Schlitzie the pinhead was a circus freakshow act who performed in the early to mid 20th century. Schlitze (possibly born Simon Metz) was born in the Bronx to a rich family around 1901. Schlitze was born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder that left him with an unusually small brain and skull, and small stature. He was also born with Myopia and a severe intellectual disability, which left him with the intelligence of a 3 or 4-year-old. He could also only speak a few monosyllabic words and a couple of simple phrases. Those who knew him described him as an “affectionate, exuberant, sociable person who loved dancing, singing, and being the center of attention, performing for anyone he could stop and talk with.”
Schlitze was given away at birth by his parents, and he then passed along to multiple carnivals including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Clyde Beatty Circus, Tom Mix Circus, Crafts 20 Big Shows, and Foley & Burke Carnival. Schlitze was often dressed in a muumuu and was presented as feminine or androgynous to add to the mystique of his unusual appearance. Schlitze was billed under names such as “Maggie, Last of the Aztecs,” “Monkey Girl,” and even “What is it?”
In 1932, Schlitze booked his most famous role in Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” The film was considered to be extremely scandalous, and it was a financial failure. One woman even tried to sue the film, blaming it for her miscarriage.
While performing in the Tom Mix Circus, Schlitze was adopted by chimpanzee trainer George Surtees, becoming his legal guardian. Under Surtees’ care, Schlitze continued performing in various sideshow circuits until Surtees’ death in 1965. After his death, Surtees’ daughter committed Schlitze to the Los Angeles County Hospital. Schlitze was eventually discovered by sword swallower Bill “Frenchy” Unks. Unks said that Schlitze seemed to miss the sideshow business, and also seemed extremely depressed. The hospital decided that it would be in Schlitze’s best interest to leave the hospital and go back to the sideshow circuit under the care of Unks. He continued to perform until 1968. In his final years, Schlitze lived in Los Angelas where he would occasionally perform in various sideshow circuits. He would also perform on the streets of Hollywood where he became a notable attraction.
During his final days, Schlitze would spend a lot of time on Hollywood boulevard and in MacArthur Park where he would feed the pigeons and ducks, and perform for passersby. He died on September 24th, 1971 at the age of 70 in Fountain View Convalescent Home of Bronchial Pneumonia. In the 1960s, “Freaks” was rediscovered and eventually became a cult classic, bringing Schlitze to the public eye. In 1994, the film was selected by the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Schlitze has left a massive legacy and has inspired many characters throughout TV, Movies, and Novels.
Story by Will Euler