Koo-Koo the Bird Girl
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Koo Koo, the Bird Girl
|Other names||Minnie Ha Ha; Koo Koo the Bird Girl; Cuckoo Girl; Koo Koo, the Blind Girl from Mars|
|Known for||Freaks film|
Woolsey was born in 1880 in Rabun County, Georgia. Little is known about her early life, only that she was "rescued" from a mental asylum and was commonly billed as Minnie Ha Ha (a play on Minnehaha), in her sideshow entertainment career. She suffered from a rare congenital growth skeletal disorder called Virchow-Seckel syndrome, which caused her to have a very short stature, a small head, a narrow bird-like face with a beak-like nose, large eyes with an antimongoloid slant, a receding jaw, large ears and mild intellectual disability. In addition, Woolsey was bald, toothless, and either completely blind or very short-sighted. She would appear in a Native American costume and speak gibberish.
She appeared in the 1932 film Freaks, alongside a cast of other sideshow performers from the time, billed as Koo Koo, the Bird Girl. She was not the original Koo Koo however; the billing was previously used by another performer in the film, a "Stork" or "Bird" woman named Elizabeth Green. Woolsey is seen in many scenes dancing in a feathery costume. In 1942, a news brief in Billboard reported that Woolsey was recovering in Coney Island Hospital after breaking her arm while descending stairs. She was hit by a car in the 1960s. When and how she died is unknown, but accounts show that she was still alive and performing in 1960, working at Coney Island in sideshow/circus, in her 80s.
In popular culture
Australian performer Sarah Houlbolt created a performance called Kookoo The Bird Girl. Speaking to Disability Arts Online, Houlbolt said, “My full length show, KooKoo the Birdgirl, is about Minnie Woolsley, a historical performer with disability, who starred in Freaks (1932). This is an art history piece, and a female perspective on the side show. My passion to uncover her story is as a result of the importance of telling our history from a disability perspective. Minnie lived in a time of compulsory sterilisation and anti-marriage laws for disabled women, which not many people know about.”
- "Koo Koo – The Bird Girl", thehumanmarvels.com, retrieved January 8, 2015.
- Hartzman, Marc (2005). American Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History's Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. p. 178. ISBN 1585424412.
- "Coney Island, N.Y.", Billboard, Nielsen Business Media, Inc., pp. 44, 54, August 29, 1942, retrieved November 23, 2018.
- "Naymedici - Koo Koo The Bird Girl".
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