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
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
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?
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
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
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
A. Two of the pieces he has on display I found for him on
an online auction site. They were listed as
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
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
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
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
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.
We have been talking about the gaffs you provided for the
movie. Did they use any of your
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
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.
Click here for page 2
Each month we will try and
interview a new performer for the site. Because of the logistics
of it face to face interviews are tough to come by. A good
percentage of the interviews we will be doing will be via e-mail
or telephone. If you are interested in being interviewed for the
drop us a line.