The promise of suggestive sexual content lured many warm blooded men to curiosity displays, carnivals, and sideshows. The Cooche Shows (exotic or burlesque shows) presented by carnivals in the first half of the 20th century proved incredibly successful. But the shy or modest man would often opt to take in the sideshow, where skin was often available for viewing in a more discreet situation. The idea of a seeing a tattooed woman in a revealing bathing suit, in an era when bathing suits looked more like dressing gowns, drew many men into the tents of the sideshow – sometimes even accompanied by their wives or sweethearts.
Frances O’Connor benefited from the innocent sexual undertones in her act. She was able to show a great deal of leg, more than was really appropriate in her prudish era, and she was never reprimanded for her actions. Frances showed her bare legs a lot – for they functioned as her arms.
Frances was born on September 8, 1914 in Renville County, Minnesota. Born without arms, she learned to use her feet in incredibly dexterous ways. Despite her physical condition, or perhaps because of it, Frances possessed a very outgoing personality. That combined with a natural beauty and the the sheer spectacle her legs created as they competed otherwise mundane daily chores, made her a natural for the sideshow.
Her sideshow career began in Wyoming with the Al G. Barnes Circus – her mother serving as her manager – and eventually she worked with Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey for over 20 years, until the mid 1940’s. She was given the moniker of ‘The Living Venus De Milo’ and, while not the first sideshow worker given this name, she was perhaps the best suited. By all accounts she was a very beautiful woman who attracted droves of men and eligible suitors to her shows. Not only was she beautiful, but her sweet disposition made many men swoon and it has been said that she turned down hundreds of marriage proposals during her career.
Frances and her incredibly dexterous legs and feet were featured in the 1932 film Freaks. In the film, she does such things as smoke a cigarette, drink from a cup, cut her food with a fork and knife and use a napkin to dab the corners of her mouth – all performed with a ballerina-like grace. Francis was so capable with her feet that she was able to sew and knit as a hobby.
Eventually, as she aged, Francis lost interest in traveling and the crowds lost interest in her. Shortly after her managing mother passed away she decided to completely retire from show business. Francis disappeared almost completely into obscurity overnight and, despite having many suitors in her prime, she never married or bore any children. She lived out the remained of her life alone in California before passing away in 1982 at the age of sixty-seven.
Excerpts of the above taken from the book Very Special People as well as We Who Are Not As Others.