"I Worked As A Sideshow Freak"

 

 

The Show's theme was  "I Worked As A Sideshow Freak" and was filmed in and around Gibtown, FL.  Also featured were Melvin Burkhardt, Jeanie Tomaini, Johnny Meah, Jennifer Miller and Grady Stiles III with commentary by James Taylor (and Judy Rock teaching Jerry the bed of nails!) Percilla was 85 years old.

Jerry Springer voice over:

While we were in town we went in search of the elusive monkey girl - Percilla Bejano.  In the heyday of the sideshows there was no bigger name.  Born covered completely with hair and multiple rows of teeth, she was taken from Puerto Rico at three years of age and placed in the sideshows where she met and married Emmitt, the Alligator Boy.  But since Emmitt's death 
(in 1995) and her retirement, Percilla had disappeared and refused all interviews until today.

(Jerry opens the gate to Percilla's yard and approaches Percilla who is seated on a garden swing)

JS: Hi!  Percilla?
 

PB:  Hello.

JS: I'm Jerry Springer.  It's very nice to meet you.


PB: And you, too.

JS: A real pleasure, thank you very much for having me.

Percilla is wearing a bright red dress that goes down to mid-ankle.  She is wearing large colorful earrings and is seated on a garden swing where Jerry joins her. The two gently rock on the swing throughout the interview.

JS: You ... you're life has been the life of the circus, right?

PB: Mostly carnival ...

JS: Mostly the carnival

PB: Uh huh, sideshows, you know.

JS: You ... At what age did you ... How did you first get into what they call the sideshow?

PB: Five years old.

JS: You were five years of age. And what were you known as?

PB: Well ... they called me the little (chuckle) monkey girl.

JS: They called you the "monkey girl".

PB: Uh huh, because I had the hair all over the body.

JS: When you went to marry your husband ...

PB: We eloped.

JS: You eloped ... You stayed in the life of the circus though didn't you?

PB: Yeah ...

 

JS: You loved it?

PB: Emmitt and I went (to) build our own show.

JS: And what did Emmitt do in the circus?  In the show?

PB: Alligator Man.

JS: He was the "Alligator Man".

PB: Yeah ...

 

PB: He was born in Punta Gorda.


JS: In where?

PB: Punta Gorda, Florida.

JS: Punta Gorda, Florida.  Um ... now he was called the alligator man because ...

PB: The skin.

JS: The skin on his face looked like anybody else's face but the rest of the skin over his whole body ...

PB: He couldn't sweat.

JS: He couldn't sweat.  It looked like the skin of a reptile ... of an alligator.

PB: Yeah, uh huh.

JS: So he couldn't sweat.  So when you're out in the hot sun what would they do ... to keep him cool?

PB: Well, he had a tub of ice water.

JS: A tub of ice water.

PB:   Yeah, he kept ice all the time in the back of the show.

JS: So both of you had ... both of you then ... not only were you married and you loved each other...

PB: Naturally! (chuckle)



JS: Right, but you had this show that became your life and the show was , using the words that you use, the "monkey girl" and the "alligator man".

PB: We were the "Strangest .... he billed us as the "Strangest Married Couple..."
 

JS: The "Strangest Married Couple".

PB: Uh huh, "In the World".
 

JS: When you were sitting there in the pit and you saw all these people just walking by paying ... some amount of money to come and stare at you did you ever get angry?

PB: No, because (chuckle) I sang a song to 'em and they threw money at me.

JS: What song did you sing?

PB: (Laughing, shy, embarassed) 



JS: C'mon, sing for me.  I'll sing for you.

PB: No (laughing)

JS: Just sing a little ... just one little bar.

PB: (singing)  "It's a long way to Tipperary ...(can't continue, breaks up laughing)

JS: "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"?  I learned that as a kid in England, I swear.

PB: Yeah?

(singing together)   "It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go.  It's a long way to Tipperary  ....  (both forget the words)

JS: Oh, my memories fading.  Your're doing better than I am.  That's a pretty song.

PB: Oh, it was beautiful!

JS: So you did a whole act ...

PB: And then I sang "Margie".

JS: "Margie".

PB: Uh huh, yeah, and I danced.  I'd get up and dance and they'd throw nickles and quarters and if they threw pennies I threw it back to 'em!

JS: (chuckles)

PB: I didn't want no pennys. 

JS: No, heh, you gotta set your price you know.  Now, when you performed in the circus you had hair all over your face.

PB: Uh huh,

JS: I mean I don't mean just a little ...

PB: Well, I shave.

JS: You shave now.

PB: Uh huh.

JS: But at the time for the act you had it all over your face?

PB: Yeah, as I grew it grew.  I had a beard down to here.

JS: Tell me ... you became very successful ...

PB: Oh, I loved it!

JS: You loved it, that's ... I guess what .. I'm (looking for)

PB: If I wasn't so old I'd be right there on that Midway.  I talked to everyone of 'em and the one guy he's drunk ... at 4 o'clock that's when the idiots and the drunks come in.

JS: And when they were drunk what kind of things would they say?

PB: Oh ... "When are you going to take your dress off? ...  "Let me see" ...  "Whatcha got underneath?"  I says, "Well, uh, not what you got, man".  But I said ... and his wife would pull him over, you know, and say 'Why don't you shut up?'  But he'd be so (gesturing craziness) you know, I'd say "Let him go, he don't know what he's talking about ... he's like an alligator - all mouth and no brains."  That's what I'd say.  And one of them asked me,  he says, "Well how come you're that way?"  I said, "Because you're that way". I said "Because I got to see you for nothing, you had to pay to see me."  I always had an answer for the marks.

JS: And if you could do it again ... ?

PB: I'd do it!

 

 

 

Post Script:  BEJANO, PERCILLA LAUTHER,  89, of Land O'Lakes, died Monday (Feb. 5, 2001) at Westbrooke Manor.  Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she came to this area 40 years ago from Gibsonton and was an entertainer in the circus. She was Catholic. Survivors include a son, Anthony E.  Whitfield Funeral Home Inc.,  Zephryhills. - Percilla's obit as pub in the St. Petersburg Times

 


Springer Interview and other text courtesy of  Tom Hernandez www.quasi-modo.net

Background image - James Taylor's Shocked & Amazed


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