TIME animals

Fearless Fagan: Portrait of the Lion as a Young Actor

Back in the early 1950s, LIFE magazine saw fit to report on -- and to exhaustively photograph -- a lion named Fagan not just once, but twice.

Back in the early 1950s, LIFE magazine saw fit to report on — and to exhaustively photograph — a lion named Fagan not just once, but twice. The first time the magazine ran a story on Fagan was in February 1951, when an article informed LIFE’s readers that a 24-year-old Army private stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., had requested a 14-day furlough for his cat. That is to say, for his really big cat: a mature male lion.

Private Floyd C. Humeston had raised the lion from a cub, brushed its teeth, combed its fur and, LIFE claimed, had “evolved an English-German gibberish that Fagan not only understands but answers with growls and gurgles which his master understands.” Humeston was trying to find a home for the growling, gurgling beast after he (Humeston, not Fagan) had been drafted.

Flash forward five months, to July 1951, when a “sequel” to the first article, titled “Fearless Fagan Goes Hollywood,” appeared in the magazine’s pages. (The photos in this gallery were shot for that July ’51 feature.) LIFE provided a recap of the previous article, while revealing the lion and its master’s latest adventures:

Readers of LIFE’s Feb. 12 issue may remember the house-hunting tribulations of fearless Fagan, a pet lion whose master, Floyd Humeston, had been drafted. One reader not only remembered the story but thought it would make a movie. Since he happened to be an M-G-M producer named Sidney Franklin Jr., nothing was easier than to whip up a script and get it put on the production schedule. The only thing lacking was Fagan himself. Tracking him down, the studio learned he was undergoing some new tribulations. Expelled from his temporary shelter at the Monterey Humane Society because he couldn’t pay for cage and board, he had wound up at a circus in Ohio where a keeper was trying to alienate his affections from his old master. Private Humeston wrangled a furlough to get his pet back to California. There Fagan is being introduced to those alternations of luxurious ease and hard work which make up a movie star’s life.

The movie that Franklin produced, Fearless Fagan (1952), had real talent attached to it: Charles Lederer, the writer of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Ocean’s Eleven, wrote the screenplay; Stanley Donen (who helmed Singin’ in the Rain) directed; and Janet Leigh was one of its stars.

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