Admittedly, for this week’s installment of Memorable
Characters, I’m cheating. That is
because Schlitze, one of the characters from the 1932 classic Freaks, isn’t
really a character at all. Tod Browning’s
masterpiece of the macabre was (and still is) known for casting a barrage of
truly deformed real life personalities in order to bring the life of the
sideshow to glorious and shocking life. And
while each and every “freak” on screen had their own unique look, Schlitze was
the only one who had a natural charisma that oozed off the screen, despite his
Schlitze (real name: Simon Metz) was a microcephalic,
otherwise known as a “pinhead”, a condition that brought about a smaller than
average head and an underdeveloped brain.
As a result, Schlitze’s appearance was unique and somewhat off-putting. As was usually the case with individuals who
faced such hardships at the time (throughout the 1900’s), Schlitze lived his
life on the road, traveling from circus to circus, regularly being billed as a lost
Aztec link. When time came for Browning
to cast for his feature at MGM, one of the first “freaks” cast was Schlitze
simply due to the reputation he built throughout his carnival years.
A common mistake made by many is the assumption that
Schlitze was a girl because he wore dresses.
This was the case due to hygienic reasons, as going to the washroom
proved to be quite the dilemma for him.
In any case, Schlitze’s wardrobe not only made him instantly
recognizable, but also memorable to the thousands that met him.
Seeing as how almost all of the sideshow characters in Freaks
were portrayed by non-actors, their performances came off understandably wooden
and stilted. That is, except for
Schlitze. Even though he’s on screen (in
a non-speaking role) for a number of short minutes as himself, Schlitze had a charisma
that jumped out at you. Whenever he was in
the frame, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. I really do believe that he was a true actor
at heart, always finding ways to command the scene, be it through a laugh, hand
gesture or smile. If anything, perhaps
it was the mystery that not only surrounded his medical condition, but also his
very life. Wanting to know more about
him kept us watching.
After Freaks, Schlitze, along with his fellow sideshow
performers, continued to make a living in the carnival circuit until they faded
from memory, much like the very institution they worked for. And while that is a depressing thought, I’m
sure they would be proud of the fact that they were a part of motion picture
history; a film the likes of which will never be made in the same way ever
While Freaks still has the ability to repulse, shock and
amaze, it’s hard to imagine watching it without the uniquely understated presence