Thomas Kuebler's Sideshow Sculptures

[I originally posted this December 2011. I thought I would repost because our friend Schlitzie's image has popped up around the internet lately in connection with American Horror Story (thanks Bima!), it wouldn't involve a lot of typing and Mr Kuebler has added to his collection]

If you drop by here you might notice I sometimes post pictures of wacky art. I found a whole collection today that lead me on a voyage of nostalgic reflection and adventure. It was a collection of pictures of sculptures by Thomas Kuebler. The gallery was called "Beggars and Freaks" and you can find it here. What was interesting was that a lot of the "Freaks" were literally sideshow performers who also were in the movie Freaks in 1932. I recognized Schlitzie aka Pinhead.

Not this pinhead

This one

Rendered here by Mr. Kuebler along with...

John Eckhardt Jr. aka Johnny Eck aka Halfman.
One half of a set of fraternal twins
Minnie Woolsey aka Koo Koo, the Bird Girl 

Harry Earles, three of his six siblings were also dwarfs and all
four played Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz
John Merrick - Elephant Man

John Merrick is one of the most famous sideshow performers and although he does not appear in the movie Freaks like the others rendered by Kuebler I decided to include it here. I found that this sculpture provoked shock in me, not because of the distortion caused by his diseased bones - who doesn't recognize that? - but because I clearly recognized and was able to imagine the facial features he should have had had he been well. No picture I ever looked at captured his humanity like this sculpture did.

But let's talk about Schlitzie. His real name was possibly Simon Metz (later his name was legally Schlitzie Surtees, I think, it's all pretty confusing) and his date and place of birth are unknown. He was born with microcephaly which caused his brain and skull to be very small. He was very tiny physically and had the mental abilities of a three year old but by all descriptions seemed to be a happy and pleasant person. He was also well cared for by the various people who took him in during his career in the circus. While I refer to him as a he, Schlitzie was dressed as, referred to and 'marketed' as a female in many shows and in Freaks. It apparently added to his mystique. Sideshow performers with microcephaly (there were many) were known as pinheads.

His language was simple and he was able to string together a few words into simple phrases but it is thought he could understand most of what was said to him. He enjoyed being the centre of attention and performing. When his caregiver died, Schlitzie was entrusted to his daughter who was not in the business and she turned his care over to a hospital. He was discovered there, depressed, by a carnie who was working there part time and who informed his boss Sam Alexander about Schlitzie. Alexander took over his care and returned him to performing where Schlitzie was most happy.

His last major appearance was at the 1968 Dobritch International Circus held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena). Schlitzie also became a notable attraction performing on the streets of Hollywood, his caretakers selling his stock carnival souvenir pictures. Schlitzie spent time in his final days visiting MacArthur Park, feeding the pigeons and ducks with his guardian and performing for people as they passed by. [wiki]

On September 24, 1971, at the age of 70, Schlitzie died from bronchial pneumonia at Fountain View Convalescent Home.

Schlitzie, with Wallace Ford, in a scene from Freaks.

It is a mistaken conception that Schlitzie wore dresses due to incontinence. However he is often shown in dresses with pants underneath so obviously this was not a problem but it continues to be the prevailing theory.

Here is a link to a page where someone describes their personal experience with Schlitzie and his caregiver. It tells a slightly less idyllic story, compared with the wiki article, regarding Schlitzie's care. I find this version easier to believe considering the times but he was very childlike and maybe he inspired others to care for him because of that.

Here's a montage of scenes which include almost all of the people above.

Interesting to note that the dwarf characters of Hans and Freida, 
affianced in the movie, are played by a real life brother and sister.

Prince Randian with Johnny Eckhardt
Prince Randian, The Human Torso. Married with children. Lived to be 63. Shown in the video below lighting a cigarette he rolled himself (the rolling of which is sadly not shown).

Thomas Kuebler has 25 years experience working in toy design and animatronics and chose to leave that to be a free lance artist.

His bio says:
Armed with the tools of his trade, a supportive wife, and the odd inhabitants of his own personal fiction, he set forth on a new mission to bring the world inside his head to life. His award-winning silicone character sculptures range in venue from museums to private collections to the offices of DC Comics and have been featured in publications such as Spectrum and Rue Morgue.

Thomas Kuebler

Check out his gallery here. It's kind of amazing.


bima as herself said...

there is a sortof freak on American Horror story. check it out.


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