The incredible story of Percilla Bejano is one of true love, inner beauty and respect.
"During her long life Percilla was known by many names. Originally she was descriptively dubbed ‘the hairy little girl’ and later as ‘the monkey girl’, but it is quite likely that she will forever be remembered by those dear to her as Percilla Bejano – loving wife of Emmitt the Alligator-Skinned Man.
The hirsute Percilla was born on April 26 of 1911 in the Puerto Rican town of Bayamon. Percilla had been born with hypertrichosis, she possessed two rows of teeth and drew immediate attention from the public and the medical community. Percilla’s father was a native of Spain and he did not know what to make of his hairy daughter initially. Percilla’s parents traveled to New York City seeking answers from American doctors and there they remained for seven months until Percilla’s father developed the idea of exhibiting his daughter for profit.
Percilla’s father was not a greedy man. He merely saw an opportunity to make the most of the situation nature had thrust upon his daughter. However his limited knowledge of English and business made promoting Percilla difficult and he approached showman Karl. L. Lauther for assistance. Lauther was an accomplished promoter and he owned and operated several shows during his lifetime.
He took an instant interest in Percilla and hired her on the spot. Lauther also hired an assistant to help Percilla’s father care for the child after his wife returned to Puerto Rico. That arrangement was short lived however, as Percilla’s father was shot and killed in Gainesville. Upon his death, and according to his final wish, Lauther adopted young Percilla as his own daughter.
Percilla never said anything ill of her adoptive father, thus one may assume that he was a compassionate and loving man.
In fact all evidence indicates that despite exhibiting Percilla for profit, Lauther was extremely sensitive to the public perception of his adoptive daughter. Lauther disliked the fact that the public took to calling Percilla a ‘monkey girl’ and verbally lashed out at anyone bold enough to call her a ‘freak’.
But the ‘Monkey Girl’ moniker stuck and Lauther gave in and began to publicly pair Percilla with a trained chimpanzee named Josephine. He may have had the last laugh, however, as the two attractions were juxtaposed. Percilla would warmly and graciously welcome guests to her exhibit while Josephine would rudely smoke cigarettes and spit.
In the late 1930’s, while performing with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition, Percilla met fellow marvel Emmitt Bejano, the Alligator-Skinned Man. Despite her heavy beard and his ichthyosis a sweet romance blossomed between the unique couple. The pair saw past their physical differences.
A year later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Francine, into their family. Unfortunately pneumonia extinguished her life after a scant four months.
When Emmitt and Percilla returned to exhibition they were promoted as the World’s Strangest Married Couple. Percilla and Emmitt shared the stage and most notably worked for Ringling Brothers and other shows successfully for over a decade.
They appeared together in the 1980 film Carny opposite Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Eventually the couple grew tired of life in the public eye and opted to retire to a private life in Gibbstown, Florida. There the two remained madly in love for many more years. Their union ended with Emmitt’s passing in 1995.
Percilla carried on, clean shaven for the first time in her life, and briefly appeared in various documentaries and on the Jerry Springer show where she charmed the audience with stories of her beloved Emmitt and by shyly singing his favourite song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’.
Percilla herself passed away in her sleep in February of 2001. She is dearly missed by all who knew her."
Here is an excerpt from her Pitch Booklet below:
The Monkey Girl
Since you have just purchased this booklet I presume you are no interested in my private life and doubtless many questions of a private nature have risen in your mind.
My aim and purpose in writing this concise explanation booklet is to endeavor to give you a a brief but informative glimpse into my private life since birth.
I was born on April 26th 1911 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, of perfectly normal parents, being born in the exactly the same condition depicted on the cover of this pamphlet.
At the age of 5 years I was brought by my parents to New York City at the request of several noted physicians to be examined and studied in the interest and advancement of science.
After a period of seven months we returned to my native land where my mother bore her 5th and last child, of which I was forth and the only one born in the curious condition.
Upon our second sojourn to the United States my father was killed and my mother, in her grief returned to Puerto Rico. I was subsequent adopted by Carl L. Lauhter, the operate of the organization I was being featured with.
While on tour with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition I become acquainted with a most attentive young man, after a courtship of several month we eloped in 1938, and have been living happily married ever since.
During our first year of wedded bliss I became the mother of a baby girl. Through a grievous miss fortune my child was stricken with bronchial Pneumonia at the age of four months which resulted in her death.
This was the most serve blow of my life, but perhaps someday I will be blessed with another child to fulfill and make my life compete as anyone would want.
Having be on expositions practically all of my life, I've received not only the normal education of normal children but in re of my profession procured a thorough and expensive worldly knowledge garnered while touring with various and sundry organizations.
All grant my exterior appearance is strange and unusual, but that does not hinder me from enjoying life to the fullest extent and from participating in the goodness life has to offer the same as yourself.
To sum up this epistle, I'd like to say I think fate hasn't treated me unkindly in view of my many blessings of good health, a fine husband and many friends. I'd like to thank you for your kind interest in my case and for your patronage, and trust you've enjoyed reading this little booklet as much as I did writing it.
The Monkey Girl
Below is the transcript from a Jerry Springer episode in which Percilla was interviewd about her experiences working in the sideshow, it was origingally broadcast in August 15 1997.
The Show's theme was "I Worked As A Sideshow Freak" and was filmed in and around Gibtown, FL. Also featured were Melvin Burkhardt, Jeanie Tomaini, Johnny Meah, Jennifer Miller and Grady Stiles III with commentary by James Taylor (and Judy Rock teaching Jerry the bed of nails!) Percilla is 85 years old.
Jerry Springer voice over:
While we were in town we went in search of the elusive monkey girl - Percilla Bejano. In the heyday of the sideshows there was no bigger name. Born covered completely with hair and multiple rows of teeth, she was taken from Puerto Rico at three years of age and placed in the sideshows where she met and married Emmitt, the Alligator Boy. But since Emmitt's death (in 1995) and her retirement, Percilla had disappeared and refused all interviews until today.
(Jerry opens the gate to Percilla's yard and approaches Percilla who is seated on a garden swing)
JS Hi! Percilla?
JS I'm Jerry Springer. It's very nice to meet you.
PB And you, too.
JS A real pleasure, thank you very much for having me.
Percilla is wearing a bright red dress that goes down to mid-ankle. She is wearing large colorful earrings and is seated on a garden swing where Jerry joins her. The two gently rock on the swing throughout the interview.
JS You ... you're life has been the life of the circus, right?
PB Mostly carnival ..
JS Mostly the carnival
PB Uh huh, sideshows, you know.
JS You ... At what age did you ... How did you first get into what they call the sideshow?
PB Five years old.
JS You were five years of age. And what were you known as?
PB Well ... they called me the little (chuckle) monkey girl.
JS They called you the "monkey girl"?
PB Uh huh, because I had the hair all over the body.
JS When you went to marry your husband ...
PB We eloped.
JS You eloped ... You stayed in the life of the circus though didn't you?
PB Yeah ...
JS You loved it?
PB Emmitt and I went (to) build our own show.
JS And what did Emmitt do in the circus? In the show?
PB Alligator Man.
JS He was the "Alligator Man".
PB Yeah ...
PB He was born in Punta Gorda.
JS In where?
PB Punta Gorda, Florida.
JS Punta Gorda, Florida. Um ... now he was called the alligator man because ...
PB The skin.
JS The skin on his face looked like anybody else's face but the rest of the skin over his whole body ...
PB He couldn't sweat.
JS He couldn't sweat. It looked like the skin of a reptile ... of an alligator.
PB Yeah, uh huh.
JS So he couldn't sweat. So when you're out in the hot sun what would they do ... to keep him cool?
PB Well, he had a tub of ice water.
JS A tub of ice water.
PB Yeah, he kept ice all the time in the back of the show.
JS So both of you had ... both of you then ... not only were you married and you loved each other..
PB Naturally! (chuckle)
JS Right, but you had this show that became your life and the show was , using the words that you use, the "monkey girl" and the "alligator man".
PB We were the "Strangest .... he billed us as the "Strangest Married Couple..."
JS The "Strangest Married Couple".
PB Uh huh, "In the World".
JS When you were sitting there in the pit and you saw all these people just walking by paying ... some amount of money to come and stare at you did you ever get angry?
PB No, because (chuckle) I sang a song to 'em and they threw money at me.
JS What song did you sing?
PB (Laughing, shy, embarassed)
JS C'mon, sing for me. I'll sing for you.
PB No (laughing)
JS Just sing a little ... just one little bar.
PB (singing) "It's a long way to Tipperary ...(can't continue, breaks up laughing)
JS "It's a Long Way to Tipperary"? I learned that as a kid in England, I swear.
(singing together) "It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go. It's a long way to Tipperary .... (both forget the words)
JS Oh, my memories fading. Your're doing better than I am. That's a pretty song.
PB Oh, it was beautiful!
JS So you did a whole act ...
PB And then I sang "Margie".
PB Uh huh, yeah, and I danced. I'd get up and dance and they'd throw nickles and quarters and if they threw pennies I threw it back to 'em!
PB I didn't want no pennys.
JS No, heh, you gotta set your price you know. Now, when you performed in the circus you had hair all over your face.
PB Uh huh,
JS I mean I don't mean just a little ...
PB Well, I shave.
JS You shave now.
PB Uh huh.
JS But at the time for the act you had it all over your face?
PB Yeah, as I grew it grew. I had a beard down to here.
JS Tell me ... you became very successful ...
PB Oh, I loved it!
JS You loved it, that's ... I guess what .. I'm (looking for)
PB If I wasn't so old I'd be right there on that Midway. I talked to everyone of 'em and the one guy he's drunk ... at 4 o'clock that's when the idiots and the drunks come in.
JS And when they were drunk what kind of things would they say?
PB Oh ... "When are you going to take your dress off? ... "Let me see" ... "Whatcha got underneath?" I says, "Well, uh, not what you got, man". But I said ... and his wife would pull him over, you know, and say 'Why don't you shut up?' But he'd be so (gesturing craziness) you know, I'd say "Let him go, he don't know what he's talking about ... he's like an alligator - all mouth and no brains." That's what I'd say. And one of them asked me, he says, "Well how come you're that way?" I said, "Because you're that way". I said "Because I got to see you for nothing, you had to pay to see me." I always had an answer for the marks.
JS And if you could do it again ... ?
PB I'd do it!