Jenny Lee & Elvira Snow
Freaks has earned its place in history as one of the all-time great cult films, though it wasn’t always beloved. The film was reviled by both critics and audiences upon release in 1932. It was a career-killer for Tod Browning, who had previously been a Hollywood golden child with a string of Lon Chaney hits under his belt and who had just come off the enormous success of Dracula.
The film shocked audiences with its use of actual sideshow “freaks” as actors:
Among the characters featured as “freaks” were Peter Robinson (“the human skeleton”); Olga Roderick (“the bearded lady”); Frances O’Connor and Martha Morris (“armless wonders”); and the 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, a disputed claim. Also featured were the intersexual Josephine Joseph, with her left/right divided gender; Johnny Eck, the legless man; the completely limbless Prince Randian (also known as The Human Torso, and mis-credited as “Rardion”); Elizabeth Green the Stork Woman; and Koo-Koo the Bird Girl, who suffered from Virchow-Seckel syndrome or bird-headed dwarfism, and is most remembered for the scene wherein she dances on the table.
The film had only a short cinema run in the United States before it was pulled by MGM due to audiences’ revulsion. It was not even allowed to be shown at all in the UK for thirty years.
Some argue that the film was a crass exploitation of the mentally and physically challenged, while others believe the film is sympathetic to the disabled stars and was therefore an empowering vehicle, showcasing their struggle. It has remained controversial to this day.
Thanks to the excellent blog Decaying Hollywood Mansions, we have this stunning gallery of promotional cast photos from the film, featuring the unusually beautiful stars of Tod Browning’s 1932 masterpiece.
Daisy and Violet Hilton
Guests at the Banquet
Harry & Daisy Earles
Henry Victor and Olga Baclanova
Schlitzie and Wallace Ford
Wallace Ford and Leila Hyams
“Schlitzie’s big scene”—one of my personal favorites: