Meet Mabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer. Not only did she run away to join the circus: she also tamed a troupe of 18 Sumatran tigers, wiggled her way out of (a few) regrettable marriages, survived a death-worthy mauling and became a star during the golden era of the circus. She was a Hollywood stuntwoman and the mother of many a baby tiger. Her inspiring journey is profiled in MABEL, MABEL, TIGER TRAINER, the third documentary by award-winning documentarian Leslie Zemeckis, a truly don’t-miss tiger tale that unveils the dangerous yet thrilling world of big cat trainers.
Mabel Stark was a woman who refused to let fear get in her way. Born in 1889, and raised on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, she ran away to join the circus soon after being orphaned as a young teen. She initially took on the role of resident hootchy-kootchy dancer, and though she made friends with her fellow, human performers, she connected mostly with the animals, falling head over heels with the tigers. As the world’s first female tiger trainer, she faced scrutiny, abuse, and injury. But this incredible woman, whose body was decorated with a ‘network of scars’, proudly claimed of her unique career path, which spanned 57 years, “It is a matchless thrill and a life without it is not worthwhile… I hope each new season until my number is up will find me shouting ‘Let them come.’
Written and directed by Zemeckis and narrated by Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, this documentary paints a sweeping picture of a woman finding her footing during the Golden Age of the circus. Actual radio and television interviews with Stark herself, as well as commentary from a number of circus performers, including Clyde Beatty, Jr. (son of the famous tiger trainer, Clyde Beatty) and a surprising appearance by Zoltan Hargitay, the son of Jayne Mansfield, who was mauled by a lion at Jungleland, the animal-themed park where Mabel found herself training her tigers as her career came to a close.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Come one! Come all! Grab a bowl of popcorn and peanuts and carve out an evening to catch MABEL, MABEL, TIGER TRAINER, now available on DVD and streaming on Amazon and Vimeo On Demand!
Amy Bizzarri is a Chicago-based writer who loves exploring her city by bicycle. Her most recent book, 111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss, explores Chicago’s hidden corners and secret history.