Mark Frierson - 11/1/03

 

Q. You mentioned that James Taylor did a lot to promote you and your career as a sideshow artist. When did you meet James for the first time?

A. It was probably about a good 10 years ago, maybe 10 and a half. I was single, living here in Houston when I get a phone call from this guy, he says his name is James Taylor. I think Ya! Sweet Baby James. Heís like No! No! No! No!, I was wondering "why is James Taylor calling me?" So he let me know that he was working on this book, its working title was Shocked and Amazed. He had heard about me and wanted an interview, so we completed the interview. Through the interview we grew to be friends, we had a lot to talk about. I have helped him to meet people in the business throughout the years. I also helped to fill in some of the information he needed in relationship to his work in documenting the history of the sideshow.

Q. You said that James called you and wanted to interview you for his book. Isnít Shocked and Amazed a periodical?

A. Yes, that changed when James realized that what he was doing was just too big. He couldnít get everything that he wanted into just one book. Shocked and Amazed is still a growing art form. There is just too much information for one volume so he turned it into a periodical. This way he can continuously update it and keep it fresh. James always tries to put things in Shocked and Amazed that have never been seen before. He is totally against printing photos that are common place, like things from the Kobel collection or the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He tries to find things that no one has seen or have never been published. I think he has done a very good job so far.

Q. When did you start drawing for Shocked and Amazed?

A. I was on board from the very beginning. James made me his artist-in-residence for Shocked and Amazed. I had the honor of doing the first cover which had the Albino sword swallower Lady Sandra Reed on it and was released in 1995. I have done all the ODD numbered covers which I feel was appropriate for me to do. I have created a lot of the interior art for the magazine. I also created their logo which is now pretty famous.

Q. You painted the odd numbered covers for Shocked and Amazed, how many covers have you painted for them to this date?

A. I have painted a total of four now, it would be issues 1,3,5 and 7. Volume number 7 is the brand new one and it has my painting of the Coney Island front on it. Volume 3 Melvin Burkhart the Human Blockhead and Volume 5 has Jim Rose as Spidora on the cover.

Q. I understand they are going to be coming out with an eighth issue. Has James talked with you about doing the cover for that issue?

A. Typically I donít do the covers for two consecutive issues. In fact I wasnít even supposed to do the cover of the current issue. It wasnít anything personal, it was that Johnny Meah had been contacted and asked to do the cover. James contacted him to see if he had it completed and Johnny told him that he hadnít started it and didnít have the time to right now. So James contacted me to ask me if I could do the cover since he needed it completed badly. I told him that I could and he asked me to paint people that had performed at Coney Island. He asked me not to paint anyone on the cover that was currently alive because there are so many people and the cover wasnít big enough for all of them. He didnít want to leave any of them out. So everyone that appears on the cover is deceased, but they are some of the greatest performers that have ever appeared at Coney Island.

It was a really hard decision to pick who I was going to paint on the cover because there were so many to choose from. I had to paint the three people who were special to me. Mike Wilson, Otis Jordan and of course Melvin Burkhart. All three of these people were personal friends of mine. I also painted banners for all of them professionally that they used in the acts when they performed in the sideshow.

Q. James Taylor and Dick Horne are the directors of the American Dime Museum. We briefly touched upon that earlier. When did the museum open?

A. I think it opened in 1999, oh gosh has it been that long. I guess it could have been. I think they are going to have another anniversary there pretty soon.

Q. I would guess that your involvement with the Museum started because of your relationship with James?

A. Yes, basically the American Dime Museum is pretty much the collection of James Taylor. His collection has been combined with things that have either been loaned or donated to the museum. James, without blowing my own horn, considers me to be the finest gaff builder living. He loves my work and gets stuff from me every chance he can get. I send him things every once in awhile because I believe in what he is doing also. I like to help out and its nice to have my art out there because people will ask and he will tell them who made it. That has helped to promote my art and send business my way. Between the internet and James Taylor I am never at a loss for work. James has done the most singly to push my work and promote my career than anything else so far in my life. He has really helped to keep me in the public eye and I really do appreciate him for doing that. I owe him a huge bowl full of gratitude. I think I need to send him a fruit basket.

Q. I have never had the opportunity to visit the American Dime Museum, what other artists work are represented in the museum?

A. The only thing that comes to mind is there are a lot of banner artists represented there. I assume you are asking about gaffs though. Dick Horne who is the co-owner/founder has quite of few of his pieces in the museum. He is a very talented artist and I like his work a lot. There is also some of the infamous Doug Higley on display. They have other pieces on display in the museum from other artists that are not as well known that are pretty good as well. Then they have some things on display that they donít even know who made them.

Q. Do they have anything on display by some of the historic gaff builders?


A. Oh yes, I was thinking mostly of todayís artist. He does have a very nice piece from the Nelson Supply House. He has a giant mummy on display it is quite an amazing piece. Not too far up the road from the museum is the antique man who has an almost identical piece except it is a two headed giant mummy. James also has several items from Tateís Curiosity Shop.

Q. Have you ever helped to find any historic gaffs for the museum?

A. Two of the pieces he has on display I found for him on an online auction site. They were listed as something completely different, something off the wall. I think they may have been listed as Voodoo dolls or something like that. When I found them I realized that they were Homer Tate gaffs.  They were in very serious need of repair so I completely restored them for the museum. It was really interesting having the opportunity to restore some of Tateís creations.

Q. You donít get the opportunity to restore one of the historic gaff builders works very often. Did you learn a lot about how Homer Tate created his gaffs?

A. When I received them they were completely cut in half. I really think it was neat for me to be able to work on these since I am a gaff builder and interested in this historic art form, especially Tateís work. There are not many people who know very much about him and his work. It was amazing how these things were made.  Their bodies were really tightly rolled newspaper which had been rolled into little logs. He used tiny little pieces of twine to tie them with.  They looked almost like miniature logs that you use in your fireplace. They were held together with wire, their skins were made from toilet paper that was held on with horse hide glue. I have heard that the glue was so strong that it would eat the skin right off your hands if you didnít wear gloves. They are very ridged and durable.  He would color them using black shoe polish. He would decorate them with hair and used teeth and claws he would find out in the desert around Phoenix, Arizona where he lived. It was pretty cool to see the insides of one of his creations. You donít normally take one apart to see what it was made from. I had the opportunity to be inside one of his pieces. I thought that was really neat.

Q. One of the projects you were involved with a few years ago was Rod Zombies House of 1000 Corpses. Who contacted you to work on the movie?

A. I received an email from the producer of the movie, he asked me to contact him, which I did of course. You know this movie was the brain child and was directed by Rob Zombie, he was looking for some sideshow related props. He had found my website on the internet, we talked and at first he placed a really small order. I was thinking "this isnít going to be much, it probably is a small budget movie." The producer was telling me that this film was going to be a Universal production. I was wondering why they were only buying such a small amount then? After they received the first order he called me on the phone. He was so excited, he said "Rob loves this stuff and he wants more, what else do you have?" I told him everything I had at the time and let him know what I could make since they needed it in a hurry. They were under a really tight time constraint. At the time I was getting ready to move back to Florida, at the same time I was scheduled to appear on the David Letterman Show. It was a real crunch for me to fit everything in at the time.

Q. You said you were getting ready to move, were you able to fill their order for the movie?

A. I sent them everything I had at the time and then some. He told me that after the filming was completed on the movie Rob liked my stuff so much that he was going to add them to his personal collection. I was thinking, "Ya right! Youíre just telling me this to butter me up."  After they had finished the filming I was watching MTV's Cribs and there was Rob Zombie in his house and heís in his living room showing off all the stuff I made for the movie. I'm like, I guess he wasnít joking, that was pretty cool. I didnít get any official credit on the movie but if you look right next to the Crocodile Boy, which is featured quite prominently in the movie, there is a placard that says found in Florida by Colonel Mark Frierson which of course is me. I think that was their way of getting my name in the movie without officially getting my name in the movie.

Q. What were some of things they bought from you to use in the movie?

A. I sold them a Walking Fish, Man Fish, The Hand of Glory, Mummy Hand, Mummy Head, Stone Baby, The Crocodile Boy, Flesh Eating Toad, Aqualina the Feegee Mermaid, an Indian Scalp display in a shadow box and there were two Shrunken Heads also. I sold them the Jack-a-lope which you can see in several scenes. It is hanging on the wall just to the right of Capt. Spauldingís front counter.

Q. What gaffs were featured in the movie?

A. I havenít seen all the gaffs I have made yet. I have only watched the movie once so I need to go back and watch it again. You can see a lot of my gaffs in Capt. Spauldingís Museum. The Crocodile Boy is the biggest, just in front of him is the Flesh Eating Toad, I believe to the left you will see the Man Fish on the top of the counter. Most all of these exhibits are on one counter as far as I have been able to tell. Further down to the right just past the Crocodile Boy is the Stone Baby it is lying on its back on some kind of cushion or pedestal surrounded by a little tiny railing, the kind you would see in the theater. Further down on the counter top was the Walking Fish and I think the Shrunken Head are down there too. Just over the Crocodile Boy to the left up on a shelf all by herself is Aqualina the Feegee Mermaid, so as you watch the film it is probably best to watch it on DVD then you can pause it or play it slower so you can see everything.

Q. What scenes do your gaffs appear in?

A. The opening scene where the kids first show up at Capt Spauldingís Museum of Monsters and Madmen. You can see a lot of my gaffs while they are in the museum. In fact the two guys make a joke about the Crocodile Boy. Later in the film when the Sheriff comes back to Capt. Spaulding to question him about the missing kids you can see some more of the gaffs during that scene.

Q. We have been talking about the gaffs you provided for the movie. Did they use any of your
banners?

A. I was commissioned to paint two banners for the movie. The third banner I already had so I aged it. It was about freak babies and was used the season before on Jeff Murrayís sideshow. The picture on the front page of Sideshow Central shows me painting that banner. The first banner is a human oddity banner I painted in the style of Snap Wyatt. It features the Alligator Girl holding up Lobster Girl, there is also a Half Boy bouncing on the bullet. The second banner is more obscured in the movie you have to look for it. It is hidden behind some things. Itís a freak animal banner with silos in the back ground there are a couple of guys in radiation suits. One is holding a freak pig and the other guy is reaching for the two headed cow. The bullet has the word WHY! painted in it. All the banners were featured on the set in the barn yard of these crazy peoples house. You can see them in the scene when Baby, the character played by Sheri Moon, is on the stage singing I Want To Be Loved By You. You can see them in several shots in the background when they do close-ups of her.

Q. I have heard a story about the Fejee Mermaid you created for the movie. That it was created in a very short time?


A. Thatís one of the most interesting stories that only comes around once in a life time. This was one of the most difficult but humorous things I have ever gone through while working on a production. Greg Gibbs, the art director on the movie, wanted a mermaid, I think it may have been an after thought. They had written this mermaid into the script with the name Aqualina. He told me that this was going to be featured prominently in the movie. I can only assume that it played into to the script more than it did in the film because it only appeared on the screen for a few seconds. There was this other character the Fish Boy that was made into a mermaid so I can only assume that Aqualina had a bigger part in the script. Anyway, they needed the Feegee Mermaid in a really big hurry they said it was very important, they were going to shoot that scene so he asked me if I could supply them with one. I knew that I didnít have the time to make one. I had just sent one to a customer on the East coast so I was thinking I would call him and see if he would send it to me. Then I could replace it as soon as I could make one or get it back and send it to him at the end of the filming of the movie. I got in touch with him and he agreed to send it to me, he was going to overnight it to me. It needed to come to me so if I needed to do something to it before it was sent to the art director I could do it. So he dropped the ball and didnít send it out overnight, I think he sent it priority. The Feegee did not show up so this guy's on the phone with me asking me "whereís the mermaid whereís the mermaid?" I thought what am I going to do, I didnít want to blow this job or leave a bad taste in anybodyís mouth. I didnít want people to think that I was unreliable and not able to do what I was supposed to. I looked around my studio and found that I had one fishes tale rear end, you know the back part of the fish. It was perfectly mummified and ready to go. I had a little skeleton that was the perfect size to fit on it. When I realized I wasnít going to get that other mermaid within a twenty four hour period, I made one of the best Feegee Mermaids that I have ever made. I overnight'd it to them and they were just thrilled, I was thrilled, everybody was happy. It is in the movie and looks terrific, that is the story of the twenty four hour mermaid. It worked out great!

Q. Was your Feegee Mermaid shown with Rob Zombie when he was featured on MTVís cribs?

A. If it was there I didnít see it, I donít believe they showed it. He picked up the Crocodile Boy and held it right to the camera and he went GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! The mermaid I donít know what happened to it, who knows.

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