Mabel Stark and Her Tigers

Mabel Stark and Her Tigers

Mabel Stark (called the "Tiger Queen") was a friend of the submitter's great-grand uncle, James Leo Duffy ('Bert Leo"). I am not sure what circus she was performing with at the time these photographs were taken. Bert Leo performed as a clown in the following circuses: Al Barnes' Circus, John Robinson's Circus,
and Sells-Floto Circus. Mabel probably worked for one of these circuses.

Photographs from the collection of Eileen McCummins Stickle, great-grand niece of James Leo Duffy.


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Thanks for sharing this

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Thanks for your overview

This caught my eye after reading Water for Elephants, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get into it.

This was obviously something I shouldn't have worried about. LOL

It drew me in right away. It's told as if it's Mabel doing the writing, and it flows incredibly well. It really captures the feel of the times and of the circus, putting you instantly there, be it in the audience, or in the ring with the tigers.

Mabel Stark

The author of the book admitted that the book was about 1% factual and the rest was his imagination. Hardly a biography. I met Mabel Stark in Thousand Oaks, CA and saw her perform with her tigers several times at Jungleland.

Mabel Stark

Mabel Stark did indeed work on the circuses named above. She taught me tigers for her last three-and-a-half years when I was breaking in as a wild animal trainer at the late Jungleland, of Thousand Oaks, California. This photo was taken in 1920, at the Al. G. Barnes Circus winterquarters, then located in Venice, California.

Roger Smith

Mabel's Early Life & at Jungleland

Our family moved from Southern CA to Thousand Oaks (TO) in 1958 when I was about seven years old. TO was just beginning to develop and not much was there yet besides Jungleland and the small town business that had existed for years. That was in the process of changing. I remember going to Jungleland and watching the shows, wild animals and Mabel (although I didn't know her name at the time) and the big cats. It was a fascinating place for a "city kid." My parents were apparently acquainted with Mabel and knew her around town although I never got specifics, at least not that I recall. As TO begin to grow, Mabel was a local celebrity early on and I recall she was honorary mayor or grand Marshall during one of the early Conejo Valley Days (as it later became known). Years later, long after Mabel was gone and the park had closed, but before it was torn down, I revisited as part of a Moorpark College course studying early animal parks/zoos. It was an eerie but fascinating experience wandering the old deserted park and getting behind the scenes (i.e. in back of the old arena where Mabel & her cats had performed). I think I still have some photos somewhere and will have to dig them out.

My mother, Brenda Steunenberg Richards, left a note in a copy of The Conejo Valley – Old and New Frontiers. It was on the page with a photo of Mabel holding a couple of tiger cubs. The note says : Mabel Stark, Julian Steunenberg’s 1st girlfriend either in Idaho or Washington. I don’t remember. Maybe at Walla Walla College?).” Unfortunately, my parents have passed away and one always makes discoveries and wishes more questions had been asked.

Mabel was an interesting character around TO and Jungleland in her later years and our first few years of living there. I have collected quite a bit of info on her but absolutely nothing that would cross paths with Julian/my gramps. No common cities while growing up. Mable did travel with the A.G. Barnes circus through Idaho, WA and make stops in Boise, Caldwell, etc., etc. Nothing I have seen would tie the two together during their youth in terms of locations, elem or high school although some of Mabel’s early life is a bit hazy. Interestingly, Julian and my grandma Francis and the children would move to Southern CA in the 1920’s and live in and around Venice Beach and not far from the A .G. Barnes Circus winter headquarters. However, I believe any connection would have been in their youth 1890's-1906 as children.

I would be happy to provide a scan of the note and the page from the book.

I will keep searching. Even without a connection, I find Mabel and her history in the early traveling circuses, at Jungleland and in TO to be fascinating. Thanks, John

1920 photo of Mabel Stark

Dear Roger Smith,
Do you know who took the photo?

Roger, My grandmother

Roger, My grandmother trained under Mable Stark about the same time you did...her name was Genie (gene) she had red hair. I have alot of memorobilia from her years at Jungleland, including her whip!

Oh my gosh, you found this

Oh my gosh, you found this sight to Sis. How awesome is that !! :)

Mabel Stark and Gene

I am just now finding your comments on 10 April 2010, and would like to know more about your history with Jungleland and Mabel Stark. I knew a red-haired lady there named Gene Roper. Kindly reply to [email protected], or PO Box 6226, Lancaster CA 93539-6226.

Roger Smith

Mable and Gene

I have just realized my Sister Taci Philbrook has also replied to you as well. Just so there is no cofussion, yes she is my Sister and she is correct in here reply.

Mable and Gene

Hi Roger what a blessing is it to read your comment. The red haired woman you speak of is my Grandmother, Gene Roper. Which Mable trained. My sister and I spent much time at Jungleland and what a wonderful time it was then. It saddens me to see what it has become today. I do have photos of my sisters and I at Jungleland. And love sharing our story of our Grandmother and Mable, Tex and Ina and many others with our children and Grandchildren. My Grandmother's whip that was given to her from Mable is still in the family,along with many of the photos. Along with working with the "big cat's" My Grandmother also trained many of the Chimps for many of the movies. Mable Stark is still a household name in our homes as well as Jungleland. What an amazing place. I have been doing alot of research and the only thing I would love to find is a photo of Mable and my Grandmother together. If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to e mail me at
[email protected]
Iam so greatful to have found this sight. How did you know my Grandmother?? Everyone at Jungleland were amazing people.
Thank you all.

Mabel Stark

My grand parents had a small cafe and a few cabins next door to the Lion Farm and had the run of the place. I was about 7years old and knew Mabel. I remember one sunday (about 1940) her was mauled by one of her tigers. I didn't see it but I remember everyone running around yelling for some one to find a doctor!. Being able to wander around the Lion Farm has given me many great memories.

Ray yeager

Mabel stark

Dearest Roger,

I am a modern day Tiger trainer, with history in way to Mabel stark,,, I recently read the novel"last confession of Mabel stark" It took me back to real circus days .... I apprenticed for a lion tamer for 8 years ... he was europeon and he was hard... but today I make my living off of the lessoned I learned from him. He introduced me to strupi Hanneford.... who was the daughter , of poodles hanneford, I think... strupi was the first woman tiger trainer I ever met and at that time in my life, she was my hero. I didnt even know another woman tiger trainer was out there... she told me... or someone told me she knew mable stark.... thus the link
I would love to know more about this wonderful woman... your time with her and your career at jungleland... good , real... animal trainers are far and few between... please write me... thanks ...all the best

Mabel Stark/Struppi Hanneford

Hello, Kim:

Struppi was married to Circus Producer Tommy Hanneford, thus a Hanneford by marriage. Poodles was Tommy's uncle. Struppi worked a tiger act for several seasons, after a long career as a top single trapeze performer. Tommy died, and Struppi continues to produce the Royal Hanneford Circus, a show always known for extaordinary quality. Mabel's closest friends for 30 years were the character actor Parley Baer and his wife Ernestine Clarke Baer. Ernestine was the daughter of flying trapeze pioneer Ernest Clarke and Elizabeth Rebecca Hanneford, sister of Poodles. Mabel introduced me to the Baers at Jungleland, in 1966, and I am friends with their daughter, Kim, who grew up knowing "Auntie Mabel". I am only tonight, 10 April 2010, finding your reply. You are welcome to contact me at [email protected], or PO Box 6226, Lancaster CA 93539-6226. Cordially yours, Roger Smith

Mabel Starks

Roger ,

In researching our family history we found that Mabel was my Great Great Aunt.
I am getting the book tonight from the library in hopes to get to know her more. Everyone teased me as a child that my love for animals and training came from her but no one had information about her until now. Anything you wish to share would be greatly appreciated and I would be honored by it.

Thank you
Kim D.

Mabel Stark Mary Haynie

Mary was also my Great Aunt she was my grandpa Jims oldest sister.

Mabel Stark

I have recently been trying to find out about Mabel Stark. I really admire her for the work she did. I live in the UK and have worked with big cats, in a zoo kind of way, but my old boss saw Mabel in london as a child, so we had a hands on approach. I would love to see a photo of Mabel in her white leather jump suit. Thanks for any help you can give, being english I have no idea where to look for her.

thenks again Liz

It drew me in right away.

It drew me in right away. It's told as if it's Mabel doing the writing, and it flows incredibly well. It really captures the feel of the times and of the circus, putting you instantly there, be it in the audience, or in the ring with the tigers.

Working in 60 years with

Working in 60 years with tigers and big cats? Oh my god!

Mabel Stark

Hi Liz, there's a picture of Mabel in her white leather suit (from the back, with wrestling tiger Rajah on her shoulder) in the novel 'The Final Confession of Mabel Stark' by Robert Hough (Atlantic Books, 2004). Great read by the way...

confession of Mabel Stark, the book

Terrible trashy book I am bringing it back to the library after laboring reading it to page 100.