Thursday, May 24, 2007

Eeko and Iko

Considering the revived (and generally posthumous) fame that sideshow freaks achieved during the grungy Jim Rose '90s, it's surprising to run across a pair of freaks that do NOT seem to be mentioned (let alone meticulously studied) on the internet.

But in the November 5, 1927 issue of The New Yorker there are a few paragraphs about the mysterious Eeko and Iko:
Even out of season, circus freaks are a major interest with us, none more so than Eeko and Iko... The two strange twins have been billed as "ambassadors from Mars..."

We have been acquainted with the pair for several seasons, and they were good examples of contented freaks... It had been their happy fate always to wear full evening dress with a brilliant red ribbon across their shirt fronts. This alone would have sufficiently amused and contented them.

With Eeko and Iko their unusual flaxen hair was their principal distinction. It looked like cotton and grew in conical clumps. They were said to shed it from time to time, as a chicken moults. Scientists pronounced them subnormal; their reflexes were slack, and they dithered as they walked. Their eyes didn't quite focus. They appeared to be Albino negroes, although it was intimated that they were picked up on the slopes of Mount Everest, or thereabouts.
Mount Everest? Shed their hair? Yeah right. Still, I'm fascinated by the strange spot that freaks held in society during the first half of the 20th century: respected and in some ways admired as long as they stayed in their tents.

By the way, I've never heard the word "dither" used in this way. I'm familiar with it meaning a sort of indecisive wandering, and apparently it can also be a sort of shiver/shake action. Did Eeko and Iko shiver as they walked?

The early morning time-crunch and a misspelled "Eko" in The New Yorker kept me from finding what Morgan James discovered today: "Eko and Iko" are by no means forgotten. The Human Marvels can tell you everything you need to know about "The Sheep-Headed Men."

Curiously, their career was temporarily ended when their long-lost mother finally tracked them down. This article in The New Yorker was prompted by that very incident (which is why they keep being referred to in the past tense). So while Eko and Iko may not be the mysteries I thought they were, this article at least is commenting on a significant moment in their careers.


Eric Little said...

From the OED: dither:

1. intr. Orig. chiefly dial., to tremble, quake, quiver, thrill. Now also in gen. colloq. use: to vacillate, to act indecisively, to waver between different opinions or courses of action.

1649 Depos. Cast. York (Surtees) 29 He saw the said Sara Rodes..her body quakeing and dithering about halfe a quarter of an hower.

"Dither" is a form of "didder," the older word, which means the same thing:

c1440 York Myst. xxviii. 2 My flesshe dyderis & daris for doute of my dede.

The OED speculates that "didder" is onomatopoetic, somehow, "a natural imitation of tremulous motion," "dodder" being a stronger form of it.

Pull the other one.

Adam Thornton said...

Hmmm! So maybe the twins DID "shake" as they walked...unless, of course, they randomly rounded a series of numbers up or down as they walked?

Anonymous said...

Whatever you are, capitalize on it. I have long admired those able to do that.

Anonymous said...

"Rainman" meets 'Carnivale" perhaps?

Adam Thornton said...

If *I* had -- for instance -- a rudimentary tap-dancing twin growing out of MY side, I'm sure I'd find the side-show a welcoming environment. Or, yes, even carnivale!

Eric Little said...

"One of us! One of us!"

Anonymous said...

A reference to Freaks (1932)?

I haven't seen the film, just read about it. That quote sounds like it is from one of the scenes in the movie.

Adam Thornton said...

Yes, Eric is channelling the stars of "Freaks" -- Koo-Koo the Bird Woman, Schlitzie the Pinhead, Daisy and Violet the Siamese Twins, among others -- as they toast the Peacock of the Air...just before she yells out:

"Filthy...slimy...FREAKS! FREAKS, FREAKS, FREAKS! GET OUT of here. Make me one of you, will you? Ooooo, holy jumping Christmas!"

She wasn't the "Peacock of the Air" much longer!

Eric Little said...

Got it in one--as usual. :)

Normally I'd say, "You've GOT to see this," but "Freaks" is one of the most genuinely disturbing movies of all time--and for 1932, it was almost unbelievable. At the beginning of "Frankenstein," one of the actors comes out and warns the audience of the shocks they will receive, but when they showed "Frankenstein" on TV when I was a kid, they cut that intro out--"Frankenstein" was as frightening as the Muppets. Same with Tod Browning's "Dracula"--how is an armadillo in a cellar supposed to be scary?

But "Freaks"? For years it was not shown, probably because of Production Code restrictions, and no television station would run it. I saw it at the Biograph Theater in Chicago (bye, John Dillinger) when it was re-released. These were not actors, these were what people went to see when they saw a freak show. And, of course, by that time, "freak" had its own new definition for young people.

But still--watching the Human Torso roll and light a cigarette--unforgettable, and not in a good way. Not for nothing was the excellent recent biography of director Browning titled "Dark Carnival."

I always wished they had shown how Hercules the strong man is turned into a soprano--but what happens to the Peacock of the Air is nightmare-inducing enough.

Anonymous said...

I've read enough about Freaks to know it probably isn't a film I would like to see, and I'm a big old movie fan. I like to watch America Free TV whenever I have the time.

I'm saying: "Nothin' doing" and "What's the idea?" and other phrases few people know anymore. I'm looking for a nice suit and a nice fedora hat.

Adam Thornton said...

I used to have a real fascination with freak shows and I kept up with all the trivia and deconstruction. I grew up with Zippy the Pinhead. The first radio show I ever did was called "The Freak Show" and my first (awful) cassette contained liberal samples from the "Freaks" movie (so I know that "filthy slimy freaks" thing off by heart).

Since the 1990s was a decade of freak research, what we know of sideshows now has as much to do with what actually happened as it does with what people in the '90s SAID happened. The same way that Ed Wood folklore sort of obscures what Ed Wood might have REALLY done.

So when it comes to Tod Browning, APPARENTLY he was very sympathetic; he spent his youth working in a circus and it was not his intention to exploit anybody. From what I understand, however, the bearded lady was very unhappy with the film.

I do agree that it's as scary as heck, partly because of its "reality" but also because Browning was hitting his stride...prematurely cut off by the notoriety of the film, sadly.

(BTW, The New Yorker's film critic loves Browning in 1926/1927).

Adam Thornton said...

I'd love to be able to talk like a film noir vamp, but people would think I was talking gibberish. I tried to replace "take a drink" with "have a snort" in nightclubs, but people always took it the wrong way.

"Lost Weekend" has a fantastic run of noir vamp dialog. "Make with those stairs!" "Save yer saliva!" "Don't be ridic'!" "Def but def!"

Anonymous said...

The best source of info regarding Eko and Iko (real names George and Willie Muse) is the Roanoke Times article of 2001 available online. The brothers were born in 1890 and 1893 respectively so weren't twins.
I'm not convinced of the accuracy of the New Yorker's description of the brothers as "dithering" when walking but suspect that the description of their eyes not being able to focus is connected to their albinism.
I'd love to know where you got the New Yorker article from as it would be interesting to see what other articles it published about them.

Adam Thornton said...

Considering they couldn't even get Eko's stage name right, I wouldn't be surprised if the "dithering" was a bit off (unless they "dithered" because they couldn't see particularly well).

I read that issue of The New Yorker via "The Complete New Yorker" DVD set. The segment I quoted was from the opening section of the magazine called "Talk of the Town," which was a weekly chunk of five pages of miscellaneous observations and rumours.

So it wasn't a real "article," just a flippant write-up. The DVD set has a horrible search engine, but I just searched for "Iko" and it only turned up that one piece.

If you'd like to see the piece -- which is longer than what I quoted -- let me know and I can email you screenshots.