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Showing posts from May, 2018

Thelma Griffith

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Houdini once complained about the “horde of imitators” performing on stages across the country. He had popularized the handcuff and challenge escape act, and audiences clamored to see such a performance. Houdini only played big-time vaudeville circuits and was also out of the country for many years touring Europe and Australia. Numerous performers emerged to fill this void and spent their careers playing small-time vaudeville. One example was the husband and wife team of Fred and Thelma Griffith.
Nothing is known about Thelma’s background. This may not even be her real name. In a fanciful interview, she said that she was a native of Ostra-Toten (sic), Norway. Her father, of course, had been a locksmith. Fred was the stage name of Frank M Griffith. He was born in Green River, Wyoming around 1883. He started working in sideshows as a ticket seller and talker and was with the John Robinson Shows in 1899. By 1904 he was touring small-time vaudeville as a comedy magician. How Fred and Thel…

Blanche Vassar

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Blanche Vassar was born in Oregon on July 20, 1882 and grew up in a large farm family in Topeka, Kansas. She was born intersexed and was taught by her parents to dress, act, walk and talk like a girl. By 1905 she lived in a Topeka rooming house and worked for the railroad, probably as a cook. She was part of the local social scene and seemed to fit well into society. By 1915 she was living in Alva, Oklahoma and employed as a cook. Alva was a growing city, a stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and home to the Northwestern Territorial Normal School. Around this time Blanche developed an escape act that included escaping from handcuffs, ropes and packing boxes. She was offered a job with a sideshow wintering in East St. Louis, Illinois. This may have been the Jones Brothers Circus.

However, she had some male characteristics, and these caused problems as she traveled. When she stopped in Wichita, Kansas on her way to St. Louis, she was arrested for wearing the clothes of the…