Sideshow attraction, Actor. Born Shlitze Surtees, according to his Certificate of Death. He suffered from microcephalus, or smaller than normal cranium (his mental age was that of a 3-year-old). His talents included dancing, singing, and counting to ten, although he generally omitted the number 7 from his count. Legend has it he and his similarly-afflicted sister, Athelia, were children of a financially and socially prominent family in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but it is doubtful Athelia, a similar sideshow attraction, was a relative. Shlitze's Certificate Of Death states his place of birth as New York (The Bronx, probably). In 1924 and again in 1925 Shlitze appeared with the Congress Of Freaks at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, in New York's Madison Square Garden (Koo Koo the Bird Girl and Harry Doll, Shlitze's co-stars in the yet-to-be-filmed-then 1932 Tod Browning FREAKS movie, appeared with him on the show). 1928 amusement park bookings for Shlitze included New York's Coney Island and San Francisco's Playland At The Beach. He is said to have made his film debut in a 1928 Columbia Pictures silent film The Sideshow, for director Erle C. Kenton. Between live engagements, Shlitze appeared as himself in MGM Studio's 1932 major cult classic motion picture Freaks, produced and directed by Tod Browning. Additional roles as a furry manimal in Island Of Lost Souls with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, directed by Sideshow's Erle C. Kenton for Paramount Pictures, and a cameo in Tomorrow's Children, produced and released on the States' Rights market by Bryan Foy, and directed by Crane Wilbur (1934), have both been credited to Shlitze, but closeup photo clips from these films clearly seem to disprove these claims. In 1936 and 1937 he appeared in the sideshow (operated by Ted Metz) of the Tom Mix Circus, and possibly was at some point referred to as "Schlitzie Metz", hence the surname "Metz" was often associated with the diminutive attraction. However, his Certificate of Death lists his name as Shlitze Surtees, surname of his "official guardian" George Surtees, a chimp handler and barker of carnival standing for many years, who also appeared with a trained chimp act for Ted Metz on the Mix circus during Shlitze's time there. Shlitze became established as one of the most famous 10-in-1 performers of the era, touring with such large traveling circus and carnival midways of the day as the Clyde Beatty Circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Cole Bros. Circus, Foley & Burke Combined Shows (the only fifteen car railroad carnival show on the West Coast), Crafts 20 Big Shows, and West Coast Shows. Shlitze went before Hollywood's cameras once again as pinhead Princess Betsy in Columbia Picture's Meet Boston Blackie (1941). Unique to sideshow aficionados and moviegoers alike, Shlitze's pinhead was shaved (except for a little tuft of hair growing from the top) to emphasize his coconut-size skull. He was costumed in one-piece dresses or muu-muus, and therefore was always exhibited as a female, receiving various billings as Shlitze The Pinhead, Schlitzie, Last Of The Aztecs, Last Of The Incas, Slitzy The Monkey Girl, and Julius The Missing Link. He didn't have the capacity to carry on intelligible conversations, but possessed the innate gift to mimic people. Around 1950 Schlitzie appeared on Pete Kortes's 10-in-1 at Belmont Park in Montreal, as did another pinhead who received billing as his sister, Athelia. In 1960 Shlitze appeared in the sideshow for the E.K. Hernandez Circus in Hawaii, and in 1961 and 1962 Schlitzie, under the supervision of his legal guardian George Surtees, appeared for the top west coast sideshow, Vanteen & Lee. Shlitze was featured on the 1968 sideshow of the brief Dobritch International Circus held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, one of his last major appearances. Almost up until his death in 1971, Shlitze remained a local curiosity. In 1963 Dolores Surtees passed away, and in 1965 her husband and Shlitze's legal guardian George Surtees succumbed. Shlitze was then cared for by performer friends of the Surteeses who lived in an apartment near MacArthur Park Lake in downtown Los Angeles. Shlitze occasionally came out of retirement to appear on small independent shows, and was even visible around Hollywood and Los Angeles as a street attraction, his caretakers hawking Shlitze's stock carnival souvenir pictures. In his declining years, the guardian would take Shlitze out to the lake and they would sit on one of the benches, feeding the pigeons and ducks, and pitching his carnival souvenir photos to people as they passed by. Affectionately known among the Hispanic locals as Ratoncito (little mouse), Shlitze was once more playing to the local crowds, which entertained and amused him until the time of his death in 1971 at age 70, of Bronchio Pneumonia, brought on by Medullary Depression. At this time Shlitze had been turned over to LAC USC Medical Center as a ward of the State. He passed away under supervisory care offered at Fountain View Convalescent Home in Los Angeles, California. Shlitze Surtees's earthly remains were interred October 7, 1971, in an unmarked grave at Queen Of Heaven Cemetery in Rowland Heights, California. Some years later, Shlitze the Famous Pinhead became the subject of widespread merchandising, serving (albeit too late for any profits) as inspiration for cartoonist Bill Griffith's famous Zippy the Pinhead comic strip, the Sideshow Company's Model Resin Figure Kits, and even a custom-made Shlitze The Pinhead collector doll, which was offered on eBay for $1,400.00, plus various other kitschy Shlitze items including hats, clocks, snow globes, masks, T-shirts, belt buckles, wristwatches, and a ventriloquist dummy.
Bio by: Verne Langdon