Clyde Beatty (June 10, 1903 - July 19, 1965) joined the circus as a cage cleaner as a teen and became famous as a lion tamer and animal trainer. He also became a circus impresario who owned his own show that later merged with the Cole Bros. Circus to form the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus.
Beatty became famous for his "fighting act," in which he entered the cage with wild animals with a whip and a pistol strapped to his side. The act was designed to showcase his courage and mastery of the wild beasts, which included lions, tigers, cougars, and hyenas, sometimes brought together all at once in a single cage in a potentially lethal combination. At the height of his fame, the act featured as many as 40 lions and tigers of both sexes, and Beatty had his own rail car in the 35-car circus train.
There have been suggestions that Beatty was the first lion tamer to use a chair in his act, but in an autobiographical book Beatty himself disclaimed the credit: "It was in use when I was a cage boy and had been used long before."
Beatty's fame was such that he appeared in films from the 1930s to the 1950s and on television until the 1960s. He was also the star of his own syndicated radio series, The Clyde Beatty Show, from 1950 to 1952. The weekly programs featured adventures loosely based on his real-life exploits. However, the stories were no doubt more fictitious than real, and Beatty actually appeared in name only. In fact, Vic Perrin, not identified as such to the radio audience, impersonated him on the show. His "fighting act" made him the paradigm of a lion tamer for more than a generation. Beatty was once mauled by a lion named Nero. The tamer was in the hospital for ten weeks as a result of the attack. However, he remained undaunted and actually faced Nero down in a cage for the film The Big Cage.
Beatty is one of the caricatures at Sardi's restaurant in New York City created by Alex Gard which is now part of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library.
Mickey Rooney and Clyde Beatty in 1933
In 1957, Beatty performed his act on The Ed Sullivan Show, Beatty had complained during rehearsal that the stage was too small and unsafe for his act. But Sullivan convinced him to perform anyway. During the act, Beatty lost control of the act. In order to keep the home audience from realizing the live performance had gone awry. Ed went into the audience to introduce some of the celebrity attendees. Luckily, Beatty was able to subdue to the lions without injury to himself or the lions by firing blanks. A clip of the performance was featured in the best of the Ed Sullivan show DVD.
Beatty married Harriett Evans (name often printed as "Harriet"), an aerialist, on September 16, 1933. The marriage lasted until her death in 1950 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, reportedly from a heart ailment. Their union seems to have been founded on a great deal of team spirit, and after a year or so she insisted on being trained as an animal trainer herself, an extremely unusual thing for a woman in those days. Beatty let her have an act in 1935 and she did very well, proving to be popular with the public and the press. Harriett's daughter Albina (born 1931) was adopted by Clyde during the marriage and followed in her parents footsteps as a lion trainer herself having learned the animal training skills from her parents. She frequently cited Clyde's teaching gift to her was understanding his instincts regarding the animals themselves and how best to control them.
In the 1997 film Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, lion tamer Dave Hoover cites Beatty as a major influence on his career. Director Errol Morris uses several clips from Beatty's films during his interviews with Hoover.
In the 1981 television pilot of the Greatest American Hero. Ralph Hinkley is told by a fellow teacher that the "Clyde Beatty technique" is one way to use a chair to keep his unruly students "at bay."
Clyde Beatty was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, United States, and died of cancer in 1965 at age 62 in Ventura, California, and was interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
The Big Cage (co-author Edward Anthony 1933)
Ohmart, Ben. It's That Time Again. (2002) (Albany: BearManor Media) ISBN 0-9714570-2-6
The Big Cage (1933)
The Lost Jungle (1934 serial)
The Lost Jungle (1934)
Darkest Africa (1936 serial)
Cat College (1940)
Jungle Woman (1944)
Here Comes the Circus (1946, documentary short)
Africa Screams, also known as Abbott and Costello: Africa Screams- (Comedy 1949)
Perils of the Jungle (1953)
Ring of Fear (1954)
1. Atwell, Harry A., 1879-1957. Cole Bros. Circus, 1935 photo. via World Digital Library, Dec. 14, 2012.
2. Feldman, David (1993). How Does Aspirin Find a Headache?. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-016923-0.
3. Clyde Beatty and Earl Wilson; Jungle Performers, Pub: Robert Hale 1946
4. Photoplay March, 1933