sam as a very important part of our lives. I took Sam from Honolulu to Dallas around 1986. We built a sideshow for him and together with Capt. Don they ventured out in Sideshow fame once again. In 1988 Sam went to Guam with me as we presented the first circus in history there….in 1989/90, as Sam put it, “it was the greatest adventure of a lifetime”….he went with us by ship throughout all the small islands of Micronesia aboard the circus ship. He enjoyed so much the time with old greats such as Herbie Weber…

    Sam was genius….he was kind….he was so honest….he was my very special friend.

    After our tour, Sam stayed in Dallas at Mike Sandone’s tent factory and became Mike’s father and mentor until his death. Mike is the kindest and most wonderful human on this planet. He took really great care of Sam until the very end. Sam would never miss a day being an advisor and family member of the tent company. I salute Mike and his family for the love and care they gave to dear ol’Sam.

    What courage, what courage, what courage to face life as he did under these most horrific circumstances and turn your disability into being a lovely, caring person willing to help others……I don’t anyone else in my life that I could say I admire so much except for Mike.

    Bruno Loyale
    The Magic Circus of Samoa
    Somewhere in the Pacific Islands

  • Reply May 14, 2009

    J Tithonus Pednaud

    Thank you so much for your thoughts and reminisces, Bruno.

    I wish I had been blessed enough to meet the remarkable Sam Alexander personally.

  • Reply May 27, 2009

    FoxLuvr72

    My hat goes off to you, Wes :)

  • Reply June 23, 2009

    Kathy Cline Huebing

    As a child, growing up on the Clyde Beatty Circus in the 50’s, I remember Sam fondly. He was a soft spoken man and one of the nicest men I knew. I remember I was very fond of all the performers in the side show and hung around them as much as I could. Sam was always very careful that I not see his performance where his masked was removed. Of course curiousity got the best of me and I snuck in one time to watch his performance. I know he saw me, but could do nothing about it at the time. He never mentioned it to my parents. amd all I remember about Sam was his gentleness with me as he scolded me for sneaking in.

  • Reply November 9, 2009

    ANTHONY MARSTON

    For a number of years I had the privilege and opportunity to see and speak with SAM ALEXANDER when he brought the attractions to the CANADIAN NATIONAL EXHIBITION in Toronto each year …

    Over time he appeared with a number of different facial masks which were attached around the lower part of his face running from below the eyes, and was hard to discern at the top edge due to his glasses, which extended right under what would be the chin area to his neck, covering the entire lower half of his face, exactly as is noted in the historical top photograph above …

    The usual mask he wore in the shows, which I recall now these many years later, was almost transparent / translucent so it gave the impression of natural skin colour when daylight was about …

    When I first spoke with him he had already undergone many surgeries, probly 50 or more of the total of 72 mentioned above, and you could see that much restoration had taken place over the years …

    For a time he had a 6 inch roll on his lower abdomen of skin that was being developed for later application, a technique which was common then but which has been better perfected in the last 30 years where donor skin along with some artificial skin can be applied in these surgical restorations …

    Sam was a most intriguing individual who appreciated that people cared for him and had an interest in what he had endured …

    As can be noted by this entry, SAM has had a lasting impression on my entire life and later years and I think of him often whenever I read up on or see new information on any of those who formed his high level of touring attractions in the 1950s and 1960s …

    Am most pleased and happy to read the submission from Bruno as to his final years being spent touring and appearing throughout the Pacific and then residing in Texas as this was the kind of retirement SAM would have really enjoyed and so richly and deeply deserved …

    I certainly do hope those shoes lasted you a long time and I wish I had given you more pairs as they looked superb on you …

    Thanks, SAM, for your many kindnesses …

    You are thought of often and shall be remembered by many of those who met and knew you forever …

    (( Mr. PETNAUD – Thank you very much for these excellent group of historical webpages, all of which are greatly informative and extremely interesting … You are to be commended most highly in this regard ))

    ” ALL GLORY IS FLEETING “

    • Reply October 30, 2015

      Mr. Petnaud

      I would greatly appreciate you getting in touch with me.
      I am working on putting together a segment about Sam. I don’t have all the information needed but I am hoping that you may be of help.

      He seems like an amazing individual and I would love to make this story happen if possible.
      Please see my email contact and number below.

      Best,
      Ronnie
      ronelle.thomas@optomenusa.com
      212.208.6946

  • Reply January 17, 2010

    Dredd

    There are worse things than that by far. Take for instance a two-faced government.

    http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2010/01/two-faces-of-sam.html

  • Reply February 18, 2010

    B Allen

    Great Site!
    Had to make up classes one summer & take Drivers’ Ed. in 1981. The school was not my regular school, & fairly close to my own. One day there was a fire drill, & all the hundreds of students & teachers congregated outside in front…
    Standing fairly close to me, was a young man, my age I suppose, 16, who had obviously been in a horrible fire. He made no effort to hide his skeletal appearance, & his classmates & most others around me, made no big deal or reaction…He was really cool looking, with a bandana & long hair, denim jacket with LED ZEP/SABBATH Patches, all rock’n’rolled out.
    Do not know if he has had plastic surgery later in life, but he was definitely showing a, “this is me/will not hide” attitude, which created an aura of positivity, & because of it,…I stopped my stares. But because of such a powerful image, I never forgot him.
    I only saw him once more, about a year later, driving a car. I was stopped at a light & he was in the car to my left. I thought, “wow,…cool”. No cover-ups or anything, yet I can imagine, some weak-willed or easily fearful person, would react badly & freak out seeing him driving near them.
    Because this kid was always among his peers, since he was a child & did not hide, everyone around him got used to him & accepted him. I’m sure he had idiots to deal with every so often. Kids & Adults alike can & will always be cruel, no matter what you look like…
    Being that SAM ALEXANDER was an adult when he was hurt, & banished himself,…made it harder for him to have a “walk in the light/positive” lifestyle it seems….
    Keep up the great work…
    Barry

  • Reply August 14, 2010

    Hardy Haberman

    I worked with Sam years ago when he was on the Western Fair circuit for Conklin Shows. He was a gracious and kindhearted man. Later I caught up with him again when he lived in Dallas. Sam was a great showman and just a really nice guy.

    Glad to see him remembered and I will miss him.

  • Reply March 3, 2011

    john

    His transformation makes jim carrey look like an amateur in facial expressions.

  • Reply March 24, 2011

    Sian

    What a lovely sounding man. I really enjoy reading all these wonderful articles.

  • Reply April 24, 2011

    Zoisitetta

    I always found Sam to be really interesting, you gotta love how driven he was, and how he didn’t let his accident rule him. Most people would lock themselves in the house, but he thought, “Pst.” and did what he wanted.
    I hope you don’t mind me asking, but, how old was Sam when he died? I looked at other websites and I can’t seem to find the year he was born, or his age in 1997.

  • Reply December 22, 2011

    Jenny

    It never ceases to amaze me how people can have the most terrible things happen in their lives and go on to lead lives of great courage and kindness! I wish I could have met Mr Alexander.R.I.P.

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