A Brief History
On October 8, 2014, the latest iteration of American Horror Story debuts with series regular Jessica Lange portraying a character based on a real-life actress of early twentieth-century cinema!
According to E Online and Entertainment Weekly, the persona of Lange’s character was molded after Marlene Dietrich who ranked fourth on History and Headlines’s list of German-speaking actresses of the early years. American Horror Story: Freak Show (AHS: FS) is set in Florida in the early 1950s, around the time when Dietrich starred in such American and British films as Stage Fright (1950), No Highway in the Sky (1951) and Rancho Notorious (1952).
Other aspects of the show also drew inspiration from reality. First, the show’s setting of Jupiter, Florida is somewhat akin to Gibsonton, Florida, a location known as a “a hotspot for unusuals. That’s where a lot of circus people and carnival people spent the winter…There was a disproportionate number of people who were in sideshows or freak shows there. Some of them ran motels and fishing stores so it’s kind of a famous area for carny and circus people in Florida.” Second, the show will feature such acts as a bearded lady and a strongman, staples of twentieth-century “freak shows.”
At the time during which AHS: FS is set, the most well-known living bearded lady was probably American Jane Barnell (January 3, 1871 – October 26, 1951) who used the stage name “Lady Olga.” She toured with a number of circuses, among them the famed Ringling Brothers and also appeared in some films, most famously Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932).
Meanwhile, Joseph L. Greenstein (January 2, 1893 – October 8, 1977), better known as “The Mighty Atom,” was arguably the best-known contemporaneous American strongman. Greenstein appeared in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not several times and had an entry in the 1976 Guinness Book of World Records.
In 2014, at the age of 93, Joe’s son Mike Greenstein (born December 6, 1920) appeared on America’s Got Talent. For his act, he successfully pulled a 3,500-pound car with his teeth!
Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think about “freak” shows? Is it okay for unusual people to be put on display? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For another interesting event that happened on October 8, please read the History and Headlines article: “9 People or Things Named ‘Rocket.'”
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For more information, please see…
Chee and Steve Niles. American Freakshow: The Terrible Tale of Sloth Boy. IDW Publishing, 2008.