The moniker ‘The Man with Two Faces’ has been given to many Marvels during the history of sideshow.While few actually had two faces, Robert Melvin came pretty close. Born in Missouri on May 9, 1920 as one of six children, it quickly became evident that Robert was different. He was examined quite extensively by doctors during his childhood and yet his condition remained undiagnosed for many years.I wasn’t until later in life that Robert was finally diagnosed with neurofibromatosis; a disorder that causes the spontaneous growth of fibrous tumors.
Neurofibromatosis, or NF as it is commonly referred to, is quite varied in its visible symptoms. Some patients are greatly deformed, some grown small nodules or ‘knots’ on their bodies, and some have little more than a few small brown birthmarks. There has been great speculation that Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man, had NF.One look at the facial deformities Robert possessed and their similarity to those of The Elephant Man gives some merit to those assumptions – although, it is still mere speculation.For a time, Robert was even known as ‘The Modern Elephant Man’. Many people were so shocked at Robert’s appearance that many believed he was a fake – even a few noted doctors and sideshow historians.
The tumors that afflicted Robert completely distorted the features on the right side of his face. While Robert was not allowed to attend school as a child due to his appearance, he did receive a full education and – through the power of his unbelievably outgoing personality – he became rather well known, respected and loved by his small town neighbors. He never considered his appearance a handicap. In fact, once he entered the world of Sideshow in 1949 at Coney Island, his appearance became a great advantage.
Robert made a comfortable living with the sideshow both as an attraction and serving as the show accountant.During the off season, Robert kept busy doing the books for a hardware store.He also enjoyed a minor film career, appearing as a sanitarium inmate in Sisters (1973) – along with fellow Marvel Bill Durks – as a surreal demon in The Sentinel (1977) and also in the documentaries Being Different (1981) and I Am Not a Freak (1987).
In 1952, Robert returned to his hometown and married his longtime girlfriend Virginia – a girl he had know since his mid teenaged years – and despite rumors that ‘it would never last’ the pair were married for more than forty years. The two had a daughter, who later gave Robert a grandson and granddaughter.
Robert was known by friends and family – including the extended family he met in the sideshow – as a friendly, gentle, charming and intelligent man. When he passed away on November 19 in 1995, his funeral was well attended by those who loved and respected ‘The Man with Two Faces’ for the Marvelous man that he was.
image: Taken from the book In Search of the Monkey Girl, published 1982.