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Volume 6229
The Many Worlds of
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El Monte, California

Founders Charles and Muriel Gay were Anglo-French circus performers who arrived in Los Angeles in 1914. They established an attraction in MacArthur Park (then known as Westlake Park) where the public could watch Charles Gay working with three adult lions. The lions were trained as animal actors in the burgeoning motion picture industry.

Needing more room for their animals, the Gays found a large plot of un-zoned property in El Monte, east of Los Angeles, where in 1925 they opened Gay's Lion Farm, a public attraction dedicated to the breeding, training and exhibition of African lions. The Farm quickly became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Southland, doing a brisk trade in souvenir photographic postcards. Among the famous animals raised on the Farm were Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio lions Slats (1924–1927, died of appendicitis and was stuffed) and his lookalike successor Jackie, and the celebrated comic lion Numa (1912–1930, died of cancer and was stuffed), named for the lion in the Tarzan books. Slats, Numa, and Jackie (the friendliest of the three) appeared as one lion in Charlie Chaplin's "The Circus" (1928).

The 5-acre (2.0 ha) farm with its thatched roof, African-inspired architecture (a likely inspiration for Walt Disney's Adventureland), was a U-shaped compound, with separate cages for each adult cat, a nursery, and a central caged arena where Charles Gay, with whip and gun, performed a classic lion tamer act for the crowds. Feedings were also a big draw, with a ton of meat being consumed daily.

In 1925, El Monte High School adopted the Lions name for its teams, and the Gays provided a lion mascot for big games. 

Charles Gay was the founder of Gay's Lion Park.
He was a former circus performer, who had trained the animals for the movies

Lion tamer, Charles Gay working with four lions at Gay’s Lion Farm in El Monte, California

Mr Gay ran his lion farm alongside his wife Muriel,
who was also a former circus performer

Feline hungry: All of the young lion cubs gather around Mrs Gay
as she holds out a bowl with food

Mr Gay looks as though he is going head to head
with one of his animals, who rises up on his back legs
and jumps up at his trainer

His park was also responsible for the breeding of African lions.
Here Mr Gay is pictured holding up two young cubs

Mrs Gay balances two very young cubs on her shoulders.
At its peak Mrs Gay and her husband looked after 200 lions

Mr Gay teaches one of his young cubs to hold his own bottle of milk
during feeding time at Gay's Lion Farm.

Mr and Mrs Gay along with veterinary staff check over some of
the young cubs that were born at Gay's Lion Farm in the 1930s

Mr Gay had to close his lion farm in 1942 as war rations meant
there was not enough meat to feed his big cats.
After the war ended he fell ill and was unable to re-open his park .

The lions had many enclosures in the large park,
including this one that contained a vintage car and two dummies

Several of the lions line up together on a large plank of wood inside their enclosure.
During the Second World War, they had to be loaned out to other zoos across the US

Some of the lion cubs and older big cats gather together beside a tree trunk for a picture.

Two young lions are perplexed when they see their own reflections
in a mirror that was left inside their enclosure

Two lion cubs pose for the camera. Mr Gay died in 1950,
eight years after his lion park in El Monte was forced to close

The lions at Gay's Lion Farm were trained especially for
the burgeoning movie industry that was expanding in Hollywood in the 1930s

A group of men sit at a dinner table and raise a toast to a lion called Numa.
He was the inspiration behind the lion in the Tarzan films

A brave group of schoolgirls hold hands in a circle around another one of the lions,
who lived at Gay's Lion Park between 1925 and 1942

Mrs. Gay takes a baby lion for a walk on Center Street in El Monte

One of his big cats allows Mr Gay to take a ride on his back.
One of his most famous lions was Jackie, who was the face of MGM films

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