The world of entertainment has many spheres so it is no surprise that there is some crossover between the different types. The age of the circus ‘’freak’’ saw many people cross over into mainstream acting because making movies became extremely profitable in the early 20th century when circuses were still quite popular. Here are some examples of circus ‘’freaks’’ turning into actors in the mainstream.
Stars of “Freaks” the Movie
Nearly 90 years ago people with physical deformities were objects of curiosity and the social expectation was that it O.K. to make a living just by displaying yourself. An early example was the film ‘’Freaks’’ which was released in 1932. Freaks starred several people with physical deformities who included the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, dwarves Harry and Daisy Earles, Johnny Eck who had sacral agenesis and Schlitzie who had microcephaly. The film was banned in the United Kingdom for 30 years because the people in the film were considered disgusting and against the public interest. Opinion shifted after the W.W.2. After the horrors of the Third Reich became well known with the film now considered to be a brave film for people with disabilities.
None of the ‘’sideshow’’ actors that appeared in Freaks had long or successful careers except for Schlitzie. He appeared in The Sideshow, Tomorrow’s Children and Meet Boston Blackie. Most of his career was spent in the various circuses as a sideshow performer and by all accounts he was always a pleasant man to work with. His popularity was to be revived when Freaks became popular in the 1960’s. He died in 1971.
One example of an actor who became a circus freak was the gigantic Jack Earle. Having starred in Jack and the Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel, he then signed with Ringling Bros. Reputed to be at least 7’7’’ (231 cm), he was told on his first day by the midget Harry Doll that there were more freaks in the audience than on the stage. Sadly, as tends to be the case for very tall people, he died relatively young at the age of 46.
Coney Island Sideshow Performers
Perhaps the only potential way that a circus ‘’freak’’ could become a mainstream actor today is through the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. This is a revival of an old Coney Island tradition. Coney Island as an entertainment precinct has seen better days but constant attempts are being made to revive the glory days of the late 19th century through to the mid 20th century. Koo Koo the Bird Girl, Insectavora and Finn Flexible are all keeping the show going on but it is doubtful whether they’ll hit the heights of their predecessors in the early 20th century.
Potential profits could be very good for those involved in the sideshow acts and it wasn’t unusual for the performers to out-earn everyone involved in the circus business. Such was the demand for entertainment in the days before T.V. that people took their entertainment from anywhere and were prepared to pay money for it as well. Whereas in the past entertainment was something you did for yourself, now the service was being provided for you.