July 31, 2015
In a new series, we shall uncover curious oddities, interesting facts and fascinating stories that involve the world of entertainment. To kick things off, we’re going to teach you about Lion Taming and why a chair is (or more accurately, was) used in performances.
The first lion tamer gained the trust of his ‘colleague’ by slowly introducing himself into the lion’s cage. Henri Martin would interact through the bars before inserting his head, his shoulders and finally his entire body, by which point the lion was dutifully accepting of his presence, even if not what you could call tamed just yet. Isaac Van Amburgh didn’t have time for all that so resorted to violent methods, which remained in fashion right up to the entrance of Clyde Beatty on the scene. Clyde was known for his fearlessness and when he used props including a whip, gun and err... a chair, it isn’t hard to see why.
Wait, what? A chair? Why did Clyde use a chair to tame a lion? A lion is a huge behemoth of an animal, the so-called ‘king of the jungle’. How on earth could a simple kitchen chair intimidate and subdue such a creature? Well, in truth, it’s not that the lion is afraid of the chair, it’s just confused by it. Cats are single-minded and seeing the four prongs of the chair coming towards it means that the lion is unsure which bobbing leg to focus on. As such, it loses its concentration rendering the cat harmless. Almost harmless anyway. It doesn’t always work...
The answer is an interesting one, but personally we wouldn’t have liked to have been the first to test the theory in the circus.
Photo: Clyde Beatty taming a lion with a chair. Image from Harvard Library.
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By Henry Fosdike