OOFTY GOOFTY

 

I was watching the Discovery History Channel and they talked about a sideshow act that I have never heard about before. Could you provide me with any history about Oofty Goofty?

 

Jason Taylor, Tahoma Washington

 

Jason, He started out as The Wild Man of Borneo in a Barbary Coast sideshow. When people came up to his bars, he would growl, jump around and mutter "Oofty goofty!", it didn't take long before it became his name. He once played Romeo in a production where the lead actress proved too heavy for the balcony. So they switched positions and, true to his past, Oofty Goofty made like a monkey and grunted and moaned his lines. He became a curious one-man industry when he discovered that he felt no pain. People could sock him, kick him, etc. and it would not bother him. He let saloon denizens abuse him for four bits a whack. His career ended when he let heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan hit him across the back with a pool cue. Sullivan broke two of Oofty's vertebrae, forcing Oofty to retire. Thereafter Oofty walked with a limp and whimpered at the slightest touch.

 

John Robinson Sideshow World

 

 

The Story of Oofty Goofty


So far as journalistic or public knowledge went, Oofty Goofty had no other name than this singular appellation, which he acquired during his first appearance before his San Francisco public, as a wild man in a Market Street freak show. From crown to heel he was covered with road tar, into which were stuck great quantities of horsehair, lending him a savage and ferocious appearance. He was then installed in a heavy cage, and when a sufficiently large number of people had paid their dimes to gaze upon the wild man recently captured in the jungles of Borneo and brought to San Francisco at enormous expense, large chunks of raw meat were poked between the bars by an attendant. This provender the wild man gobbled ravenously, occasionally growling, shaking the bars, and yelping these fearsome words: "Oofty goofty! Oofty goofty!"

He was, naturally, immediately christened Oofty Goofty, and as such was identified to the day of his death. For a week or so he was a veritable histrionic sensation, the wildest wild man ever exhibited on the Pacific Coast. Then, since he could not perspire through his thick covering of tar and hair, he became ill and was sent to the Receiving Hospital. There physicians vainly tried for several days to remove Oofty Goofty's costume without removing his natural epidermis as well. He was at length liberally doused with a tar solvent and laid out upon the roof of the hospital, where the sun finally did the work.

Thereafter Oofty Goofty eschewed character parts and decided to scale the heights of theatrical fame as a singer and dancer. He obtained a place on the bill at Bottle Koenig's, a Barbary Coast beer hall which also offered a low variety entertainment. There he danced once and sang one song. He was then, with great ceremony, thrown into the street. In reality this was a very fortunate experience, as it indicated his future career, or, as he termed it, his "work." Oofty Goofty was kicked with considerable force, and landed heavily upon a stone sidewalk, but to his intense surprise he discovered that he was, apparently, insensible to pain. This great gift he immediately proceeded to capitalize, and for some fifteen years, except for occasional appearances at the Bella Union as a super, and a short engagement as co-star with Big Bertha, he eked out a precarious existence simply by letting himself be kicked and pummeled for a price. Upon payment of ten cents a man might kick Oofty Goofty as hard as he pleased, and for a quarter he could hit the erstwhile wild man with a walking-stick. For fifty cents Oofty Goofty would become the willing, and even prideful, recipient of a blow with a baseball bat, which he always carried with him. He became a familiar figure in San Francisco, not only on the Barbary Coast, but in other parts of the city as well. It was his custom to approach groups of men, in the streets and in bar-rooms, and diffidently inquire: "Hit me with a bat for four bits, gents? Only four bits to hit me with this bat, gents."

Oofty Goofty was knocked off his feet more times than he could remember, but he continued to follow his peculiar vocation until John L. Sullivan hit him with a billiard cue and injured his back. Not long afterwards Sullivan's pugilistic standing was impaired by James J. Corbett, the pride of San Francisco, and Oofty Goofty always felt that Corbett had acted as his agent in the matter. Oofty Goofty never entirely recovered from his encounter with Sullivan. He walked with a limp thereafter, and the slightest blow made him whimper with pain. With his one claim to distinction gone, he soon became a nonentity. He died within a few years, but medical authorities said that Sullivan's blow had not been a contributing cause.

 

The Story of Oofty Gofty, Excerpts from The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury's

 


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