A child was to be born to John Eckhart and his wife Emely on August 27, 1911. At that time, they did not know how to determine gender, except that they listened to the baby's heartbeat with a stethoscope. The boy was planned to be called Robert. Robert came out of his mother's womb healthy and beautiful. The midwife accepted him - but what a marvel! - the contractions did not stop. Is it a twin brother? His heartbeat was not heard ... The second child was also born alive. He walked head first, and at first everything seemed normal. Exactly to the waist. Because below the belt there was nothing at all. "Oh my God! It's some kind of broken doll! " The midwife exclaimed.
The broken doll was named John Eckhart Jr. His face was very much like his brother, but his body was not. "Halfboy" - so called him in numerous freakshows where Johnny worked. The question is that this half-boy lived a life much more eventful and stormy than 90% of ordinary people. He led an orchestra, played several musical instruments himself, acted in films, drove a car, performed magic tricks, photographed and was one of the most famous freaks of recent years on freakshows - before they were banned.
His disease was called "sacral agenesis" - the entire lower half of the body was underdeveloped. The whole hip part was deformed and crumpled, tiny legs and everything else were pressed into the body somewhere. The amazing thing was that his deformed organs never grew - while the upper half of the torso developed in a completely normal way. There were no more such deformities in history (there is no need to refer to the "half-girl" who once went through the LJ top - she was mutilated by a man, and Johnny was born that way).
At his peak, Johnny was about 18 inches (45 centimeters) tall and was in excellent health.
While all the children learned to walk on their own feet, Johnny learned to walk on his own hands in the same way. With his brother, they were inseparable, like many twins. Both were excellent students at school, Johnny wanted to become a priest. Johnny went to school, by the way, like all children, at the age of 7, before that he was taught at home by his older sister Carolyn: he learned to read at the age of 4.
To the question: would you like to have legs? - Johnny always joked: why do I need them? Without them, my pants never shake! Moreover, he himself asked the journalists: what can you do that I could not? Is that walking on water, right?
In his youth, he was engaged in various matters. He painted beautifully, made magnificent wood products and toys, he and his brother made tuxedos and various clothes for Johnny's deformed body.
In 1923 Johnny found his calling. She and her brother attended a performance by illusionist John McEslan, who needed volunteers to perform another stunt. How surprised the magician was when little Johnny ran out onto the stage in his arms! McEslan could not miss such a tidbit. He immediately signed with Johnny himself and with his parents a one-year contract for Johnny's performance in the circus. Robert went with Johnny - McEslan taught the boys his art, and a full-fledged brother looked after the half.
A year later, they left McEslan and went under the auspices of another illusionist - a certain John Shisley. By this point, Johnny had shortened Eckhart's surname to Eck and formed his own performance program. He demonstrated a range of power acrobatics, including the one-arm stand that became his trademark.
Eck's career went uphill. He moved to the Ringling Brothers Circus, and then to the famous Barnum & Bailey. In 1931, he performed in Montreal, Canada, and was noticed by a representative of MGM Studios, who invited an extraordinary disabled person to act in films. In 1932, the half-boy played the role of himself in the acclaimed and banned almost all over the world film "Freaks" by Tod Browning. Browning fell in love with Eck as a brother - he talked a lot with him, listened to his advice on filming, consulted about the psychology of freaks from the show, and so on.
He did not really like other freaks - his comrades in misfortune. Many of them were mentally retarded or extremely eccentric, loud, angry. Eck tried to be normal in everything. During filming, he fell in love with an actress of Russian origin Olga Baklanova and presented her with gifts. He had no chance, because nature forbade him to be a man. But he fought.
The movie "Freaks" was, as already mentioned, scandalous. He seriously crippled Tod Browning's career, and censors cut the film almost like nature cut Eck. Browning:
Almost 30 minutes with his participation were mercilessly thrown out of the film (he remained only for fifteen minutes). Here he is with the dwarf Angelo Rossito at one of the gatherings of freaks, 1932:
Eck's Hollywood career continued with roles in three Tarzan films starring Johnny Weissmuller: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941). He played in all the films of the bird-man. Do not remember, in the later film adaptations of this character was not.
In 1933, he performed at the Chicago World's Fair on the Robert Ripley show Ripley's Believe It or Not! This show demonstrated “live” various special effects that could only be seen in movies - stunts, fires, and so on.
In 1937, he and his brother performed with the famous illusionist and hypnotist Raja Raboid. Raboyd came up with a number of tricks that exploited Eck's half-heartedness and resemblance to his brother.
Eck had other hobbies as well. In Baltimore, he and his brother founded a small orchestra of 12 musicians. Eck himself played the piano (the pedals were redesigned so that he pressed them with his hand) and conducted (more often than he played, of course). Eck drew a lot. Most of all he loved to draw women and ships. He also performed a number of self-portraits.
In 1938, with familiar mechanics, he designed the Johnny Eck Special racing car with his own hands, which he sometimes drove in amateur auto races.
In the same year, with the help of his hands, he climbed with a large crowd of people to the George Washington Monument (170 meters).
In the circus, he also trained animals.
By the end of the 30s, interest in freakshows declined, and a little later they were finally banned in all American states. The brothers were engaged in various circus business - playing machines, children's railways (Eck was a machinist).
Eck professionally painted stained-glass windows to order.
However, the homebrew shows of the Punch and Talking Chihuahuas were unsuccessful. Eck and his brother warmed up in the glow of their former glory and fortune. Robert became addicted to marijuana, the relationship between the brothers began to deteriorate. By the 1970s, they barely spoke.
In the early 1980s, Freaks was declassified and shown uncut. He immediately gained cult status, and a new wave of public interest fell on Eck. He was the last living character of this film.
True, the public was mainly children who rang at his door only to look at half a person. Eck's money was very bad, plus he was in a long lawsuit with a neighbor with whom he did not share some land.
The brothers soon reconciled and healed together again. In 1987 they were robbed, and very brutally. The thieves mocked the unfortunate 76-year-old Ekk and his brother for several hours. After this incident, the brothers went into complete seclusion. There is a well-known statement by Eck, dating from around the time: "If I want to see the freaks, I'll just look out the window." In a way, he was right.
Johnny Eck died on January 5, 1991 at the age of 79 from a heart attack in his sleep. On February 25, 1995, Robert followed him. They are buried under one stone in Green Mountain Cemetery, Baltimore, USA.
In 1990, it was announced that the production of a biopic about Johnny Eck was started. Both the main roles - and Eck, and Roberta were to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio. He was approved for the role, the script was written by Caroline Thompson (she also wrote the script for the movie "Edward Scissorhands", by the way), but the film was never shot. There was no money for the project.
In his native Baltimore, a real Johnny Eck Museum is open, where various things and relics of the "half-boy" are collected.