Flannery O’Connor’s first brush with fame came when she was five years old. She had a chicken that could walk backwards, and somehow the people at Pathé News—makers of newsreels for movie theaters—found out about it. They sent a cameraman from New York to the O’Connor home in Savannah, Georgia to get footage of the unusual chicken and its owner, who was known as “Mary Flannery” at the time (she only dropped the “Mary” after she went off to graduate school).
O’Connor spoke of this experience as the beginning of her obsession with barnyard fowl, which culminated in the peacocks for which she was famous. She wrote,
From that day with the Pathé man I began to collect chickens. What had been only a mild interest became a passion, a quest. I had to have more and more chickens. I favored those with one green eye and one orange or with overlong necks and crooked combs. I wanted one with three legs or three wings, but nothing in that line turned up…I could sew in a fashion and I began to make clothes for chickens. A gray bantam named Colonoel Eggbert wore a quite pique coat with a lace collar and two buttons in the back.
Her taste for the ridiculous—and her interest in the grotesque—started early, it seems. I recently ran across the newsreel of little “Mary O’Connor” on the British Pathe website and thought you might find it interesting. She only appears in the first few seconds; after that, it gets silly, with film of barnyard animals run backwards so they appear to walk in reverse–which, I suppose, was an interesting novelty in 1930.
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