Circus Ring of Fame Wheel Plaque

Mabel Stark

Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 1996

Circus Profession: Tiger Trainer

Born: 1889

Died: 1968

mabel stark Circus Ring Of Fame Foundation inductee

Stark From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Mabel Stark Born Mary Haynie
December 9, 1889 Princeton, Kentucky Died April 20, 1968 (aged 78)
Thousand Oaks, California

Occupation Animal trainer Parent(s) Lela and Hardy
Haynie Mabel Stark (December 10, 1889–April 20, 1968), whose real
name was Mary Ann Haynie , [1] was a renowned tiger trainer of the 1920s. She
was referred to as one of the world’s first women tiger trainers/tamers. In
its belated obituary, New York Times lauded Stark as “one of the most
celebrated animal trainers in a field dominated by men.” [2] Stark was
born on December 9, 1888 (or 1889) in Smith County, Tennessee. The family
later relocated to Cobb near Princeton, Kentucky, where her mother’s parents
were located. She was one of seven children born to Lela and Hardy Haynie.
Stark’s parents were farmers, and they died within two years of each other,
so that by the age of 17, Stark and her siblings were orphaned. She spent a
short period of time with her aunt Kate Pettypoole in Princeton. She then
traveled to Louisville and became a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital. Soon after,
she left Louisville, and her history becomes difficult to trace. Circus
friends contend that she worked in carnivals as a “dancer” of some
type. (Like many circus performers, Stark did not hesitate to enrich the
truth to create an interesting story. She even once told an interviewer that
she was born to a wealthy Canadian .) She ended up in 1911 with the Al G.
Barnes Circus based in Culver City, California , where she met animal trainer
Al Sands . [3] She worked for a brief time there as a “high school”
rider (horseback rider) but fervently wanted to work with the big cats. She
began work with Louis Roth , a famous “cat man” she would later
marry. (Stark was married four or five times.) Soon, she became a tiger
trainer in the ring. At first, they had her work a “balloon act”,
which had her “riding” a lion on a platform and then pressing a
pedal to release fireworks at some point in the act. But by 1916, she was
presenting the show’s major tiger act. On February 18, 1916, Stark was
severely mauled by a lion named Louie while rehearsing for the Pacific
Electric exhibit of the National Orange Show in San Bernardino, California.
[4] Stark’s husband, Louis Roth, fired blank cartridges from a revolver into
the face of the lion amid the screams of his wife and spectators who had
gathered to watch the rehearsal. The lion seized Stark’s left arm into its
mouth and rolled over a number of times. (Roth had also been mauled earlier
that day by a lion named Jeff. He suffered deep injuries to his arm before
firing blanks into the animal’s open jaws.) Stark was dragged unconscious
from the cage and rushed to a hospital where she was treated for a mangled
and broken arm. This was Stark’s third mauling in as many years. In 1914,
while in Detroit, Michigan, she was attacked by her leopards during a parade,
and during the winter of 1915, she was mangled in Venice, California. [5] She
adopted a mangy, sickly tiger cub named Rajah and raised him to perform a
famous wrestling act with her. She accomplished this by romping and playing
with the cub at the beach and actually keeping him as a pet in her apartment.
According to Stark’s autobiography, “Rajah would run straight toward me.
Up he went on his hind legs, his forefeet around my neck. We turned around
once or twice, I threw him to the ground, and we rolled three or four times.
I opened his mouth and put my face inside, then jumped to my feet”. [6]
In 1922, she was asked to join the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
Circus where she performed in Madison Square Garden with tigers and a black
panther. By the end of that season, of the six wild animal acts featured with
the circus, Stark’s was clearly the greatest success. In 1923, she starred in
the Ringling center ring, but two years later in 1925, the circus banned all
wild animal acts. After a sojourn to Europe where she performed in a circus,
she came back to the U.S. in 1928 and began work with the John Robinson Show.
In Bangor, Maine , she lost her footing in a muddy arena and was seriously
mauled by her tigers. She would suffer a wound that almost severed her leg,
face lacerations, a hole in her shoulder, a torn deltoid, and a host of other
injuries. She was rescued by fellow trainer Terrell Jacobs and returned to
the ring in a matter of weeks, swathed in bandages and walking with a cane.
She suffered numerous maulings and serious injuries over her nearly 60 years
of working with tigers. At one point in her career, she would face 18 big
cats in the ring. She performed with the Sells-Floto Circus in 1929 and then
rejoined Barnes after it had been sold to Ringling in 1930. She stayed there
until it was absorbed into Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey during
the season of 1938. In 1932, she and her tiger act was filmed for the
Paramount Pictures motion picture King of the Jungle . In the film, Stark is
seen putting her tigers through their paces when fire erupts in the big top.
[7] She toured with small circuses and lived in Japan where she performed her
circus act in the ’50s. She returned to California and finished her career at
the Jungle Compound (later called Jungleland ) in Thousand Oaks. Stark
appeared occasionally on television in the 1960s. For example, she did a
stint as one of the guests with an unusual occupation on What’s My Line? ,
the popular Sunday night CBS-TV program. In 1968, Jungleland was sold to a
new owner who disliked Stark and fired her. [8] Soon after she left, one of
her tigers escaped and was shot. Stark was angry and hurt about the animal’s
destruction, and felt that she could have safely secured the tiger if the owners
had asked for her assistance. Three months later, she killed herself by an
overdose of barbiturates . In the last pages of her autobiography, Hold That
Tiger , Stark writes: “The chute door opens as I crack my whip and
shout, ‘Let them come,’ Out slink the striped cats, snarling and roaring,
leaping at each other or at me. It’s a matchless thrill, and life without it
is not worth while to me.” [9] [10] She died on April 20, 1968. [11]
Legacy In 2001, a fictionalized biography of Stark’s life by author Robert
Hough titled The Final Confession of Mabel Stark was published. [12] The
story is based in 1968, the same year that Stark committed suicide. It is a
fictionalized account of the events of her life. The screenplay was optioned
by director Sam Mendes with the hopes of making a film starring his wife Kate
Winslet , however no production schedule has been announced. [13] A
documentary titled Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer directed by Leslie Zemeckis
premiered in 2017. [14]