In our ongoing series #WomenThatDid ENTITY profiles inspirational and famous women in history whose impact on our world can still be felt today. If you have a suggestion for a historical powerhouse you would like to see featured tweet us with the hashtag #WomenThatDid.
There was no bigger name on the circus marquee in the 1920s than Mabel Stark, who won international fame as the first female tiger trainer.
Now her name is about to be known to new generations as she is the subject of a new film, “Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer,” a documentary directed by Leslie Zemeckis and premiering at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Her story is one of courage and love. Here is why Mabel is one of ENTITY’s #WomenThatDid.
Name: Mabel Stark (real name: Mary Hanie)
Lifetime: December 10, 1889 – April 20, 1968
What she’s known for: Having run away from her Tennessee home at a young age to join the circus, she went on to amaze audiences with an act in which she “tamed” 18 tough Sumatran tigers. Another highlight of her act was wrestling and putting her face in the mouth of a fearsome looking tiger named Rajah, whom she actually kept as a pet in her apartment. She performed around the world, spending a total of 60 years in the ring with big cats – and had plenty of cuts and bruises to show for it. As beautiful as she was skilled, the blonde entertainer also worked as a body double in the movies for screen siren Mae West, another one of the famous women in history.
Why we love her: She loved her animals with all her heart and got on with them so much better than the men in her life. Four or five husbands came and went, one of them an embezzler and another a cross-dresser, but the tigers always stayed. After a glorious career, she was fired from her longtime professional home at Jungeland in Thousand Oaks, California, but a new owner who didn’t like her. She committed suicide three weeks later by taking a drug overdose.
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