Show Business: King of the Beasts

FORTY MAGNIFICENT, MONSTROUS, MENACING MAN-EATERS MIRACULOUSLY MINGLED, the signs used to say. That was in the '30s, when "circus" was a word with magic, when kids impatiently waited through the year until the big tent went up again. And what they waited for most was the instant when a trim, 5-ft. 6-in. man, dressed in spotless white shirt and breeches with soft leather belt, bounded into the spotlight of the center ring and doffed his pith helmet. Then, whip in his right hand, a steel-reinforced chair plus blank-loaded pistol in his left, he would summon the first ferocious cat into...