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“From 1972 to 1975, I spent my summers photographing and interviewing women who performed striptease for small town carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. As I followed the girl shows from town to town, I photographed the dancers’ public performances as well as their private lives. I also taped interviews with the dancers, their boyfriends, the show managers, and paying customers.
The women I met ranged in age from seventeen to thirty-five. Most had left small towns, seeking mobility, money and something different from what was prescribed or proscribed by their lives that the carnival allowed them to leave. They were runaways, girlfriends of carnies, club dancers, both transient and professional.
They worked out of a traveling box, a truck that unfolded to form two stages, one opening to the public carnival grounds, another concealed under a tent for a private audience. A dressing room stands between them. Again and again, throughout the day and night, the woman performers moved from the front stage, with its bally call—the talker’s spiel that entices the crowd—to the stage, where they each perform for the duration of a 45 pop record”.
From Susan Meislas’ book “Carnival Strippers” 1976
Ah, the fifties, where a sexy pinup was appropriate for every holiday. This was a time when depictions of nudity was still resigned to the under-the-counter porn mags, but bathing suits and lingerie were completely acceptable and all the rage. A lot of these were promotions for young actresses and even established stars – that’s a young Yvonne DeCarlo (Lily Munster) in a cat suit on a huge pumpkin.
Freaks is a 1932 American Pre-code film (pre Hayes code censorship) in which the title characters were actually played by by sideshow performers with real deformities. Directed and produced by Tod Browning, whose career never recovered really from it. Freaks has been described as standing alone in a subgenre of one.
Because of Browning’s success as the director of Dracula, he was given a considerable leeway for a major studio’s first horror film. In the film, the physically deformed “freaks” are inherently trusting and honorable people, while the real monsters are two of the “normal” members of the circus who conspire to murder one of the performers to obtain his large inheritance.
Among the characters featured as “freaks” were “The Human Skeleton”, “The Bearded Lady”; Frances O’Conner and Martha Morris – The armless wonders”; and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Among the microcephalics who appear in the film (and are referred to as “pinheads”) were Zip and Pip (Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow) and Schlitzie, a male named Simon Metz who wore a dress mainly due to incontinence. Also featured was Johnny Eck, the legless man; the completely limbless Prince Randian and Koo-Koo – The Bird girl, who had Virchow-Seckel syndrome or bird-headed dwarfism (?!).
Following disastrous test screening in January 1932 (one woman threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her to suffer a miscarriage), the studio cut the picture down from its original 90-minute running time to just over an hour. Much of the sequence of the freaks attacking Cleopatra (the villain), as she lays under a tree, was removed, as well as a gruesome sequence showing Hercules (The Strong-Man, & Cleopatras lover) being castrated. It’s current running time is just 64 minutes. No matter how much was cut it still managed to negatively effect people and lose money. The Kansas City Star said “There is no excuse for this picture. It took a weak mind to produce it and it takes a strong stomach to look at it.” Harrison Reports – “Any one who considers this entertainment should be placed in the pathological ward in some hospital.” With these kinds of reviews Tod Brownings career was doomed and he would never recover the fame he had pre-Freaks. It is indeed creepy and disturbing and absolutely great. If you’ve seen American Horror Story Freak Show recently you’ll see the impact this film has made (and sort of know how it ends).
THE FINAL REVENGE – CRAWLING IN THE RAIN
This is not the source material for these movies and TV shows, oh no, these are all written after the fact to squeeze one last tiny bit of cash out of the public. Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want to read the novelization of, say, Childs Play 3 to get just a bit more exposition about Chuckie’s motives and thought process. I doubt that these are still being written today (though Star Trek and Star Wars both have tons of ‘inspired by’ novels) but from the 60’s through the nineties they were everywhere, most notably the used book bins of Goodwill and Salvation Army.
Brian Duffy (15 June 1933 – 31 May 2010) was an English photographer and film producer, best remembered for his fashion and portrait photography of the 1960s and 1970s. With fellow photographers; David Bailey and Terence Donovan, Duffy was a key player in Britain’s “Swinging Sixties” – a culture of high fashion and celebrity chic.
Socialising with actors, pop stars, royalty and the notorious gangsters, the Kray twins, they represented a new breed of photographer and found themselves elevated to celebrity status. Duffy commented on the culture shock the three were to the industry: ″Before 1960, a fashion photographer was tall, thin and camp. But we three are different: short, fat and heterosexual!″
Duffy’s relationship w/ David Bowie yielded one of the most iconic photos in pop history – the Alladin Sane lightning bolt cover. He’d go on to shoot 2 other Bowie covers – Lodger and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.
In 1979 Duffy abruptly gave up photography attempting to burn many of his negatives in his studio yard but fortunately neighbours objected to the acrid smoke, the council were called and much of his work was saved. Although a large number of his images were lost. Duffy moved onto television commercials and in 1983 Duffy directed the music videos for Spandau Ballet, ABC and The Human League. By 1990 Duffy retired from all image making and followed his lifelong passion for furniture restoration and became an accredited BAFRA (British Antique Furniture Restoration Association) restorer. Duffy died on 31 May 2010, after suffering from degenerative lung disease.