Gary Bohan Jr.

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

Coming soon, in book form—the untold story of Sharkey, the world's greatest seal (aka sea lion), publisher TBD, working title: Sharkey: When Sea Lions Were Stars of Show Business (1907–1958). 

Written in the narrative style of authors like Erik Larson, Sharkey weaves old-time showbiz with truth-is-stranger-than-fiction Americana history. At times funny, at times poignant, always wholly unpredictable, the story also celebrates the timeless bond between humans and animals.

My great-grandfather Mark Huling and two of his brothers trained many famous seals. 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, movie palaces, 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. For years, the two were inseparable.

Sharkey starred on Broadway, appeared in a Hollywood hit movie, and worked with names like Bob Hope, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Three Stooges. He entertained the president of the United States, performed with soloists from the Metropolitan Opera, and played the country's most prestigious theaters. And he headlined with sports legends like Ted WilliamsMildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias, and Jackie Robinson.  

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 well into the 1950s. With a personality larger than life, he was the highest-paid single animal act of his day.

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. 

Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned. Plenty more to come!

Gary Bohan Jr.