Gary Bohan Jr.

Sharkey: When Sea Lions Were Stars of Show Business (1907–1958)

Written in the style of contemporary authors like Erik Larson, the forthcoming book, Sharkey: When Sea Lions Were Stars of Show Business (1907–1958) weaves old-time showbiz with truth-is-stranger-than-fiction history. Funny, poignant, uplifting, and wholly unpredictable, the story also celebrates the timeless bond between humans and animals. (Book publisher and publication date still to be determined.)

I am the great-grandson of Mark Huling, Sharkey’s loving trainer. I look forward to sharing the many wonderful and often surreal stories from the days when Huling-trained seals took top billing. I also look forward to hearing from you, especially from anyone lucky enough to have seen Sharkey. 

Mark Huling and two of his brothers trained many famous seals (aka sea lions). Imagine seals that sing with an orchestra, tap dance, ride horses, and perform sketch comedy routines. Imagine, further still, seal acts intersecting with the Harlem Renaissance, burlesque nightclubs, and cabaret censorship under Nazi Germany. Such is a glimpse into the world of Huling seals. Then came Sharkey. Mark fell in love with him and nurtured the seal’s many talents. For years, the two were inseparable.

Sharkey starred on Broadway, appeared in a Hollywood hit movie with Abbott and Costello, and worked with names like Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope, and the Three Stooges. He entertained the president of the United States, starred in Radio City Christmas Spectaculars, swam races against Olympic gold medalists, headlined with sports legends like Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams, and worked alongside soloists from the Metropolitan Opera. Sharkey also conquered television. The post-WWII television revolution breathed new life into vaudeville, a mainstay of the pioneering variety shows hosted by luminaries like Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Ed Sullivan. Sharkey holds the rare distinction of having performed on all three of their shows during the 1940s. Sharkey’s celebrity continued into the 1950s. With a personality larger than life, he was the highest-paid single animal act of his day.

Soon to be here, after years of research, will be Sharkey's complete and untold story. Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned. Plenty more to come!

Gary Bohan Jr.