New York City was no place to raise a black leopard.—Roy Holiday
HBO documentary Cat Dancers is your basic tale of show business and deadly animal attacks. Ron and Joy Holiday were professional adagio dancers who decided to incorporate big cats into their act as they got too old to do lifts and poses. They toured the country in tight, teensy costumes, while the cats leapt, sat, and growled to audiences’ delight. As the act grew, they accumulated leopards, tigers, ocelots, and a younger man, former ringmaster Chuck Lizza, who became part of the act as well as their live-in lover. The human ménage is less interesting in and of itself than for how it fell apart. One day, Chuck was unfortunate enough to trip backwards while one of the tigers was out of its cage. Apparently the tiger saw Chuck as prey and lunged for his neck; Chuck bled to death.
After Chuck died, Joy became suicidal, and Ron decided to cheer her up by taking her to visit the tiger cage. Whereupon the same tiger bit her in the neck and that was the end of Joy and, once the cops got to the scene, the end of the tiger, too. Roy lived on, to teach teenage dancers and aspiring animal trainers (possibly the scariest part of the documentary—Ron drones on about tiger penises to a bunch of gaping students at an exotic animal preserve, who presumably went on to “handle” cougars and tigers during petting zoo hours).
Ron’s surprise over the tiger’s attacks is hilarious in a very dark way—“You’re inbred, Jupiter!” And Jupiter’s also a tiger. However, the Cat Dancers obviously felt very close to their animals, in a way that other people might feel for their pets, except they decided to choose very large, very deadly animals as opposed to domestic cats or dogs. The flamboyant Ron (check out his wig game, it is astonishing) obviously loved his life with the big cats and tells a tale of glittering stardom and perfect happiness between animals and humans, but you can’t get any other perspective, what with the other two principals in the Cat Dancers act being dead. I especially wanted to hear Joy’s perspective—she had been Roy’s dance partner since the age of seven and couldn’t decide whether to become a dancer or a nun. Ron designed her wedding dress!
An interesting look into a vanished and dangerous world, where acrobatic dance teams could make it big at Radio City Music Hall, big cat shows traveled the land without a care for animal welfare, and a man’s wife could pose with him in a muscle magazine. Available for free on snagfilms.com and highly recommended.