postcard, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, circa 1942; signed on reverse in black ink "Good Luck, Frieda Pushnik"
Frieda Pushnik was born on 10 February 1923 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Although healthy, Frieda was born without
arms or legs — caused, Frieda said, by a botched appendectomy performed on her mother.
Despite her lack of limbs Frieda taught herself to perform many useful tasks, some of
which would become part of her act.
In 1933, ten-year-old Frieda was engaged by Robert L. Ripley for his first Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium
at the World's Fair in Chicago. In her pitchcards, Frieda was generally held by her mother, who
would be her constant companion through her career. Ripley promoted her as "Freda Pushnik, The
Little Half Girl Born Without Arms or Legs":
Although born without arms or legs, she has overcome this handicap to the extent that she can
do many apparently unbelievable things. She writes beautifully, threads a needle, and works
jig-saw puzzles. At the Ripley ‘Believe-It-Or-Not’ Odditorium her cheery smile has won her a
host of friends.
Pushnik spent six years with Ripley, but in 1943 Frieda joined the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey
Circus Sideshow, becoming a member of their 'Congress of Freaks'. This arrangement became a family
affair with sister Erma working under the big top as a trapeze artist and dancing
girl for several seasons before becoming the secretary to the manager of the circus. Traveling all over the country
with her mother and sister, Frieda worked for Ringling until 1956, after which she entered into
semi-retirement in southern California.
Frieda made a brief foray into film, appearing in
The House of the Damned (1963) and the Argentine remake the following year. In 1981,
she appeared in Sideshow, a made-for-TV movie. Other than that, Frieda seems to have
enjoyed a quiet and comfortable retirement in Costa Mesa looked after by her family.
Frieda Pushnik, the Armless and Legless Wonder Girl, died on Christmas Eve of 2000 at the age
of 77 due to the effects of bladder cancer.
Like many sideshow performers, Frieda made most of her money through the sale of souvenir photographs, like this one. For an
extra fee, Frieda would sign the card by holding a pen or pencil between her chin and shoulder. Such was the quality of her
writing that received a national penmanship award from the creators of the Palmer Method.
My tribute to this performer, Portrait of Frieda Pushnik and a Patron at a Casement, may be seen