The Half-Boy

johnnyonchairJohnny Hart (August 27, 1911 – January 5, 1991), whose real name was Johnny Eckhardt and was also known as and Johnny Eck, was an American freak show performer/artist born with the appearance that he was missing the lower half of his torso. Johnny is best known today for his role in Tod Browning’s 1932 cult classic film, Freaks. He was often billed as the amazing “Half-Boy.”

Besides being a sideshow performer and actor, Johnny was also an artist, photographer, illusionist, penny arcade owner, Punch and Judy operator, and expert model-maker.

The Half-Boy was born with a truncated torso. He had unusable, underdeveloped legs and feet that he would hide under custom-made clothing. Johnny would sometimes describe himself as “snapped off at the waist.” When asked if he wished he had legs, he quipped, “Why would I want those? Then I’d have pants to press.”

Johnny continued his love of drawing and painting, typically choosing such subjects as pretty girls, ships, and himself. His performance included sleight-of-hand and acrobatic feats including his famous one-armed handstand.

Illusionist and hypnotist Raja Raboid developed a show in which he would recruit Johnny’s twin brother Robert (who had fully developed legs) from the audience for a hypnosis stunt. During the illusion, Robert would be placed in a box and be discreetly switched with Johnny and a dwarf wearing trousers hiked over his head. Raboid would then perform a variation of the old ‘sawing a man in half’ routine and, when the box was opened, Johnny would commence chasing his ‘legs’ around the stage. Stage hands would round them up and Raboid would reconstitute the body. Robert would then threaten to sue before storming off the stage. While the illusion was usually met with applause and laughter, the site was often horrific to members of the audience. Fainting was common, as was screaming or fleeing the theater in terror.




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