I am the great-grandson of Mark Huling, a man who trained many famous seals (aka sea lions). Sharkey was his favorite. Access to family archives provided a treasure trove of material, which inspired me to write the true untold story of Sharkey and his flippered colleagues. Publication forthcoming, publisher TBD, working title: Sharkey: When Sea Lions Were Stars of Show Business (1907-1958).
Some background: In 2015, a journalist contacted me about doing a story on Sharkey. Discussions about trained seals during my childhood and adulthood had been a rarity, and I was unable to shed any light on the matter. Three months later, the journalist released his podcast, “Why Won’t They Let Sharkey On the Radio?”
I learned more about my great-grandfather Mark Huling by listening to that podcast than I had previously learned my entire life. I soon discovered he had two brothers who were also seal trainers. One famously traveled to Australia with a troupe of seals. I felt an instant connection, having toured there as a musician. Another brother was a big-time vaudevillian. Again, I felt a connection, having performed in a vaudeville revue with Broadway legend Joel Grey. I also learned my great-grandfather and Sharkey had performed at Radio City Music Hall. Once again, I felt a connection, having performed there with Itzhak Perlman.
What were the odds of having all those parallels? I needed to know more. I needed to know everything.
Countless hours of research followed: collecting and pouring over family archives, visits to metropolitan libraries and institutes, correspondence with curators the world over, scouring articles, conducting interviews. Uncovered were newsreels, a 78-rpm recording, films, scripts, press photos, TV kinescopes, and loads of anecdotes. Puzzling together and crafting the story was a labor a love.