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Phil Hall

10 Weirdest Mothers Of All Time: Motel Shower Homicide, Wire Hangers And The Nastiest Bird

Mothers come in all shapes, sizes and dispositions. Some of heaven-sent and some act like they came from the other place.

In tribute to the Mother’s Day observances, Benzinga’s 10 Weirdest series brings for some of most off-kilter mothers ever to dabble in the maternal arts.

Herodias: Some mothers make very simple gift requests, but Herodias took the cake and the whole bakery with her idea of an appreciative token. When her daughter Salome danced for Herodias’ second husband, King Herod Antipas, the monarch was so enchanted by his stepdaughter’s footwork and offered to provide her with any gift she sought.

Salome conferred with Herodias, who told her daughter to request the head of John the Baptist. The monarch was initially upset with this extreme request, but nonetheless kept his word and dispatched an executioner to decapitate John the Baptist. The New Testament makes no further mention of Herodias after that – but, hey, what could she have possibly done for an encore?

Ma Barker: Some mothers want to see their children become doctors or lawyers, but Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker was happy having her four sons as the most wanted criminal family during the 1930s. With a talent for bank robbing, kidnapping and murder, the Barker brothers terrorized the Midwest during the height of the Great Depression, with Ma Barker gaining notoriety as the nation’s most wanted woman.

After her death in a police shootout in 1935, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said Ma Barker was "the most vicious, dangerous, and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade." Her exploits inspired numerous films and television productions – with Shelley Winters playing a parody of her on the “Batman” TV series and a harrowing dramatic recreation in Roger Corman’s 1970 cult classic “Bloody Mama.”

Mother Stooge: Maternal influences were rare in the Three Stooges comedies, but the 1942 short “Cactus Makes Perfect” imagines Moe, Larry and Curly with a bedraggled mother played by comic actor Monte Collins in drag. Collins begins the film by trying and failing to chop firewood in the family kitchen – yeah, every mother chops firewood in the kitchen – and gets entangled with the knockabout trio by giving them a triple slap and receiving an arrow shot into her hair bun.

Collins was perfectly ridiculous as the Stooges’ mother, swinging between treacly devotion and violent fury in a split second. It’s a shame this character was never repeated again in the Stooges’ films.

Mrs. Bates: If you don’t know about Norman Bates and his mother, then you are long overdue a screening of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Psycho.” And if you do…well, let’s just say Mrs. Bates was not the most endearing hostess.

Gorgo: This 1961 British film about a dinosaur-type creature terrorizing London was unique because the behemoth in question was a female searching for an abducted infant – prior to “Gorgo,” the marauding monsters of the silver screen were either identified or assumed to be male. In this case, “Gorgo” proved herself to be the largest of filmdom’s overly protective mothers, and also the most destructive.

If the names of the film’s screenplay writers, John Loring and Danial Hyatt, are unfamiliar, that is because they were pseudonyms for blacklisted writers Robert L. Richards and Daniel James, who did not have their proper credits restored until 1986.

Mrs. Marcus: Fans of the 1963 comedy epic “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” cherish Ethel Merman’s over-the-top performance as Mrs. Marcus, the loud and cantankerous battle-axe whose impossible behavior triggers the zany pursuit of buried treasure in a southern California park.

Merman took the role of Mrs. Marcus after being denied the chance to play another overbearing mother role – Mama Rose, which she originated in the Broadway production of “Gypsy” but lost to Rosalind Russell in the 1962 film version.

Mother: Not every matriarch is female. Case in point: rotund character actor Patrick Newell was the leader of the spy network that employed Patrick Macnee’s John Steed and Linda Thorson’s Tara King in the sixth and final season of the British TV series “The Avengers.”

The reason for Newell’s character to be called Mother was never explained, nor was there anything maternal about him – the wheelchair bound character was an urbane though frequently exasperated figure attended to be a silent statuesque blonde woman. A running gag was the series of unlikely offices that Mother moved among, most notably the top section of a London double-decker bus.

Mother Nature: In a series of TV commercials for the Chiffon margarine brand, character actress Dena Dietrich played Mother Nature as an effervescent figure in a diaphanous white gown and a crown of flowers who was easily pleased by the taste of butter – but when informed that she mistook Chiffon margarine for butter, she would glower and declare “It’s not nice to fool…Mother Nature!” – which was followed by thunder, lightning and occasional footage of rampaging animals or other chaos.

Incredibly, this single-gag commercial generated a seemingly endless number of variations in the 1970s and 1980s and might have gone on longer if the Chiffon brand had not been sold to Kraft Foods - now part of Kraft Heinz Co. (NASDAQ:KHC) - in 1985 and later discontinued.

Mommie Dearest: Child abuse is not funny, but the 1981 film version of Christina Crawford’s controversial autobiography “Mommie Dearest” became the unintentional comedy hit of the year thanks to Faye Dunaway’s frenzied performance as an out-of-control Joan Crawford. The Variety review of Dunaway’s ferocious overacting summed it up brilliantly: "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all."

Indeed, even Christina Crawford came to her adopted mother’s defense by pointing out two of the most intensely melodramatic moments in the film – the Dunaway/Crawford bellowing about wire hangers and her chopping down a tree at night – were invented for the film, which won the Worst Picture Award from the Razzie Awards.

Carole Horlock: The British woman holds the record for motherhood, giving birth to 16 babies, with the most recent in 2019 when she was 52. However, all but two of the births were surrogacies for women who could not give birth – Horlock charges between $15,000 and $25,000 for each birth.

Unfortunately for her, one of the children she passed along to the surrogate client was actually hers – the commissioning couple did a DNA test and discovered that the baby was the child of Horlock and her husband Paul. Nonetheless, she agreed to provide the client with the child.

The Cuckoo: While there are plenty of crummy human mothers, perhaps the world’s worst mother can be found in the animal kingdom: specifically, the cuckoo.

This bird lays her egg in the empty nest of other bird species. The unsuspecting nest occupant doesn’t realize the cuckoo’s eggs are intermingled with hers and hatches them. But the infant cuckoo is just as atrocious as its mother – they grow faster than the birds that belong in the nest and dominate their surrogate mother’s food, often speeding the other baby birds to die of starvation.

However, some birds can spot the fraud and eject the cuckoo egg from its nest – a victory for good mothers over bad mothers.

Photo: Ethel Merman (center) as Dorothy Provine's mother and Milton Berle's mother-in-law in "Its' a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Photo courtesy Cinema Crazed.

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