We didn’t lie to you, folks. We told you we had living, breathing monstrosities. You laughed at them. . . shuddered at them, and yet, but for the accident of birth. . . you might be even as they are.
– barker from the film Freaks
Consider Prince Randian. That was his stage name. Born in 1871 in Guyana without arms or legs, he joined the sideshow circus in the early 1900’s. He was billed as the “Human Pillow,” the “Living Torso,” and other epithets.
Prince Randian had a pretty good life as most people would measure it. He had a successful entertainment career, even appearing in the 1932 movie “Freaks.” He had a devoted wife and five children. He spoke Hindu, English, German and French.
He was also able to write and paint using only his lips. He constructed a wooden cigar box in this manner, and he used this box to store his personal effects. He rolled, lit, and smoked his own cigarettes using his lips.
In this scene from the film “Freaks,” an acrobat named Rollo brags about his own act and talent, oblivious to Prince Randian who is removing a match from a matchbox, and lighting and smoking a cigarette with his lips. I believe the scene is intended to be ironic. Rollo, who has no physical handicap, seems to think he is such an amazing acrobat that he is too good for the circus troupe he is with; Prince Randian ignores his braggadocio but then taunts him as he walks off by asking, “Hey, can you do anything with your eyebrows?” I suspect Prince Randian could do quite a lot with just his eyebrows!
Part of the fascination people have with “freaks” or persons with severe physical abnormalities is how they display their human-ness. How different can you be and still have a human life? we wonder, even as we know it’s not a kind question.
Prince Randian is a great example of how we are capable of more than we realize, that we all have many talents and abilities if we choose to develop them, and that we are highly adaptable to adversity.