Mabel Stark (1889-1968)

This relief print of Mabel is my contribution to the Short Stack Press 2024 collaborative calendar! Find out more.

Although she may not be a household name, she is considered one of the greatest animal trainer of all time. Born into a farming family with the given name Mary Ann Haynie, she was orphaned by the age of 17 and struck out on her own to find a livelihood. By the year 1916 she had suffered a handful of attacks one of which left her unconscious with a mangled and broken arm. Stack was not discouraged by these attacks and adopted a small, sickly Tiger named Rajah. Mabel raised Rajah in her small apartment where they would develop a wrestling act that would come to astound audiences. In 1922 Mabel was hired by Ringling Brother and Barnum and Bailey Circus where she performed with a group of tigers and one black panther. Mabel was married five times and worked throughout the world in circuses and films. The one consistent in her life was working with tigers and when she was unable to continue she took her own life in 1968. The final passage in her autobiography, Hold That Tiger, she wrote, “Let them come, out slink the striped cats, snarling and roaring, leaping at each other or me. It’s a matchless thrill, and life without it is not worth while to me.”

Trailer for Leslie Zemeckis film Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer.