If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White

The lion sat in a lounge chair, his cocktail coupe full of something redder than bourbon and darker than blood. He lapped at it unhappily, his eyes settling on nothing in particular. He was flanked by two aging blondes in tarnished spangles, their diamante balding, but still impressive, even in the unforgiving light of the California afternoon.

Leo, the star of the opening sequence of every Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer Film since the 1920s, and I, a 28–year–old journalist on assignment for a men’s magazine, looked out at the half–full pool. A few of the pythons and boa constrictors drifted on their backs, their skins shedding into the chlorine. I’d gotten used to it. I’d been here six weeks and the Forever Roar refused to give me the time of day.

He’d initially attempted to decline my interview altogether, but his contract required it. This didn’t mean he was planning to speak to me. I gathered he was miserable and disgusted. He’d come up in the glory days, the inheritor of the three–legged stool and the ring of fire, and now his paradise was tainted.

Jungleland, by the time I drove through its rusting gates in ’68, was bankrupt and officially plotted to hit the block. 

Dr. Dolittle, cast with Jungleland’s residents, had been released the year before. It was the final humiliation, a generation of serious actors performing in a skin show, their dialogue spoken by human ventriloquists. The animals went on strike, of course, but there was no union.

The compound’s pachyderms—who’d once elegantly congaed in a small ring before retiring to practice their Martha Graham–choreographed scarf dances—stood by the side of the road, shamefacedly trumpeting for traffic, but the cars stopped coming. 

The owners of Jungleland padlocked the gates.

I typically covered hippies and communes in Northern California, but the magazine had sent me here to see if I could find ten thousand words of zoo scandal, crimes, or perversions, it didn’t matter to them. Species mixing, ligers and tigons, or maybe just a wading pool full of the sacrificial blood of giraffes. The magazine was looking for an article one part cult massacre, one part Barnum, but above all, they were looking to profile the Forever Roar, who’d remained mum for the past twenty years. It was their last chance. An ecology group had threatened to buy Leo at auction, take him to Africa and release him into the veldt.

The lion, in his trademark velvet jacket, wasn’t veldt material. The world had gone seriously downhill if it thought sending an actor known for his portrayal of King Lear to a rural grassland was a good deed, but things were bad here and no one wanted to say just how bad. Lately, one of the panthers had escaped and prowled Thousand Oaks screaming for justice and trying to organize the housecats, but everyone had ignored him. 

Jungleland was no longer what it had been.

Home in its heyday to two thousand animal actors and their human colleagues, the place had housed everyone from day players on Robin Hood to the rhesus monkeys who’d been sent off to cure polio.  The lions of Jungleland had always been famous. They were all called Leo in public, though MGM had been through five lions before this one: Slats, Jackie, Coffee, Tanner, and George. Now there was Leo. No one knew his real name. I’d thought I might coax it from someone, but the residents of Jungleland were not as voluble as I’d imagined they’d be.

The place was a Sunset Boulevard of drunken rages, drownings in the pools, and a herd of gazelles who refused to change out of their pajamas. The day I arrived, I glimpsed a fretful chimpanzee who’d played opposite both Tarzan and Jungle Jim and now spent all her time dressing up in old feathers. She swung naked into a plaster tree and was gone before I could ask for an interview.

The leopards were using heroin and even the ostriches, traditionally abstemious, were drunk.  A cancerous camel strutted the perimeter, spitting tobacco juice. The residents were lonely in their various sections of the park, all of them stretched on old recliners in their terrycloth robes, drinking forlornly from bottles and bent tin dishes.

All the animals at Jungleland were actors. The few humans who still lived here were elephant fetishists from disbanded animal shows, seasonal workers who’d missed the impalas of their previous lives, costumers, cosmeticians, and the tiger trainer, who’d been fired, but who now lived amongst the big cats and had no interest in coming out. After her expulsion, she’d hidden herself with the felines. The erstwhile owner had warned me about her before I arrived.

“Don’t mess with Stark,” he muttered. “She’s a living hell.”

I was more interested in the Forever Roar than in the tiger lady, but I’d get the story any way I could.

One of the blondes leaned in to look closely at Leo, examining a piece of mane that seemed out of place, though it was still groomed into its signature pompadour. It was well–known to everyone here that the lion relied on small falls and mane–pieces, as well that he felt no shame about it. The blonde lit the lion a Kent. Leo took it, inhaling with a sense of worldly weight. He was not always so calm. He was famed for his mercurial temperament, his tendency to fly into a rage from a standing start, but no one around him seemed to blame him for his volatility, though he’d actually bitten a reporter in ‘66.

“He’s a lion, after all,” breathed one of the blondes, in what passed for a conversational whisper, dragging on her own cigarette. Her accent was New Jersey through and through, and it reminded me I hadn’t called my mother. “That’s not as bad as a tiger, but lions, Mike–”

“Mitchell,” I corrected her. “Mitchell Travene. I’ve published stories in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine and Playboy.”

She laughed.

“Big name then, I get ya, but I never heard of ya. Mitchy, you gotta know the big cats can’t be asked to behave domestically. Nobody falls for a big guy and gets away safe. He offer you a beer? You can have one from the Frigidaire, you want.”

The lion turned and stared briefly at the blonde, who blushed and took the beer back. Lila was in possession of a slick red claw scar that stretched from just below her left earlobe to the inside of her right wrist. A rhinestone cuff covered it, but above the edge of the metal, the line was ragged. Her counterpart and twin, Lola, sported a similar mark from the corner of her mouth.

Lola eyed me from behind her cat’s eye glasses.

“We’ve had people write stories about us before,” Lola said, suspiciously. “And none of ‘em got it right, did they Leo, honey?”

The lion took a thoughtful drag, but did not respond. It was that kind of day. It had been that kind of day for weeks now. Nobody was talking, and everyone was in a bad mood.

In the room beside the pool, a movie projector was showing an MGM film and I cocked my ear to hear the familiar roar, perhaps the only sound I’d ever get out of him: Leo tossing his head against a screen of stars. That roar, of course, was an amputation. The live version (I’d been told) began with a moan, which grew into the credit–sequence section and ended in a series of short guttural shouts. The cut had long been a bone of contention between the lions and the studio.

Even so, Leo had posed and roared for a generation’s worth of movie premieres and award events. To the great cats, that kind of work was the equivalent of pornography. He’d worked closely with every major starlet, almost always in the fur, but in truth, Leo preferred to stay dressed. His paws were tender, and so he wore slippers. His maroon silk dressing gown was open to the waist. He coughed delicately and one of the blondes ministered to him with a handkerchief, looking apologetically in my direction.

The Forever Roar had a cold and was in foul humor. The tip of his tail flicked irritably and a little man in white came running, bearing a kit for tail shining. Polishing cloth, coconut oil, a comb made of bone. Leo waved him away.

The lion wanted solitude, walks, and the occasional party; a bar corner with a chair built to accommodate his girth; an entourage of his makeup artist; someone to carry his wigs and hats; and a few of his girls to tend him, but that world was gone. When he performed for the microphones and the cameras, the lion had the charisma of a roadside revivalist. Twenty years back, he could’ve led a cult.

Today, the lion was feeling his age. He’d been famous too long. He hadn’t been to Manhattan in years and Hollywood, formerly his stomping ground, was less friendly to lions than it had been. Animal shows were waning and the only place the lion truly felt himself these days was Vegas, where he strolled between the tables, pinching and purring, performing occasionally. Even Vegas was less than heaven for lions, and the new acts had his kind performing like trained bears. Leo had no desire to dance. He was the Forever Roar, not a meow sideshow.

Though the lion was never alone, he was single and had been for as long as anyone could remember. My editors speculated that he had a secret situation on the side. His status was one of the things I’d been sent to discern.

Not that I was having much luck.

“You have to give The Roar what he wants,” his friend and former manager, Juan, a stout man in pinstripes, had told me back in LA. “You want to give him what he wants. You’re good to him, he’s good to you. You mess the lion around, on the other hand…”

He let it hang.

The lion clearly thought I was messing him around.

The Roar had lately been replaced in the popular imagination by a sarcastic talking horse. Since ’61, Mr. Ed had been holding court in the lounges Leo had formerly run. The televised Ed was a syndicated horse–ghost, his actual body transported to a comfortable stall here at Jungleland. Society had a short memory. Shortly after I’d arrived here, I’d interviewed Bamboo Harvester, the palomino who’d played Ed, but he only wanted to talk about Blonde on Blonde, a copy of which I’d brought as an offering. Lola and Lila had already told me the horse had a tranquilizer problem. Whatever it was, he had little to tell me about Leo.  The lion was said to loathe both Mr. Ed and Bob Dylan (LeopardSkin Pill–Box Hat rubbed The Roar the wrong way), and he gave the stables a wide berth when he was taking his afternoon constitutional.

I was reduced to hack detective work, observing the lion’s surroundings in hopes of gleaning clues.

To my joy, there was something to be said for my gumshoeing. On the wall of the lion’s cabana was a framed photo inscribed affectionately by Greta Garbo. In it, she and Leo sat waiting for their close–ups, Greta bundled in black leather with fur cuffs and a black cloche, Leo in the fur, his chest thrust out, standing on a block.

There’d been rumors over the years, all rebuffed, though when the mood struck him, Leo had sometimes twitched a whisker to imply that the denials were not all they seemed. There was a story about their meeting across a crowded film set, the two of them in a convertible speeding out across the desert, a stick–up at a convenience store, a midnight phone call to Juan for bail money. He’d been a young lion and Garbo newly in America when she’d visited Jungleland, then called The Lion Farm.

I wondered. Everyone wondered.

“No comment,” Garbo said through her press agent, after repeated inquiries.

The photos that existed of their first meeting did not, my sources said, tell the whole story. Here I was, not the first reporter to try to pluck it out, but I’d probably be the last, if the conditions at Jungleland were any indicator.

I took a sip of my Tanqueray and tonic, smuggled in from the hippos, and waited for the lion to speak. 

Leo coughed. His velvet voice was not in form. His roar was hardly marketable, and I tried for a moment to imagine the way Leo, as a young lion, had tossed his mane. There was plenty of filmic evidence. Though he was still majestic, Leo was now missing at least one tooth. Jungleland had dismissed its dentist.

It was bad out here and I wanted to go home, but the words I needed were sealed behind the lips of the most famous lion in America, the lion who, even now, was smoking two cigarettes at once and flexing his claws.

“Talk to me about Garbo,” I pleaded, for the hundredth time. “Just a little detail. Just a small something or another. I’ll take an anecdote. What are you going to do, Leo? Keep quiet forever?”

“He ain’t gonna give it to you, Mitchy,” said Lola.

“He never done before,” said Lila. I’d already failed at seducing them both, first with compliments, to which they were immune, and then with new glittery leotards I’d commissioned for that purpose in the garment district. Lola and Lila didn’t care about me. They were the lion’s blondes.

“Go talk to the tigers,” Lola finally told me, grinding out her cigarette in an ashtray shaped like a palm tree. “Talk to the tigers and their lady. She’s got a mouth on her, you betcha. Leo’s not gonna talk to press, period. You gotta know that much by now, Mitchy.”

I took a last glance at the lion, his silk robe, the way it was starting to fray at the seams.  The lion turned his head slightly and looked at me, seeming to see me for the first time. He opened his mouth. I tensed.

He yawned, and a fly flew past his teeth, unnoticed. His eyes glowed dark yellow. I watched as Lila shimmied her rhinestone rubies briefly for him. The lion looked mournful.

I took Lola’s advice and went to see the tiger lady. 

Mabel Stark had been Mae West’s double in I’m No Angel, but that was thirty years in the past, though the souvenir program I’d managed to dig up still listed her as “The Greatest of All Lady Trainers in History.”

Her eyelids flipped open when I walked up and I heard several growls from the dark behind her, which I tried to ignore. 

“Up, Boy,” she said, and snapped her fingers. A tiger walked out of the cabana. Its stripes were faded, the roots showing. Stark smelled of blood and floral perfume. She was drinking and so was I.

“Tssk,” Stark said to the growlers. Her mouth opened like a half–broken zipper. “No need to be bodyguarding. This is just a pulp–pusher. What you boys need is an agent.” She turned toward me. “Are you from Creative Artists? I didn’t think so.”

Stark was almost eighty, though she refused to disclose her birthdate. Her body had been taken apart and put back together a hundred times, and she was more scar than skin.  She was dressed in her trademark tight white leather suit and her hair, yellow–white as the leather, was pin–curled. The overall impression was that of a walking tusk with scrimshawed facial expressions. Her eyes, however, were wide and blue, strangely youthful, and her fingers twitched constantly, flourishing and flourishing again, like she was practicing an encore. The suit could only be a thousand degrees on the inside. She looked as though she felt cool.

A tiger rumbled just behind me and I flinched.

Stark laughed. She was the only human I’d seen treat the tigers like animals. Everyone else treated them like the highly decorated Chekhovians they were. The tigers of Jungleland were Siberian and fluent in Russian, though some fluke had left most of them with the colloquial pseudonym of “Satan.” A couple of them were descendants of the tigers of the Moscow Art Theatre. They seemed to humor her. She was old now, but she’d been their dance partner a long time.

“You scared, boy reporter? That’s Satan the Second and that’s Satan Junior. They’re my fellas,” Stark said.

“I’m not scared,” I said. “Far from it. If I’m not mistaken, I saw your companion do Vanya, and—” I indicated the other tiger I could see peering out of the dark “—Satan Junior in an astonishing production of The Cherry Orchard that toured to Los Angeles in ’65.”  I could see the tigers’ surprise. They were flattered. I’d done my research.

“Any press is good press, isn’t that right?” I asked Mabel Stark. “Don’t you want to save Jungleland?”

“Nothing will save Jungleland,” she said. “And if any press were good press, the lion would’ve granted you an interview about his love life, wouldn’t he? I hear Leo’s in breach of contract, but The Roar doesn’t give a damn. The last customers we had were four kids who threw a Roman candle into the king’s cabana.”

I’d never been sneered at by an old lady before. The feeling was strangely refreshing. A hot breeze swept though the giraffes and I smelled their gimlets. I heard a creak and turned quickly. There was a bear on the diving board, looking grimly down into the brackish pool. A bighorn sheep was climbing a fence, and then turning around and climbing the other side.

Stark clicked her tongue. “Some of them stay high all day,” she said. “A reprobate from Los Angeles gave a knapsack full of grass to the ruminants.”

I decided to try one last time to get what I was looking for.

“So what’s your secret, Miss Stark?” I asked her, flattering her as best I could. “What keeps you here? Is it love? You could have been employed by any of the circuses and yet you stay here, in Thousand Oaks.”

“Who do you write for again?” said the tiger lady.

I told her. She held out her leather–gloved palm, and I hesitated for a minute before I passed her a few dead presidents. Bribery was part of the business. I opened my notebook and licked my pencil. She leaned in and whispered, but it was the kind of whisper meant to be overheard.  Stark knew I wanted scandal and she would deliver.

“The wedding cakes here at Jungleland had toppers that were different from the ones in the rest of the world, see? Years back, I went to a tailor and had him sew me into a wedding suit. Tailors are wasted on tailcoats and tuxedos. I asked for gold buttons down the front and each one to close tightly, but not so tightly they couldn’t be unhooked by a cat with his claws out. I made sure the suit could be sponged clean. Jungleland’s the only place nobody judges real live love.”

This wasn’t what I’d been expecting. I must’ve looked startled. Behind Stark, a tremendous orange and black shape was moving in the shadows.

“That’s one of my husbands,” she said, and laughed at the expression on my face. “I’d lost four human husbands before I married this fella. I used to be a hoochie–coochie dancer, and then I was a nurse, and then I married the tigers. Humans kept trying to tame me. Do I look tame to you?”

She looked like a nice old lady, were it not for all the things about her that weren’t nice. She was covered in stripes of scar wide as my fingers. Then there were her teeth. They seemed filed into points.

“You don’t tame me and you don’t tame tigers,” Stark said with relish. “You don’t tame lions either. It was a paradise here, kiddo, before the new owners took over. We had a tram and a little river with boats for the tourists, but the real show took place at night.”

I’d come to Jungleland searching for a fresh take on the Forever Roar, but now I couldn’t decide whether the place was a retirement home for aging actors, a rehabilitation clinic, or a brothel.

“They’re selling our home now,” Stark said, and sighed. “They’ve got the actors up for auction, like this is the Stone Ages. Leo’ll pretend he’s a free agent, but lions don’t get the respect they deserve. The animals were promised a place in the sun. Everything’s wrong.”

She took a slug from her bottle.

“I’m not going, kiddo. They’ll have to bury me here,” said Mabel Stark, and then she would say no more. 

One of the tigers slipped me a cardboard box as I walked back to Leo’s lair. I passed him ten bucks and a couple of cigarillos.

“These had best not be made of rubber,” the tiger informed me, his accent soft and Russian. “This isn’t a circus. We’re a lost colony of great artists.”

Later, I listened to the recording, an audio outtake from I’m No Angel. It was Mae West giving a monologue that had apparently gotten left on the cutting room floor back in ’33. The words were from the perspective of the tiger lady and the voice was unmistakable.

“I let you maul me. You press your face against mine and we look into each other’s eyes. ‘Why aren’t you a tiger too?’ you asked me, and I said ‘I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported, and you’re a tiger, sonny, so you qualify.’”

I stopped and looked out into the dark. There were eyes glowing back at me. Plenty of them. I turned up the volume and clicked the recorder on again. I was the one putting on a show now, it seemed.

“If you were a tiger, I’d have to wear white, but I wasn’t in love with the tiger. I was in love with you. On Sundays I put my head into your mouth. I twisted my fingers into your fur. If you were a tiger, I told them, I’d let you put your paws on my shoulders.”

I went back, listened to those lines again. Maybe it was me, but it seemed like the voice had changed, that it wasn’t Mae West but someone else. There was an accent, fairly thick, but all the words were intelligible.

“If you were a tiger, I’d hide a bird in my jacket, and when our act began, I’d throw the bird into the air while you roared as a distraction. I’d tell the audience the bird was a rock and had been thrown so far that it went to the moon. If you were a tiger, I’d spin a shirt out of nettles and another out of needles. If you were a tiger, I’d leave one arm off the shirt so that you’d keep a paw, so that sometimes in the night you’d wrap your tiger’s arm around me and hiss me in your sleep. But you’re a lion, and lions don’t do that act. Lions don’t let a trainer perform with them. Lions roar. You’re a lion, and you leave me lonely, Leo, you leave me lonely—”

“There are hundreds of recordings like that one,” someone interrupted, but I couldn’t see who. One of the monkeys, maybe.

The voice came from above me, up where the fake trees were thickest. “Clark Gable carrying on with one of the lionesses, Charlie Chaplin doing improv with the chimps—they all came to Jungleland to work on their craft and some of them fell in love. We’re all actors, though they divide us. We won’t be taken alive. Not even the horse. This place has turned into a zoo. The grandeur is gone.”

A sad snapshot fluttered down. I picked it up: A photograph clearly torn from an album. Gable, grinning, dressed all in movie star white—a cardigan, a turtleneck—holding two lion cubs in his arms. It was him all right, the famous face, the mustache, the dimples.

“That’s from ’46.  Those are his sons,” whispered the monkey.

“The twins,” echoed something else. A snake, I thought. “A tragedy. He’s dead now. Everyone’s dying and we’re all for sale.”

After a while, I walked back to the lion’s cabana and heard, as though an MGM film was rolling, the song of the Forever Roar. I ran along the edge of the pool, hoping he hadn’t seen me, and I was in luck. Through a cracked window, I could see the lion alone at the microphone. His blondes were nowhere in sight.

I sat down on the pavers and listened to his rendition of a torch song interspersed with quiet roars. He was singing like a radio hero, like a drive–in movie idol. He was singing a song that might make every lover on earth turn their head and kiss the one they were with. It was music to fly by, both feral and beautiful, though something told me the lion would never record it.

The Forever Roar’s voice, though aged, still sounded like he’d eaten a velveteen rabbit, and the song he sang was a heartbreaker of lost love and transgression.

I inhaled and discovered that the air was full of cigarette smoke. He’d attracted everyone, from the hippos to the serpents to the scarlet macaw, and they were, like me, entranced.

As Leo sang, another voice joined his, and I stood up and looked in the window. There was a record player in the room with him, and he dueted with it. The woman singing was not any singer I knew, but I knew the lilt of that voice, singing a love song, and it occurred to me that the sound engineer had left gaps for the voice of The Roar. He filled them, crooning and purring into the microphone.

I sat in the dark, listening to a voice the world hadn’t heard since 1941.

The film stars sang a duet.

This was the secret of Jungleland, then, these relationships between the actors here and the actors there. This was the great collaboration.

I thought about it as I listened. The night was balmy and the stars were out. There was a gentle splash in the pool as the bear swam a circle, and one of the leopards passed me and bared his teeth around a pipe.

In the cabana the lion wooed and the recluse cooed, and I did not know how to write this story.

I came back for the auction in October of ’69, though the world was marching elsewhere and my coverage of the braless and the blessed had given way to pieces about the war. I’d left the magazine and gone to work for a newspaper, but I flew into the City of Angels on my own nickel. 

The people of Thousand Oaks had been encouraged to pack picnics and the actors up for auction were displayed staked to cement pads and concrete trees. I saw a hippo and a tortoise rattling off a vaudevillian lament together. Later that day, the hippo would sell for $400, and the tortoise for $2500, among the 1800 other actors up for grabs. I felt ashamed of us all.

One of the gibbons I’d met on my first visit sat atop his house, and when he saw me, he swore. They’d drained the pool and the peeling paint seemed especially painful in daylight.

Mabel Stark was dead by now, overdosed on barbiturates. One of her Russian husbands had been shot trying to escape Jungleland, and when he died, she decided to die too, or so a puma told me. She wouldn’t be the only casualty. A few months into ’70 I’d hear a rumor that Bamboo Harvester, otherwise known as Mr. Ed, had O.D–ed on tranquilizers.

For now though, the auctioneer babbled in his staccato and people milled around, bidding on the actors. I was standing toward the front when Satan Junior came up for auction. He glanced at me and nodded gravely as he departed the stage, accompanied by a woman I recognized from Variety, a theater producer who’d bid $750. There was a production of The Seagull casting. I thought the tiger would be a fine Trigorin.   

I watched a series of lesser lions ($600) auctioned, (were any of them the offspring of Gable?) but I didn’t see the Forever Roar on display. The blondes were both there, tearful over their lemonade, their cats–eye glasses tilted, their rhinestones smudged, and I saw some of the lion’s various entourage, along with some of the activists who’d campaigned to get him sent off to the veldt. The lion himself remained hidden until nearly close of business. The auctioneer was visibly impressed by the quality of the actor he was auctioning, straightening his bowtie before he began to call for bids.

“This is the Forever Roar, ladies and gents, you’ve seen him at the start of every gem of the cinema since you were knee high to grasshoppers, you heard me, this is Leo the Lion, and who’s got a hundred dollars? One hundred, who’s gonna give me two, two hundred, who’s got three! I got three!”

I am not ashamed to say that I was waving my paddle high in the air, even though it felt wrong to bid on the Forever Roar, even though my journalistic ethics were compromised. If the Roar was being auctioned, I’d do what I could do.

“Twelve, who’s got thirteen?”

A woman in a stiff–brimmed black hat and veil, big sunglasses beneath that, raised her paddle. Half the people at Jungleland auction were hippies and the other half were circus folks, but she stood out. Her hair was shoulder–length and silver, and her gloves were ivory leather (was it in tribute to Stark, I wondered?) and stretched to her upper arms.

“Thirteen, who’s got fourteen?”

I watched one of the veldt hippies consult with the rest, before tentatively raising his paddle.

“I’ve got fourteen, who’s got fifteen, fifteen hundred dollars for an icon of the cinema, for the roar that launched a thousand films, for the lion you’ve all been waiting for—”

The woman’s arm was already in the air and she didn’t bother to lower it through the next several rounds of bidding. I thought about how, ten years prior, it’d been rumored that she’d considered, gender be damned, the role of Francis of Assisi. I wondered if she’d planned it as a starring vehicle for them both.

“Sold to the woman in black.”

Rumor has it these days that Leo’s buried on the property, but I know that to be false. 

I watched the woman in black walk the Forever Roar to her sedate black car and I watched Leo step into the passenger seat as though he’d known all along she was coming for him. It was a bright October day, and the sky was blue as Mabel Stark’s eyes. 

I strolled out past the gates of Jungleland to smoke a cigarette, and as I did, the lion turned his head to look at me through the rolled–down window.

He opened his mouth and let loose that famous roar, the one I’d waited for, the one his name was made of, and then I saw his companion, gloveless now, twist her hand into his mane. She smiled her famous smile at him as she stepped on the gas.

I watched them look at one another for a moment and then, thirty miles over the speed limit, invulnerable, the lion and his lady were gone.

In tribute and debt to Mabel Stark, Gay Talese, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, the MGM lions, and Mr. Ed.

(Editors’ Note: In this issue, Deborah Stanish interviews Maria Dahvana Headley. Also, the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 1 features “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” read by Amal El-Mohtar, as well as Stanish’s audio interview with Headley.)


Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley is The New York Times–bestselling author of the novels Aerie, Magonia (one of PW’s Best Books of 2015), Queen of Kings, and the memoir The Year of Yes. With Kat Howard she is the author of The End of the Sentence, one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, and with Neil Gaiman, she is co–editor of Unnatural Creatures. Her short stories have been included in many year’s best anthologies, including the 2016 edition of Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Joseph Adams, and have been finalists for the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards.

Upcoming from editor Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus & Giroux are The Mere Wife—a novel melding Beowulf to Revolutionary Road, and a short story collection. For HarperCollins, she’s at work on The Combustible, a queer superhero and supervillain story, as well as another YA novel. She’s also in development on the theatrical musical The Devil’s Halo, with Emmy Award–winning composer Lance Horne. Find her at @MARIADAHVANA at Twitter, or

6 Responses to “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White”

  1. Vic’s Reading Inn #2 | House of Vic

    […] If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White by Maria Dahvana Headley. Published November 2014 in Uncanny Magazine. […]

  2. Uncanny, issue 1 | Brewing Tea & Books

    […] “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley I listened to this on the podcast. Man this was a weird story and the interview actually only made it weirder. I am not sure that I liked it but it was strangely captivating. In the interview the author said that she had trouble finishing the story – sadly I kind of think that showed. I don’t particularly like fiction where it is hard to figure out what is real and what isn’t so I am quite biased in that regard. I don’t think this was a story for me, but I don’t think it was bad. […]

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    […] If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White by Maria Dahvana Headley […]

  4. chant30

    This is a strange, magical realism story about endings–the end of Jungleland, the end of the golden age of Hollywood, the end of the MGM lion. The story plays out like a hallucination. I love that the lion never gives the reporter anything. I don’t despise reporters or anything; I just think its fits with the story.

  5. 12 Short Stories as New Year’s Resolutions (by Lady Business’ bookgazing) – Headlines

    […] “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White” by Maria Dahvana Headley […]

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