On March 7, 1955 German born stripper Frieda Hoxter (also reported as Hoxer) died of a snake bite obtained while performing under the stage name of Princess Naja.
Princess Naja used three snakes in her act, one of whom was a murderer. Or the person who sold her the snake without removing the venom was, but only the snake was charged...taken to the Baltimore Municipal Zoo after the attack. Captain Elmer Bowen of the Baltimore police declared the reptile a "public menace" and ordered it confined.
Naja was only 25 at the time. I hate to judge her, but how stupid do you have to be to dance around undressed with a poisonous snake? Certainly as stupid as those snake handlers in Appalachia who take the biblical passage "They shall take up serpents" literally (a few of them have died as well) if not more so.
Princess Naja was bitten on her left arm during a performance, then completed the show. Or you could say said she "finished shedding" (sorry) and put the snake back in a box before asking for help. Big mistake. The eight minute delay contributed to her death. A death, I might add, in an iron lung machine not long after. Not a glamorous death, but then lugging dirty laundry and three snakes from joint to joint isn't too great either.
This wasn't even the first run-in for the snake. Several months earlier, the cobra had escaped from Princess Naja's bag in her room and police were called to track it down. The snake, a five-footer, caused 13 people to be evacuated from the apartment building where "Menagerie Naja" was holed up. Whether those evacuated enjoyed the performance is not reported. Maybe the Captain should have confiscated the snake then.
"Snake Strip" is the show biz term for a performer who peels off her clothes while manipulating a snake. According to Cabaret Magazine in June 1955, the "snake-strip" was catching on in "off-beat spots" and most dancers obtained their snakes from "The Snake King" in Brownsville Texas. Literally, "Snake King", as that was his last name. William Abraham King. A wild animal importer, he supplied carnivals and sideshows. I do not know where Princess Naja obtained her animals.
There was another Princess Naja, this one from Ballston Spa, New York performing for Bill McGary's Side Show and Glamour Girl Revue in the 1940s, but she might not have been as stupid as Frieda, as I can find no record of her being fanged to death by her own co-star.
Naja used two cobras and a python in her act. If she had only used the python, she might be dancing today.
Snake dancers go way back...in fact here is a group of turn of the century "snakeologists" I used to own but donated to the ICP museum for a forthcoming show on the photographer Frank Wendt.
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