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12 People Who Made a Living Eating Inedible Things

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Remember that kid in elementary school who would eat anything for a quarter? It turns out he wasn’t just trying to make up for a lack of personality to make friends or get attention. He was preparing himself for a career in show business. Thanks to the rise of the vaudeville and the circus sideshow, performers throughout history and even the modern stage have been practicing the strange art of digestion and regurgitation. They take seemingly inedible objects and choke them down before your very eyes. Here’s a look at some of the world’s greatest “human ostriches.”

1. Todd Robbins

This renowned illusionist, trickster and sideshow aficionado has carved an interesting career out of shocking his audiences. He’s perhaps best known for a trick that few people know how to do because it is very dangerous: lightbulb eating.

He learned the trick from an old Coney Island sideshow performer when he was a teenager and since then he’s eaten over 4000 lightbulbs. The only major injury he suffered while performing the trick is a broken tooth that exposed a raw nerve. The trick became the centerpiece of a very successful, very bloody and very scary off-Broadway spook show called Play Dead that he co-wrote with Teller of Penn & Teller.

2. Michel Lotito

The French entertainer known as “Monsieur Mangetout” (“Mr. Eat-All”) set world records by eating seemingly inedible metal objects from nails to bicycles. His career, however, started not because of his strange talent. It came from a strange medical condition.

Lotito suffered from Pica, a medical disorder that drives people to eat inedible things. It started after he accidentally swallowed a piece of glass in a swimming pool when he was 16. Since then, he ate bits of metal and glass to impress his friends and eventually turned the weird trick into a career leading to his most impressive meal: a Cessna 150 light aircraft. It took two years to eat the whole thing.

3. Louis Cole

The rise of the Internet and YouTube gave all sorts of shameless people the chance to humiliate themselves for fun and profit. This southwest London resident is no exception.

Cole’s “Food for Louis” channel presents him with an ultimate series of challenges to eat all sorts of unusual, disgusting, and dead animals without any preparation. They go straight from his plate directly into his mouth, sometimes while they are still living. He started taking dares from his friends to choke down things like spiders, rotten apples, and wasps, and eventually started making a living by creating his own popular YouTube channel to take on bigger challenges from the rest of the world. Some of his more unusual dining moments include roadkill straight from the road, blended mice, raw pig’s eyeballs, and 21 live locusts.

4. Stevie Starr

The almost forgotten art of regurgitation, the act of swallowing something and bringing it up again on command, has undergone a resurgence thanks to this legendary Scottish showman.

Starr claims he learned his art at a young age by swallowing his pocket change to hide it from bullies. He has since graduated to bigger and tougher objects such as lightbulbs, billiard balls, and Rubik’s Cubes. He not only brings up the objects intact but also claims he can manipulate them with the muscles in his stomach or even bring them back in a different order. His signature trick involves taking a ring from a member of the audience and swallowing it with a closed lock and a key. When he brings the objects back up, the ring has been placed in the lock while all three are in his stomach. Some have speculated his technique involves sleight of hand but doctors and magicians have been unable to figure out the gimmick—assuming he uses one.

5. Henry Harrison

One of the first and best sideshow eaters may have technically been a freak—but the ladies didn't think so. The Syracuse, New York native had a storied career throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s as the “human ostrich.” He would eat just about anything that audiences could throw at him, including pocket-knives, pins, nails, screws, and glass, with seemingly no discomfort whatsoever. He learned the skill at age 6 after accidentally swallowing one of his mother’s pins. When his mother learned he had swallowed one, she took him to a surgeon, who found 40 more pins in his stomach. The only serious malady occurred when he tried to swallow an entire package of tacks and the packaging became lodged in his intestine.

He was also known for being something of a player. Those who saw him described him as quite handsome and he was often seen leaving his New York shows with more than one girl on his arm.

6. John Fasel

This Williamsburg, New York tailor found an interesting way to bring in some extra money, but his sideshow career didn’t last long.

Fasel also became a “human ostrich” in 1900 by swallowing metal objects whole, including nails, pocketwatches, keys, and knives. Unfortunately, his time in the spotlight was short lived because his digestive system wasn’t able to fully digest the bits of metal he left in his stomach. His talent almost killed him in 1901—doctors had to cut him open to remove the metal objects he swallowed on stage, which included three watch chains, five hairpins, 12 horseshoe nails, three keys, a ring, and 128 pins. Somehow, he recovered, but returned to his old trick four years later after swearing off the stunt by challenging another “human ostrich” to an eat-off at a Brooklyn gala.

7. Dagmar Rothman

Photo Courtesy of The Human Marvels

The man known as The Great Waldo was also one of the greatest regurgitators of all time. He grew up in Germany just before the start of World War II and fell in love with the circus, particularly the sideshow acts who taught him how to swallow and bring up objects at will. He fled to Switzerland after Adolf Hitler invaded Austria and found a place for his art in nightclubs and theaters. A talent scout from America discovered him and brought him back to the States, where he became a sideshow legend. He also elevated the art of regurgitation by not only swallowing inanimate objects and bringing them back, but by swallowing live animals such as white mice and frogs and bring them back up completely unharmed (at least not physically, we assume).

8. Hadji Ali

This notorious vaudevillian had a gift for gastrointestinal fortitude that made him one of the biggest variety stars of his time and the object of desire of some of the silver screen’s biggest movie stars.

The mysterious Arab figure who found fame in the 1920s was actually born in Wolverthampton, England. He toured dressed as a mystic Middle Eastern man willing to swallow any number of items including watermelon seeds and whole walnuts, who could also bring them back up in any order. His signature trick, one that landed him an appearance in the Spanish language version of Laurel and Hardy’s film “Chickens Come Home,” involved swallowing a ridiculous amount of water and topping it off with a large dose of kerosene. He would then vomit the mixture back on a small flaming castle brought on the stage to the shock of his audiences. He was so well known in his time that actress Judy Garland called him her favorite vaudevillian.

9. The Enigma

This puzzling performer got his start with one of the world’s most famous traveling sideshows, the Jim Rose Circus.

The Enigma (real name: Paul Lawrence) toured with the legendary grunge circus during its Seattle days in the early 1990s. He started as “Slug,” swallowing any number of tiny animals such as crickets, maggots, and worms before getting a full tattoo of a puzzle over his entire body and horns implanted in his skull to become The Enigma. He made numerous television appearances, including on an infamous episode of The X-Files called “Humbug.” Rose offers Scully a live cricket to eat (which Gillian Anderson immediately spat out after the cameras stopped rolling).

10. Chaz Chase

One of vaudeville’s longest working performers also had one of its more unusual acts.

Chase looked like a typical circus clown, but his performance cast him in a much different light. He became renowned for being able to eat just about anything put in front of him including paper, lit matches, coins, flowers and cigarettes. He appeared in several silent films and worked well into his 70s and 80s with a surprising amount of exuberance and agility for a man his age. He also did quite a bit of touring around the world and was required to bring along a large amount of items to swallow, which sometimes got him in trouble. According to one report from 1947, customs officials in Sydney, Australia refused to let him into the country after they caught him carrying more than 400 cigarettes and 75 cigars. He had to perform his bizarre act for the agents to prove that he wasn’t a smuggler.

11. Tom Mullica

Mullica, one of the world’s best known comic magicians, had an act that turned heads and stomachs: He would seemingly smoke and swallow an entire package of lit cigarettes. He would light them one at a time and hold them in his mouth as they were still lit and bring each back so he could add them to the pile before choking them all down with a handful of napkins. He eventually retired the act after he quit smoking.

12. Tokyo Shock Boys

This slapstick stunt show that started in Japan has performed all kinds of painful and humiliating acts in their 30 years in show business. They even include some things that aren’t really tricks, but closer to public displays of torture for our twisted amusement.

This furious foursome came together in the 1990s while they worked as roadies during Paul McCartney’s tour of Japan. Their appearances on some local variety shows made them stars practically overnight and gave them their own long-running stage show that has since toured all over the world. Most of their act consists of Jackass-style stunts such as breaking a cactus in half with their butt cheeks and wearing a diaper filled with lit firecrackers. They are also known to eat unusual things, such as dishwashing soap and detergent, and to swallow whole chunks of dry ice.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.


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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?


To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.


The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.


In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.


The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.


The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   


Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.


It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”


In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]


Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.


The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.


Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.


Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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Live Smarter
How to Carve a Pumpkin—And Not Injure Yourself in the Process
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Wielding a sharp knife with slippery hands around open flames and nearby children doesn't sound like the best idea—but that's exactly what millions of Halloween celebrations entail. While pumpkin carving is a fun tradition, it can also bring the risk of serious hand injuries. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), some wounds sustained from pumpkin misadventure can result in surgery and months of rehabilitation.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to minimize trauma. Both ASSH and CTV News have compiled safety tips for pumpkin carvers intended to reduce the chances of a trip to the emergency room.

First, it's recommended that carvers tackle their design with knives made specifically for carving. Kitchen knives are sharp and provide a poor grip when trying to puncture tough pumpkin skin: Pumpkin carving knives have slip-resistant handles and aren't quite as sharp, while kitchen knives can get wedged in, requiring force to pull them out.

Carvers should also keep the pumpkin intact while carving, cleaning out the insides later. Why? Once a pumpkin has been gutted, you’re likely to stick your free hand inside to brace it, opening yourself up to an inadvertent stab from your knife hand. When you do open it up, it's better to cut from the bottom: That way, the pumpkin can be lowered over a light source rather than risk a burn dropping one in from the top.

Most importantly, parents would be wise to never let their kids assist in carving without supervision, and should always work in a brightly-lit area. Adults should handle the knife, while children can draw patterns and scoop out innards. According to Consumer Reports, kids ages 10 to 14 tend to suffer the most Halloween-related accidents, so keeping carving duties to ages 14 and above is a safe bet.

If all else fails and your carving has gone awry, have a first aid kit handy and apply pressure to any wound to staunch bleeding. With some common sense, however, it's unlikely your Halloween celebration will turn into a blood sacrifice.

[h/t CTV News]


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