There’s just something about a Freak Show, am I right? Even though people with deformities are no longer shunned in most communities and don’t have to resort to becoming public spectacles to make a living any more, they still ignite our curiosity. That’s why AHS: Freak Show, with its remarkable cast, has become a firm favorite among hardcore American Horror Story fans.
American Horror Story features a different theme for each season and in October 2014 fans were treated to a new season– at Elsa’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The season saw the return of many of the actors from the previous seasons including Jessica Lange as Madame Elsa Mars, Kathy Bates as Ethel AKA The Bearded Lady, Evan Peters as Lobster Boy, Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins Bette and Dot, as well as Angela Bassett, Jamie Brewer, Frances Conroy, Grace Gummer, Danny Huston, Denis O’Hare, and Emma Roberts. The show also boasted appearances from unique actors such as Ben Woolf (Meep the Geek), Jyoti Amge, the world’s smallest woman (Ma Petite), and Rose Siggins as Legless Suzie.
The story is set in the small town of Jupiter, Florida in the early 1950s and follows the lives of the members of one of the last remaining freak shows. But behind the scenes, there is so much more to discover about this season…
15. Alligators And Hot Dogs
The crew of AHS had filmed season 3, Coven (which was set in New Orleans), in Louisiana, and returned there to film Freak Show (which is actually set in Jupiter, Florida). Shooting during an intensely hot and humid summer close to the water meant they had a few more eyes on them than normal…
While filming a scene early in the morning the crew, along with Kathy Bates, noticed something floating in the pond– which turned out to be an alligator. Bates recounted this anecdote during an interview, much to the amusement of the audience. She said, “(Beep) that thing is right there. That scared the (beep) out of me for a while. That wasn’t very funny. The funny part, I found out later, is that the grips were feeding them hot dogs.”
14. Lobster Boy
In AHS: Freak Show, Evan Peters played the part of Jimmy Darling, a character born with his fingers fused together, also known as “Lobster Boy”. This character was actually based on a real life person, but he wasn’t anything like sweet Jimmy.
Grady Franklin Stiles Jr. was born on the June 26th, 1937. His family had a long history of ectrodactyly, a disorder which caused his fingers and his toes to fuse together, creating claw-like extremities. He was unable to walk and often used a wheelchair or moved around using his hands and arms. He was a strong man, but also an alcoholic with a violent temper. He was even convicted of killing his daughter’s fiancé the day before their wedding, but he was never incarcerated because no state institution at that time could care for a patient with ectrodactyly.
13. Farewell Meep
Ben Woolf, the American actor who played the role of Meep the Geek in Freak Show suffered from pituitary dwarfism, a condition that caused him to only reach a full grown height of 4 feet and 4 inches. He also played the Infantata in season one of the show.
As well as acting in AHS he also had parts in other TV shows and small roles in films like Insidious and Dead Kansas. Apart from being an actor he also had a teaching degree and taught pre-school children. He loved teaching saying “…when you’re with children, you kind of live in a different world that doesn’t have any rules. It’s more imagination.”
12. Freak Show Music
The creators of AHS, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, are the same guys who brought us Glee and they love to throw in musical numbers. But the music they choose for each season is not done randomly at all…
During season 4 many songs that were used during the show were not era correct; i.e. they were made long after the period when Freak Show takes place. Many fans disliked this and were quick to criticize the creators. That is until Ryan Murphy was asked about it in an interview; he explained that the unique reason that many of the songs were chosen was because they were created by artists who were themselves often considered freaks– for example, Nirvana, Lana Del Ray, and David Bowie.
11. Twisty And The National Clown Association Of America
Twisty the Clown was by far one of the scariest characters to ever come out of American Horror Story, but he caused a lot of controversy as well. The National Clown Association of America were not impressed with this character at all and slammed the show for incorrectly portraying clowns and giving them a poor reputation. The actor, John Carroll Lynch, who played Twisty responded to this by simply saying “I deeply apologize to the American Clown Association for any negative issues. Once again, they’re being told that they’re scary to people, and they already know that.”
Moving away from the clown aspect of the whole thing– can we just take a second to appreciate how difficult it must have been to express emotion and play this part? John had zero dialogue and his face was almost always obscured by his creepy mask— it’s actually really impressive!
10. The Real Life Bette And Dot
Abby and Brittany Hensel are real life conjoined twins from Minnesota who have a similar appearance to Bette and Dot. They are dicephalic parapagus twins which means that they have separate heads but conjoined bodies. For conjoined twins, their appearance is unusually symmetrical, with two arms and two legs so at a quick glance, it would seem as though they have a single body with two heads. But they actually have separate hearts, stomachs, spines, and lungs.
Like Bette and Dot, they both control one side of the body and together they are able to run, walk, write, and even drive! They are one of only four sets of conjoined twins with this type of condition who have survived into adulthood and at the age of 26, they are both still in good health.
9. Say What?
If you are still wondering about Kathy Bates’ accent in AHS: Freak Show don’t worry– it was rather obscure! As Ethel Darling, the Bearded Lady, in season four Kathy performed using a thick Baltimore accent, a unique dialect that originated in South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. If you are not a native speaker this accented American English is very difficult to learn so Kathy listened to interviews of people from this area and consulted a “Baltimorese” for help with pronunciation. For example words like “water” and “wash” are pronounced “wooder” and “warsh”.
8. The World’s Tallest Model
Erika Ervin, who plays the role of Amazon Eve in season four, is a transgender actress and model. When she first read the casting call sheet for Freak Show it said that they were looking for a large man who could play the part of a woman. Not fazed by this, Erika bound her breasts tightly and used a deep voice for the audition– and of course she nailed it! Only after she’d been offered the role did she let the casting director know that she is actually transgender.
When she transitioned from male to female in 2004 most of her family reacted by cutting her out of their lives. But that hasn’t stopped her from sharing her story and talents with the world. She’s appeared as a model in publications such as Harper’s Bazaar and in 2011 she was named the World’s Tallest Professional Model by Guinness World Records.
7. The Real Edward Mordrake?
The character Edward Mordrake who appears in the third and fourth episode of AHS: Freak Show was once believed to have been a real person. Around 1895, stories of an English nobleman with an extra face on the back of his head started to make the rounds, starting with an article in the Boston Post. In these tales it was rumored that while the extra face could not see or speak, it was able to smile or weep, depending on Edwards own mood.
This fictitious story went on to say that Mordrake approached many doctors and begged them to remove the face but they all refused. It ends with Mordrake committing suicide in his early twenties because he was simply unable to cope with the incessant whisperings that came from the face at night.
6. Ma Petite
AHS: Freak Show introduced us to so many inspiring and incredible real life people but the one that instantly stole the hearts of fans was Jyoti Amge who plays the role of Ma Petite, Elsa’s assistant. The Indian actress (now 22) was declared by Guinness World Records to be the smallest woman in the world at a height of just 62.8 centimetres. Her reduced stature is caused by a condition known as achondroplasia. This is the same condition that Jason “Wee Man” Acuña from Jackass suffers from.
During an interview, this young lady said that she has always dreamed of being an actress and getting the part on AHS was like a dream come true. She says she just wants to be treated like a regular person and she doesn’t like people touching her without permission although she will sometimes let fans hold her.
5. Amazing Suzie
Rose Siggins, who is best known for her portrayal of Legless Suzie, sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 43 following a kidney infection. But this incredible lady left quite an inspirational story behind.
Rose was born on December 8th, 1972, with sacral agenesis, which caused her legs to be so deformed that her feet pointed in opposite directions. Her parents made the decision to have her legs amputated to give her a better chance at life. Years later she astounded the medical community by giving natural birth to one child and then a second. She is one of the very few people with sacral agenesis to have given birth and both children were born without deformity. They would often visit the actress on the set of AHS: Freak Show.
4. The Opening Credits
The opening credits for American Horror Story have to be creepy, otherwise, it just wouldn’t be the same. AHS Coven was the first season that used animation in the opening sequence but Freak Show was the first to be fully animated. It also included stop animation for the first time.
The scene was directed by Kyle Cooper who is responsible for all AHS opening sequences and believe it or not it was filmed mainly in a garage under his offices. Some of the objects that appear such as the clowns’ heads and the monkey with the cymbals were rented and others were second-hand toys. The macabre skeleton bicycle was created with 2-D animation. They also hired a real clown to make deformed “freak” balloon animals but they ended up not using this footage for the final product.
3. The American Morbidity Museum
Did you watch season 4 and wish that you could browse around at the American Morbidity Museum? Great news– you actually can (well almost). This fascinating museum is actually based on a real place; the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. This museum was established in 1909 and it is home to a macabre collection of wax models, antique medical equipment and devices, anatomical specimens and medical oddities. All the exhibits have been donated so there’s no dodgy buying and selling like there was on Freak Show. They have preserved slices of Albert Einstein’s brain (okay…), the conjoined livers of the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng (referred to in the show), and even the skeletons of a dwarf and a giant. They even boast the Hyrtl Skull Collection which has over 139 skulls!
2. Ratings Record Breaker
Before Freak Show, AHS: Coven held the record for the most watched FX program, but it was soon broken with the show attracting over 6 million viewers per episode. The season went on to scoop up twenty Emmy nominations, the most of any season of AHS yet. The series won in the following categories; Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or Movie, Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role, Outstanding Costumes for a Period/Fantasy Series, Limited Series or Movie and Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special. Despite this success, it was the first season of the show not to win an acting trophy at the Emmy’s.
However, Sarah Paulson did win the Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Limited Series at the 5th Critics’ Choice Television Awards and Kathy Bates won Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries at the 19th Online Film & TV Association Awards.
1. Fräulein Elsa’s Cabinet Of Curiosities
Jessica Lange was a firm favorite with AHS fans and they were very sad when she announced that she was done with the series after season four. However we have to remember that the series is emotionally draining for the actors and Jessica had already been doing the show for four years in a row, six months out of the year. She explained that everything needed an end and she wished to rest and then move on to something new.
Jessica also added that Elsa was by far her favorite role to play in AHS. She wasn’t nearly as villainous as her previous characters in the show, and Jessica felt that Elsa did what she did out of love for her sad little troop of misfits.