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Schlitzie sometimes written Schlitze or Shlitze (Bronx, New York, September 10, 1901-Los Angeles, September 24, 1971), possibly born as Simon Metz > And legally Schlitze Surtees , was an American circus artist and actor, best known for his role in the movie Freaks (1932), and for his career in outdoor entertainment circuses as an important Fair attraction like Barnum and Bailey.

Schlitzie’s Biography

Childhood and youth

Schlitzie’s true date of birth, his name and place of birth are unknown, although his death certificate appears as September 10, 1901 in the Bronx (New York) under the name Simon Metz. The claims that he was born in Merida Yucatan, Mexico, are misleading due to being one of the introductions that the public heard of Schlitzie when he was presented as “the last of the Aztecs”.

Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a disability that left him with an unusual small skull and causing his brain not to develop at all, short stature of only 1.22 ms, myopia, and severe mental retardation. It was said that Schlitzie had the knowledge of a 3-year-old boy. He was unable to take full care of himself and could only speak in monosyllables and form some simple phrases. However, he was able to carry out easy tasks and it is believed that he could understand almost everything that was said to him, since he had a quick reaction time and the ability to imitate.The ones who knew Schlitzie described him as a person affectionate, exuberant, cheerful, who loved dancing, singing and being the center of attention, making almost anyone stop to talk to him.

According to the owners of the carnival business of that time, it can be assumed that Schlitzie was given as a child to some show by his biological parents (hitherto unknown or unidentified). Their tutors were usually their employers, sometimes by law and sometimes simply de facto. Responsibly he tended to give his hands to everyone who came to the attractions. Reports indicate that he was well known, well cared for and treated with affection by his employers throughout his years at carnivals and circuses.


In the field of fairs, microcephalics were normally presented as “pinheads” or “missing links”, and Schlitzie was exhibited under titles such as “the last of the Aztecs”, “the monkey girl”, and ” What is it?”. In some fair stands, he was shown along with other people with microcephaly as “The Aztec brothers”.

Schlitzie had her head shaved to zero, except for a ponytail on the crown with a bow, and wore a muumuu dress, being presented as a woman or an androgyne to add mystique to her strange appearance. Those who knew him alternately used masculine and feminine pronouns. Most sources say that urinary incontinence forced him to wear diapers and dresses were more practical to facilitate their attention, but apparently only began to develop incontinence around 30 years.

In the field of fair, Schlitzie was a success; Throughout the 1920s and 1930s it was employed by many luxury circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum & amp; Bailey Circus, Clyde Beatty Circus, Tom Mix Circus, Crafts 20 Big Shows, and the Foley & amp; Burke Carnival In 1928, Schlitzie made his debut in the movie The Sideshow, a drama set in a circus, which featured a variety of real show artists.

Schlitzie made his best-known role as an actor in 1932, in Tod Browning’s film, Freaks. Like The Sideshow, Freaks takes place in a circus, and has a number of artists and genuine fair phenomena: The Siamese Daisy and Violet Hilton, “The Living Torso” Prince Randian, and the dwarf brothers Harry and Daisy Earles among others. Schlitzie has a dialogue scene (unintelligible) with actor Wallace Ford. Two other “pinheads” also appear in the film. When referring to Schlitzie, other actors use feminine pronouns. When Freaks premiered in 1932, the film audience was shocked by the appearance of fair phenomena. The United Kingdom banned it for 30 years. The film was a financial failure and Tod Browning was never rehired by a great studio again.


While exhibiting at the Tom Mix Circus in 1935, George Surtees, a chimpanzee trainer, adopted him and became his legal guardian, taking his surname … Under Surtees’ care, Schlitzie continued to perform the fair circuit ; in 1941 he had his last big role, as “Princess Bibi” in the film Meet Boston Blackie. After Surtees’ death in 1965, her daughter, who was not in the entertainment business, admitted Schlitzie to a hospital in Los Angeles County.

Schlitzie remained hospitalized for some time until he was recognized by a Swallower, Bill Unks, who worked at the hospital during the off-season. According to Unks, Schlitzie seemed very upset about missing the carnival, and being far from the public view had depressed him a lot. Hospital authorities determined that the best care for Schlitzie would be to make him a ward of Unks’ employer, Sam Alexander, a showman who returned him to the fairgrounds, where he stayed until 1968.

Final years and death

In his later years, Schlitzie lived in Los Angeles, occasionally performing at various secondary trade fair circuits both locally and internationally (he frequently traveled to Hawaii and London, and his last major appearance was in 1968 at the Dobrich International Circus held at the Sports Arena). After the successful re-release of Freaks, Schlitzie also became a notable attraction on the streets of Hollywood, his caregivers selling souvenirs and photos of him. Schlitzie spent his last days living on Santa Monica Boulevard, near MacArthur Park where he would visit the lake with his tutor, feed the pigeons and ducks and greet passersby.

On September 24, 1971, at 70 years of age, he died of bronchopneumonia at the Fountain View Sanatorium. On his death certificate his official name appears as “Shlitze Surtees” and his date of birth as 1901. Schlitzie was initially buried in an unnamed grave in the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights. In 2009, a fan made a collection to put a sign placed on his grave.

More Facts about Schlitzie

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