Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday's Ferocious Female - Mabel Stark

I came across Mabel Stark through reading what I thought was a fiction novel. It was called the Final Confessions of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough - you can find it listed on the right hand side of my blog. Though it is written as a faux memoir, a lot of the facts were actually true! Being intrigued by the circuses and sideshows of yesteryear, this book left me pleasantly surprised.

Here's a blurb from
Mabel Stark (real name Mary Haynie) was the worlds premier tiger trainer of the 1920, specializing in highly sexualized circus acts. Born in Kentucky, a single child, Stark led an isolated and difficult childhood including corporal punishment from her mother. At the age of 13, both her parents died leaving her an orphan. She spent the rest of her youth with an aunt inLouisville, Kentucky; at the age of 18 she ran away to become a nurse, but ended up working as a stripper at the Great Parker Carnival instead taking the name Mary Aganosticus and later Mabel Stark.

When the manager of the Carnival's menagerie left to form his own circus, he invited Stark, who had shown an interest in the animals, to join him. She was originally slated to teach a troupe of performing goats- but failing that went on to replace the recently-killed cat-trainer Marguerite Haupt.

Choosing to work with the more difficult breed of tigers, rather than the more docile lions, it has been surmised that the solitary Stark preferred the company of one of the few solitary creatures in nature. There she met her new companion Rajah who would become her trademark tamed tiger.

She would later reveal in her writing that when she appeared to be tussling with Rajah, it was actually Rajah trying to copulate with her - which was her reason from changing from an all-black leather ensemble to an all-white bodysuit, to hide the resultant semen.

She was approached by, and joined the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, though in 1925 they announced they were discarding the large cat portion of their travelling circus and terminated her employment, instead introducing Clyde Beatty as their stand-in tamer for the occasional act. The following year, working for a much smaller circus, Stark was mauled by unfed tigers - an event some claimed was an attempt at suicide on her part since she'd previously displayed her desire to die at the claws of tigers; she spent the next two years in hospital recovering from the event.

Stark appeared occasionally on television in the 1960. 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.

Her final job was as a menagerie-trainer with JungleLand in Thousand Oaks, California - but in 1968 the park was sold to a new owner who disliked Stark and promptly fired her. Three months later she killed herself by a combination of an overdose of barbiturates and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Five Reasons to Like Mabel Stark:
1) Her acts were highly sexual and daring. Yes, it was the circus - but she was the cream of the crop!
2) She found passion in her career and would not give up on working at something she truly loved.
3) She successfully worked in a very male dominated industry.
4) She worked that white leather jumpsuit. Men used to go to her shows to see her! And clearly, her tiger liked her as well.
5) She worked with tigers. I can't even think about working with people without groaning!

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