Oofty's real name, background, place of birth and death are in some dispute. Most of what is known of him comes from a book by Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast, An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld, published in 1933. There is some information that suggests his true name may have been Joshua Marks (or Marx), that he may have been a deserter from the German Army or that he may have come from Tennessee. In any instance, it is known he came to San Francisco following the Gold Rush of 1849 to seek his fortune. Asbury says that he got the name "Oofty Goofty" from an appearance he had done at a Market Street sideshow, where he was billed as the Wild Man of Borneo. He was said to have been covered over most of his body by a mixture of tar and horsehair, put into a cage and fed raw meat by an attendant. When fed, he would let out a fierce cry of "Oofty goofty!" - hence his stage name.
Oofty's career as a wild man came to an end after about a week when he took ill, unable to perspire because of the tar on his skin. Doctors at the city's Receiving Hospital tried for days to remove the tar, but could not do so, presumably because of the horsehair. The tar finally came off after Oofty was doused with tar solvent and left to lie on the hospital's roof.
Afterward, Oofty attempted to gain success through the stage and theater. He got as far as playing Romeo opposite one "Big Bertha's" Juliet, but the play proved disastrous. Asbury said that Oofty discovered after being thrown out of a Barbary Coast saloon onto a hard cobblestone street that he felt no pain. Afterward, he would tour San Francisco, baseball bat in hand, and invite anyone who would listen to strike him with the bat for 50 cents. Asbury ends his account saying that boxer John L. Sullivan ended Oofty's bizarre career when he struck him across the back with a pool cue, fracturing two vertebrae. Asbury reports that Oofty walked with a limp the rest of his life and died a few years later.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Posted by M. Christian