• Weird History

All About Schlitzie, The "Pinhead" You've Definitely Seen Before

Schlitzie was one of America's greatest circus and sideshow performers. He worked in various circuses for decades during the twentieth century and left a definitive mark on the performance scene. 

Many people still don't know the story of this legendary trouper, though. Because he was abandoned by his family at a very young age, many details about his origins are based on speculation. Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a disease that made his head much smaller than normal (hence the "pinhead" moniker) and gave him the mental capacity of a 3-year-old. He was also quite small, only ever growing to a height of 4 feet.  

Schlitzie's disabilities rarely stopped him - he loved performing and took on the world with a smile. His exuberance and love of life set him apart from other sideshow performers and landed him a spot in the hearts of many Americans at a time when acceptance of those with differences wasn't all that common. 

  • He Dressed And Performed As A Girl

    Although he was a male, Schlitzie was frequently billed as a female. His caretakers often clothed him in loose dresses, purportedly because of his incontinence. The dresses were roomier and made it easier for his handlers to care for him. Although his fellow actors and performers knew that he was a male, they referred to him with both male and female pronouns.

  • He Was Billed As An Aztec, A Monkey, And An It

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The range of things that Schlitzie was billed as is truly vast and rather disturbing. He was called a girl on stage because of his dresses but some circus owners even went as far as to dub him "The Monkey Girl." He was also billed as "The Last Of The Aztecs" or one of several "Aztec Children" because people seemed to associate the "pinhead" look with Aztecs. It was actually Mayans who practiced head-binding and skull-shaping as a way to designate social status but Schlitzie's employers thought the association was fitting enough. The saddest thing Schlitzie was ever billed as was "It."

  • He Was In More Than One Movie

    The 1932 movie Freaks became a cult classic decades after it's release. The film features several sideshow performers, including Schlitzie, conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, and "Half Boy" Johnny Eck. Although his role in Freaks was his most recognizable, Schlitzie also appeared in Island of Lost Souls that same year and was billed as a "furry manimal."

  • He Performed With A Long List Of Circuses And Sideshows

    Photo: Freaks / MGM

    Schlitzie was a performer for the majority of his life. He may have had a few movie roles but most of his time was spent on sideshow acts. He performed with a long list of prominent circuses, which included the Tom Mix Circus, the Clyde Beatty Circus, the Foley & Burke Carnival, the Ringling Bros. Circus, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He loved performing and was very sad when he was moved away from the carnival scene.