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Clyde Beatty Circus Collection acquired

Photo from circus donation

The collection documents the professional career of the world famous animal trainer and circus owner Clyde Beatty.

The Milner Library Special Collections and Rare Books Room at Illinois State University is honored to announce the donation of the Clyde Beatty Collection, a gift of Dave and Mary Jane Price. This collection, compiled over six decades by the Prices, documents the professional career of the world famous animal trainer and circus owner Clyde Beatty.

The collected materials include many rare and unique items which have been widely known and recognized as being world-class in the circus collector’s community and will be a separate but extremely valuable complement to Milner’s existing Circus & Allied Arts Collection.

The story of Clyde Beatty’s long and storied career is perhaps best told in the stunning posters showing him in his most well-known role as a lion and tiger trainer. Beatty’s act featured as many as 40┬álions and tigers of both sexes at a time, and the many over-sized and full-color posters bring some of the excitement Beatty’s audience felt to patrons of the collection.

Clyde Beatty

Clyde Beatty

Born in Bainbridge, Ohio, in 1903, Beatty began presenting animal acts in the early 1920s. By the mid-1920s he was gaining great attention for his skillful showmanship and soon after entering the big cat cage as trainer, his fame expanded well beyond the circus ring. For instance, in the 1930s he appeared in films such as The Big Cage and The Lost Jungle; in the the 1940s, Africa Screams (with Abbott and Costello), and Ring of Fear debuted in the 1950s. While many of Beatty’s films are present in the collection, Beatty’s connection to the movie industry is further documented in the numerous lobby cards and movie posters generously donated by Dave and Mary Jane Price.

The international fame Beatty attained was matched by local interest. Bloomingtonian Art Concello, the world-class trapeze performer of the 1930s, morphed into the shrewd businessman of the 1940s and beyond. When Concello purchased the Russell Brothers Circus in 1943, he framed it for the 1944 season as The Clyde Beatty and Russell Brothers Combined Circus. Of course, Concello went after the largest draw for his show that season. Who better than Beatty? Beatty eventually bought this circus from Concello.

artwork from the circus collection

More artwork from the circus collection.

In addition to posters, photos, and recordings of both audio and moving images, there are numerous artifacts and objects in the collection, some used by Beatty himself during training and in his act. These include a pair of Beatty’s boots, bentwood chairs used by Beatty when working with the big cats, and a scale model of his 1943 act, including the cage in which he performed with his famous lion and tiger act.

Milner library is currently planning a display to feature some of these unique items. While this permanent display can only hint at the depth and variety of this collection, other items, such as extensive research files and notes compiled by Dave Price (as well as numerous monographs used during his research), may soon be accessed at the Special Collections and Rare Books Reading Room.

Find hours and contact information to view items in the Dave and Mary Jane Price Clyde Beatty Circus Collection as well as other Special Collections material.