Story behind "Half & Half"

The Old Goat has a long interest in Freaks. Some people do not like that word. The definition of freak is an unusual or unexpected event or situation. Being born with three arms or no arms are freak events. In years past there was little in the way of medical or surgical help people with odd defects of birth could receive. There was also too often little they could do in the world. People would shun them or their deformities would render them unable to hold normal jobs. Many such people found independence in the Ten-in-Ones, the Dime Museums, the Sideshows of the circus, things commonly referred to as "Freak Shows".

Certainly there are cases of exploitation of some of these people, some of it very cruel. The Elephant Man may or my not have been exploited by his "keepers" any worse than he was exploited by Dr. Teeves, but the Mule-Faced Woman was exploited by her son and the Monkey Girl was exploited by her husband, yet still many if not most of such people found in these shows a society where they could learn a decent living and be accepted as people.

The Old Goat's interest came out of a condition he developed as a child called psoriasis. It started mildly enough, but over the years became an extreme case. At one point when it had begun to show on exposed areas such as the back of his hands, he went to a dermatologist. The doctor almost drooled when he saw him. He wanted to use a new experimental treatment on me. The Old Goat could see the gears of his mind churning. He was thinking if he could "cure" this guy (there is no cure, actually, only controls) with this new treatment he could make a name for himself, be written up in the medical journals, perhaps write a book.

He had The Old Goat strip naked and began to take photographs from every which way (good for illustrating that future book, no doubt). Okay, The Old Goat had been called a freak in his life. He knew He was a freak. This was the first time he actually felt like one. He never went back to that guy. (The Old Goat dreads to think where those photos may be. At least they have never turned up on the Internet that he's aware of and he never got copies.)

There were once print ads for a psoriasis cream that used a screaming headline, "the Heartbreak of Psoriasis". That line became a long running gag for comedians. The Old Goat used it himself. Most cases of Psoriasis are spotty (pardon the pun) and may be controlled by a dab of such creams. He used to be able to do this at first, which always gave him a nice creosote perfume odor. Eventually his condition went beyond such aids. He would have used a tub of creme a day at times.

The Old Goat was never particularly intimidated by this skin disorder. He never hid in head to toe clothing to hide it. He wore short sleeve shirts and short pants in summer. He went to the beach. In fact, in the summer, he would wear the least clothes or skimpiest bathing suits he could get away with without being arrested because sunlight will shrink the plaques and redness. One of the oddities of nature, where others may need to avoid too much sun was a benefit to him. The other oddity is when the weather turns cold, his psoriasis will begin to burn just like a bad sunburn.

The Old Goat has not experienced people avoiding him or treating him different because he sometimes looks a little different. Children sometimes ask if it is poison ivy. There was only one instance where someone had a bad reaction to his approach. He was on a business trip and was going to the elevator bank. There was a man waiting there. He looked at The Old Goat and began quickly backing down the corridor screaming, "what do you have? What do you have?" The Old Goat's impulse was to say, "I have a hugely contagious jungle rot" and follow the man while waving his arms, but he didn't. He just assured him it was nothing catching. The man didn't get in the elevator car with The Old Goat though.

Despite how much humor has been made of the "heartbreak of psoriasis" slogan, it isn't always a joke. It can be very serious. The Old Goat had extreme episodes, even coming close to being hospitalized for Erythrodermic Psoriasis, a condition where the skin becomes so hardened, it cracks and bleeds and normal things like turning a doorknob become painful. This condition can be fatal.  He was also one of those lucky few that also has Psoriatic Arthritis, oh how much fun that is!

Oh, well, it kept The Kid out of Vietnam.

Certainly many times in his life the disease has covered areas of his skin to the point that in those olden days he might have joined a Ten-in-One. He could have been the "Snake-skinned Man" teaming up with the "Crocodile Man" or the "Alligator People"

Anyway, The Old Goat felt an empathy with such people and became very interested in all those who plied the trade of being a Freak, collecting books and material about their lives. In the 1950's, a number of do-gooders began campaigns against the display of human oddities as cruel and offensive.  Sorry if this offenses some, but most so-called "do-gooders" are ignorant and self-righteous fools who never understand the unintended consequences of their campaigns. When The Old Goat was a child such people were called busybodies and it wasn't considered a virtue.

It is sad that someone like, Hop, the Frog Boy had to sue such people in order to continue working. (He won, at least one victory for individual rights.)  Still the final consequence was that these type of shows began to shut down and many Freaks were institutionalized, made useless prisoners of society instead of self-sufficient citizens earning their own way and paying taxes. Fortunately, many of the conditions suffered by some have since been lessened by medical science.

To a degree, Freak Shows have come back at Renaissance Faires or places like Coney Island, even on Broadway, but these rely on the second and third tiers of Freaks. You see some people were true freaks of nature, born with too many appendages or too few, or joined bodies or an overabundance of hair. There are other tiers such as the skill freak and  the "Gaffed". These are made-freaks, freak by choice.

Fire-eaters, Sword Swallowers, Blockheads and Contortionists are skill freaks. Tattooed men and women are made-freaks, closer to being gaffed, although their tattoos are not generally faked.

True gaffs are people who turn themselves into freaks by trickery. Sometimes the trickery is extreme and has a real element to it. ( In a sense this could be said of the tattooed men and women.) There have been phony siamese twins, for instance. One of the more famous type of gaffed freak is the "Half & Half" or the part man/part woman.

These people usually claim to be hermaphrodites, people born with both sex organs, and some actually were. But even those who may have been true hermaphrodites usually gaffed their appearance. One side of their body would seem to be a man's: defined muscles, hairy arm and leg, perhaps a beard or mustache. The other side would appear feminine: smooth skin, shapely leg, perhaps a breast, makeup, long hair. (In the picture to the right (a still from Tod Browning's film, "Freaks"), the person with the highlight is Josephine-Joseph, a famous Half & Half who appeared in the film.) They would wear clothes that were male on one side and female on the other to heighten the effect.

The photograph at  the top is of Bobby Kork, a Half & Half from the 1940s and 1950s. It was probably from his postcard. Such people sold cards to the public for a dime. These usually had a picture of the person on the front and their "life story" on the back. Selling such cards provided a living to the individual displaying him or her self. Besides the postcards, there was also the "blowoff". Certain acts would do something extra for the cost of a mere quarter. In the case of the Half & Half, this would be to expose their lower regions. Blowoffs were often restricted to "gentlemen" only.

It is not certain, but probably Bobby Kork, who also appeared under the name, Cherie, was not a hermaphrodite, but a total Gaff. Since he worked in the 'forties and fifties', he might not have been contemporary with the other real freaks mentioned in the poem.

1 comment:

Ray said...

You might be interested in my research into Josephine Joseph. You may view it here:

- Ray