William & Grace
William Dirks looked
like he had been hit in the face with an axe. The truth is he
was born in Northern Alabama with an indentation between his
eyes that appeared as a third eye and his nose was divided with
nostrils on each side of a depression. His upper lip was also
divided in two. Ho was a share crop cotton farmer, barely
scraping a living from the soil. In his mid-forties, he attended
the local fair at Jasper. While attending the sideshow, he was
invited to join the group. With an offer far exceeding any
income he could ever earn fanning. He spent the rest of his life
a happy man as the "Three Eyed Man" or the "Two-Faced Man". His
billing periodically changed as he played the same route with
the Kelly-Sutton Shows for many years. He married Mildred, The
Alligator Skin Lady . I never knew her. She died before Bill
came to work for us. He was an easy going man, who from his hard
working days on the farm, was very strong physically. As an
attraction he was not expected to help erect and dismantle the
show, but he enjoyed the physical labor, working harder than
anyone on the crew. I suspect he also enjoyed the extra pay he
received for his labor.
Although I knew and was a friend of with Grace McDaniels, I
never worked with her. She was a much respected lady within the
industry, and was the feature attraction on leading shows as the
"Mule Faced Woman". The flesh on her lower face was almost like
red meat. Her mouth and upper and lower lips continued to
increase in size. Therefore the older she got the more grotesque
her appearance became. Her entire face was enlarged and puffy.
She looked as though her face had been run over by a truck. Her
hometown was Katy, Texas. One of her earliest professional
appearances was with F. W. Miller's sideshow, which he worked
only in winter months, presenting his performance in rented
empty store buildings in the business districts. This type of
operation was referred to as a store show. The winter of 1935,
the feature was a young Grace. Harry Leonard was the lecturer.
Grace was a novice who didn't want to be referred to as a freak.
She insisted on using cosmetics which only enhanced her
deformity. Harry asked F. W. what to do. He replied that Harry
should just follow the script, that he was paying a great deal
to Grace to be an attraction. At first she would sit through the
lecture with her fingers in her ears. After a short time she
enjoyed the lecture, and her status as a star attraction.
By the time I met Grace in 1950, it had become laborious to
speak. Because of the size of her mouth she had difficulty
forming words. She was a sweet dispositional, generous woman,
who was loved by all who worked with her. She never married, but
had a son, Elmer. He acted as her manager. Though he looked
after her well being, he squandered her considerable earnings.
Elmer followed his mother in death, surviving her by only a few
William Durk courtesy
Grahn from her Aunt
Ella Mills Collection
From a Glass Negative of Grace McDaniels
courtesy of Lynne Bell
from the Adonna Houston
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