Bobby Reynolds and Grady Stiles III on AMC’s FREAKSHOW, Episode 3

gradyI visited Bobby Reynolds’ sideshow museum in the 1990s.  It was almost directly across from Coney Island’s famous Sideshows by The Seashore.  There were a lot of displays and reproductions.  Siamese twin mannequin-type stuff.  I think there was a live sword swallower. It was okay, and it was really inexpensive, so it was well worth the price of admission…but the blow-off was the thing I’ll never forget.

The blow-off is the sideshow attraction that isn’t advertised outside. It’s the attraction you pay extra to see after the main show is over. It’s the attraction that is supposed to be more shocking than anything you’ve seen, so far.  Paying to see the blow-off is a nerve wracking experience, honestly.  You are suddenly agreeing to more than you agreed to when you decided to see the show.  You are stepping over a line that not all of the other audience members are willing to cross.  There was no way on earth I wasn’t seeing it.

The blow-off at the museum was one of Bobby’s pickled punks.  It was a two-headed baby in a big glass jar.  It wasn’t pristine, like the two-headed baby on the third episode of Freakshow.  Honestly, it was kind of disturbing.  The liquid in the jar had evaporated a bit, so the top of one of the heads was exposed and decayed.  The evaporation and the resulting decay had to mean the thing was an actual baby, right?  On the other hand, why the hell didn’t somebody put some more formaldehyde in the jar?  The decay made the baby seem both more real and less real at the same time.  It was sideshow brilliance.

Pickled punks have long been a staple of sideshows.  Preserved babies in jars don’t eat, they don’t demand to be paid, and they don’t bitch about working conditions.  When the display of live humans became illegal in many American towns, pickled punks became the main attractions of some sideshows.  Soon, questions about transporting human remains across state lines became an issue, and the old pickled punks were discarded in favor of rubber copies.  I wonder whenever I see one (which isn’t that often), whether or not it’s the real thing. 

When Todd Ray sets off to buy Bobby Reynolds’ two-headed baby, Todd solemnly tells his family and us that it’s “real.”  This is where language gets tricky.  Yes, it IS real.  It’s a real object.  Todd never says, “It’s a real dead two-headed baby that has been preserved.”  I’m not saying that it isn’t, because I have no earthly idea.  Real dead baby or not, Ray neatly sidesteps all of the issues, both legal and moral, that might arise from purchasing, transporting, and displaying a dead baby.  Bravo, Todd.

Todd takes his wife, his son, and the son of Grady Stiles, the famous (and infamous) Lobster Boy, on his trip to Bobby’s house.  In my previous blog, I said that this Grady Stiles was Grady Stiles, Jr., but he’s actually Grady Stiles III. 

The Stiles family has a genetic condition known as ectrodactyly.   The condition is marked by malformed limbs.  Grady Junior had hands that resembled lobster claws.  Grady The Third, not so much, although his hands are certainly very different from most hands.  Grady The Third comes across as a friendly, intelligent guy, and it is good to see him, although he looks a little haggard. 

Bobby flatly refuses to sell the baby before an offer is even made, but an impassioned speech from Todd Ray about sideshow preservation, and specifically the preservation of The Bobby Reynolds’ Legacy, convince Bobby and his wife to make the deal.  To top things off, Todd stops on the way home and purchases a six-legged cow, which very well might be harder to deal with than the baby because I assume that the keeping of livestock is illegal in Venice Beach.

Meanwhile, back at the Freakshow ranch, Ali, Creature, and Asia talk Morgue into going roller skating.  It’s a stretch for Morgue.  He doesn’t like to go anywhere.  He especially doesn’t like to go roller skating, so he ends up out in the parking lot, alone.  Asia goes to retrieve him, and gives him a pep talk about the non-productivity of living in an outsider past.  She does this in her roller skates, which jars me as much as a decaying baby in a jar.  I know from personal experience that any roller rink owner will tear off your head and shit down your neck for skating his skates out into a parking lot. 

Flagrant breaking of roller rink rules aside, Episode 3 was certainly the best episode of Freakshow to date.  We got a little history, we got a little peek into the lives of the performers, and we got a little Lobster Boy.  Good for you, Freakshow.  Keep it up!

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4 Responses to Bobby Reynolds and Grady Stiles III on AMC’s FREAKSHOW, Episode 3

  1. Anna (No H's) says:

    I worked for Bobby in the early 80’s. Would love to know where Jimmy Webb is now. Loved that man!

  2. Adam says:

    great review. I watched the show and the other day and the entire time i was listening to his words describing the baby very carefully and noticed he never said the key words that would make is a once living human. I also noticed right away that she wore her skates outside and was wondering how someone as inconspicuous as a sideshow performer got out the front door wearing the skates

  3. qmbridges says:

    Great minds think alike, Adam. The baby very well might not be a gaff, but I don’t think we’ll ever know.
    Thanks for leaving a comment!

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