It happens to be World Lion Day! While our favorite King of Beasts is naturally Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz, we thought of another way to pay tribute to the day: several moments in classic comedy where our favorite comedians have interacted with big cats. Being terrified of lions has no doubt been comedy gold since the time of our prehistoric ancestors. Nearly every major comedian has had a turn at the bit. Just click on the links for more on the films and their artists.
The Century Lions
From the late teens to the early 20’s Universal’s Century division had its own house pride called the Century Lions, which co-starred in comedies with the likes of Charles Dorety, Billy Bevan, and Dot Farley,
Okay this is a guy in a lion costume giving Buster his Androcles moment, a rare occasion when the comedian didn’t take the most dangerous path possible. But, after all, it was his first feature.
1923 was early in Keaton’s; late in Mabel Normand’s. One of the best scenes in The Extra Girl has the star-struck gal wandering around a movie studio with a lion at her heels (thinking it was a dog in a lion suit). Thanks to Slate’s tremendous critic Dana Stevens for reminding me of this scene!
One of the film’s most hilarious scenes has Charlie accidentally getting trapped in a cage with a lion — a much imitated bit
Unlike the male comedians in our little survey, Mae is not a-scared of lions in I’m No Angel. In a scenario clearly inspired by real life lady lion tamer Mabel Stark, she makes them heel with a whip and chair!
Harpo has a brief encounter with a ferocious feline.
The title, I believe says it all. However, I will add this: “Bee-bee-bee-bee-bee-bee!”
Abbott and Costello, Africa Screams (1949)
Costello essentially resurrects Chaplin’s predicament from The Circus in this film. Not only is this one Abbott and Costello’s better comedies, but it has two real life lion tamers in the film: Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck!
The Bowery Boys, Jungle Gents (1954)
Sometimes the kitty cat pet you! Sach (Huntz Hall) gets more than he bargained for on a trip to Africa.
“Feed the Kitty” (Gilligan’s Island, 1966)
Okay, I don’t want to get too crazy here so I selected only one sitcom episode that makes hay with a lion, and it was the best one I could think of: the Gilligan’s Island episode where a crate containing a live lion somehow washes up on shore, giving Gilligan (Bob Denver) a whole lot to think about.
For more on classic screen comedy, please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube