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 months.
 

Ward Hall

 

Photographs

William Durk courtesy of Pat Gelhar Grahn from her Aunt Ella Mills Collection

From a Glass Negative of Grace McDaniels courtesy of Lynne Bell from the Adonna Houston Collection
 

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