LIVING Award-winning documentarian Leslie Zemeckis returns with a film about Mabel Stark, another fierce and fearless Hollywood trailblazer, writes Elyse Glickman
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.
Mabel Stark was not afraid of the Hollywood jungle. By the time she arrived in Los Angeles, she had already survived her abusive family and childhood poverty in rural Kentucky to eventually forge a path in the entertainment industry.
After making her mark as stunt double for Mae West during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and making a living in a circus as an exotic dancer, Stark ultimately found her calling when she locked eyes with a 400 lb tiger. Though training big cats was a vocation reserved exclusively for men at that time, Stark clawed her way up the circus hierarchy and refused to let a little gender bias stop her.
In Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, writer, producer and director Leslie Zemeckis documented Stark’s ascent to superstar–folk heroine status as the most famous and highly regarded tiger trainer in the world. After collecting awards in the film festival circuit in recent months, the documentary will go into wide release in March 2018, with exclusive previews in Los Angeles and New York City.
‘When I first started researching Mabel Stark I thought it was going to be a story about courage,’ states Zemeckis. ‘I discovered however, that her story was really a love story. She loved her tigers so much she would give her life for them.’
Stark’s weapon of choice was using only positive reinforcement with her cats. At a time when most of her peers had considerably short careers, she continued training the exotic “stripes”, and during her 30-year career at Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, she transformed the suburban theme park into a world-famous southern California attraction.
Stark’s rise to fame was itself fraught with peril and some heartbreak. After multiple failed marriages, she increasingly took solace in the company of her cats. Although her body was broken and scarred from numerous attacks by her beloved tigers, it was the scars from her childhood that affected her most profoundly.
Zemeckis is joined by executive producer Robert Zemeckis, producers Jacqueline Levine and Sheri Hellard, associate producer Donnalee Austin, and the film’s narrator, Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo. The documentary, released to coincide with Women’s History Month, continues Zemeckis’ career-long exploration of influential but lesser-known women of history. •
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