Clyde Beatty’s life was one that could only dreamed by most youths—attaining stardom as the world’s greatest wild animal trainer, considered by many the bravest man in the world, hobnobbing with celebrities and reporters, flying a plane, boxing, watching his baseball heroes, making movies, coauthoring
books and articles, and being unanimously acclaimed by Broadway’s toughest columnists and sportswriters.
Perhaps, even more amazing is what motivated Beatty. Like many driven people, he was hounded by a black dog. For him it was his childhood. Reporters typically skimmed over his early years, depicting them as blissfully bucolic—the country boy, enamored with animals, keeping a diversity of pets, finally runs off to join a circus, only to be brought back by distraught parents, who urge him to stay in school, but he runs away again, and in ten years is dazzling Broadway. (Joanne Joys, 2011)
Clyde Raymond Beatty was born on June 10th, 1903, in Bainbridge, Ohio. Clyde, a famed wild animal trainer known for his “fighting act” style of performance, rose to success in the circus and entertainment industries and was a household name for over four decades.
Beatty hopped a train bound for Washington Court House at the age of 18 to join the circus. Howe’s Great London and Van Amburgh’s Wild Animal Circus was in town for one day and Clyde was able to land a job as a cage attendant. A year later he had advanced to assistant trainer and earned the the opportunity to work with polar bears under Peter Taylor, one of the great big-cat trainers of the era.
From 1925 through 1934 Beatty toured with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, handling both polar bears and big cats. It was for Hagenbeck in 1930 that he put together his best-known act, including 40 lions and tigers of mixed sexes. From 1931 through 1934 he appeared with the combined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in its New York City and Boston appearances. His act was billed as the “sensation of the century, greatest and most daring wild animal act ever presented.” He also performed with the Cole Bros. circus from 1935 through 1938. From 1936 to 1945 Beatty operated the Clyde Beatty Jungle Zoo near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Beatty purchased a circus in 1945 that in 1958 bought the Cole Bros. name and formed the Clyde Beatty–Cole Bros. Circus, which was the largest tent show on the road in the United States at that time.
In addition to his circus work, Beatty was active in many other fields. He appeared in several motion pictures—including The Big Cage (1933, based on his own book by that name), Darkest Africa (1936, a 15-episode series), Africa Screams (1949, with Abbott and Costello), Perils of the Jungle (1953), and Ring of Fear (1954, featuring mystery writer Mickey Spillane)—in all of which he played himself and revealed what made him such a popular figure. A compelling 52-episode radio program called The Clyde Beatty Show aired from December 11, 1950, to January 18, 1952. The program—voiced by actors—was centered on Beatty’s career, and some of its episodes were based on real-life events. Books by Beatty include The Big Cage (1933; with Edward Anthony), Jungle Performers (1941; with Earl Wilson), and Facing the Big Cats: My World of Lions and Tigers (1965; with Edward Anthony).