Today is the birthday of Dolores Vallecita a.k.a Dolly V. Hill (1877-1925).
Little is known about her, aside from the fact that she was a Spanish-born animal trainer in big time vaudeville, specializing in big cats. One finds references to her at least as early as 1906 at such major venues as Keith and Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, Coney Island’s Luna Park and houses in most of the major regional cities. She was generally spoken of as one of the best acts of its kind in the business. She had once trained animals for menagerie impresario Frank Bostock, and also circus showman Colonel George W. “Popcorn” Hill. Her troupe of six Indian leopards had a half dozen tricks: rolling globes, see saw, electric wheel, forming a pyramid, posing for pictures, and for the big finish they played bells and chimes while Vallecita accompanied them on piano.
In 1925 she had rented a vacant building in Bay City, Michigan for the purposes of training. It was there that her favorite leopard unexpectedly embraced her and accidentally tore out her throat. Buried locally, her grave went unmarked until 2010, when the local cemetery, with great fanfare, gave her a stone.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville including Leopard Ladies like Dolores Vallecita, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous