One of the best examples of the exploitation of the (mentally and physically) handicapped of the early 1900’s is the case of Minnie Woolsey, a Georgian woman with a severe form of dwarfism, which, paired with her lack of teeth, bird-like face, odd shaped head and lack of hair gave her the appearance of a bird. She was reportedly taken from an insane asylum, and despite her avian features, began her career as “Minnie Ha-Ha,” and dressed as a mock-American Indian, speaking jibberish to the audience for their entertainment.
The name she’s known as, however, was already attributed to a well-known performer: Betty Green. She was given a role in the 1932 film Freaks, the managers of which dressed her in a costume akin to Big Bird’s. Her speechless role in the film stunned moviegoers, and she was soon known as Koo Koo (the name conflict did cause several problems between her and Green, however.)
She worked at Coney Island for most of her career, and is thought to have lived until 1960, where witnesses claim to have seen her nearly run over by a car, making her at least 80 years old.