TWO BIRD GIRLS

 

 

Elizabeth "Betty" Green's

 

Elizabeth "Betty" Green's background is obscure. According to Tod Browning, director of Freaks, Betty Green was "a Jewish girl from Springfield, Massachusetts who owned five apartment houses." Other claim she was simply a movie fan who appeared in Freaks with the hope of getting actor Ronald Colman's autograph. One thing is certain, though - despite what many of her contemporaries claimed, Betty wasn't just an unfortunate-looking woman. Her appearance suggests that she suffered from some genetic condition and most accounts indicate that she was at least mildly mentally deficient. It seems she had quite a sense of humor about her condition, however, and was perfectly willing to don a feathery bodysuit, big fake bird feet and a gigantic plume on her head and dance around like a bird in front of spectators.

 

When Betty was cast in Freaks, she had to share billing with another Bird Girl, newcomer Minnie Woolsey. It's unknown what Betty thought of the competition, but to this day the "Koo Koo, the Bird Girl" title is mostly associated with Minnie, while Betty is remembered as "The Stork Woman" or, more enigmatically, "Molina, the Pinhead". It seems that these names were used only for the movie, however, and when filming ended, Betty went right back to being Koo Koo.

 


 

 

Minnie Woolsey

 

Minnie Woolsey, born in Georgia in 1880, was afflicted with a unique form of "bird-headed" dwarfism or nanocephaly. In addition to her unusual facial features, she was blind, mentally handicapped, toothless, and had only fine wisps of hair on her odd-shaped head. The story goes that she was rescued from a dismal life in a Georgia insane asylum by an enterprising showman, and began her showbiz career as "Minnie Ha-Ha", a play on North Carolina's Minnihaha Falls. "Minnie Ha-Ha" dressed in a phony American Indian costume and spoke jibberish to sideshow audiences.

 

By the time Minnie landed a role in Freaks in 1932, the sideshow world already had a "Koo Koo, the Bird Girl" - Betty Green - but this didn't stop Minnie's managers from dressing her in a feathery costume, too. Though she has no lines in Freaks, she made a lasting impression on moviegoers when she shimmied on the table during the wedding feast of Cleopatra the aerialist and Hans the dwarf. Thus it was Minnie who was best remembered as "Koo Koo", not Betty Green, although the two are frequently confused. Later, Minnie worked at Coney Island as "Koo Koo, the Blind Girl from Mars", where she confounded spectators by failing to respond to visual stimuli. Her blindness is just one of a host of symptoms that characterize some types of primordial dwarfism.

 

It's unknown exactly how long Minnie was with the circus or when she died, but some accounts claim she was still living (and was nearly run over by a car) in 1960, making her at least 80 years old.

 

Text Courtesy of Elisabeth Anderson - Pheeque.com

 


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