Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion
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Clarence, the star of Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965) was dubbed "the Shirley Temple of the lion world" by the producer Ivan Tors. Despite his strabismus (the medical term for cross-eyed), which was present from birth and made training difficult, Clarence (ne Freddie) was a gentle lion who went on to have a successful Hollywood career. He was friendly and non-aggressive, purred when anyone rubbed his back and worked safely with children and other animals.
It all started for Clarence at the wildlife reserve Africa, USA, where he was born and raised. Because of his unusual condition, Clarence was almost given away as a cub. But producer Tors, who had a successful track record with animal pictures (Flipper (1963) and Rhino!, 1964) took an interest in the young lion and decided he had star potential. "I've never seen a cross-eyed lion," said Tors. "And neither has the rest of the world." At first, Clarence's condition didn't seem to present any problems. But one day during training, it became apparent that his vision was indeed impaired. According to author Pauline Bartel in Amazing Animal Actors, one trick required Clarence to jump into the back of a station wagon. "As Clarence approached the car, the trainer enticed him with a piece of meat," [Technical advisor Ralph] Helfer said. "He eagerly ran toward the wagon, jumped up, and ran smack into the side-door frame. He fell back, a bit dizzy from his encounter, and then tried again. Again he clobbered his head on the framework." The vet hoped Clarence's vision might correct itself over time, but in the meantime, he was given special training that included moving through a long funnel shaped walkway to learn to focus his eyes properly. The trainers even made Clarence a lion-sized pair of glasses which make a cameo appearance in the movie (they proved to be totally ineffective and were eventually discarded). Eventually, Clarence's vision did improve.
Along with his stunt training, Clarence was also given affection training. He was allowed to roam freely with other animals in a simulated jungle, and he was petted daily by trainers. This contact fostered Clarence's tame temperament. He so rarely snarled that another lion named Leo was used to double for Clarence in attack scenes.
Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion was Clarence's first big Hollywood project. Produced, of course, by Tors, the movie starred Marshall Thompson as a veterinarian studying animals in Africa, with Cheryl Miller as his daughter and Betsy Drake as a Dian Fossey inspired love interest. Clarence, a wild lion whose eyes make hunting impossible (occasionally a scene is shot from the lion's double vision point-of-view), is taken in by Thompson and later saves the day when Drake and her research monkeys are threatened by poachers.
The movie was popular enough to spawn a very similar television show called Daktari. It ran on CBS from 1966 to 1969 and along with Clarence, featured the lion's co-stars Thompson and Miller. Clarence's professionalism won him rave reviews on set - except for one incident that wasn't really the lion's fault. On the first day of shooting for Daktari Clarence was waiting patiently for his scene when an unthinking production assistant clapped the scene marker. "He jumped 20 feet over the camera and disappeared up the mountain," recalled Tors. "It took us an hour and a half to find him." But in general, Clarence was completely calm...so calm in fact that Judy the Chimpanzee would frequently ride on his back. And in one episode of Daktari Clarence was called upon to hatch 12 ostrich chicks, something that would be unimaginable for even a domestic house cat.
After Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion, Tors would continue making animals pictures like Namu, the Killer Whale (1966) and Around the World Under the Sea (1966). As for Clarence, he would win a PATSY (stands for "Picture Animal Top Star of the Year") award for the movie - an award given by Hollywood's office of the American Humane Association to trained animal performers.
Producer: Ivan Tors
Director: Andrew Marton
Screenplay: Art Arthur, Alan Caillou, Marshall Thompson
Cinematography: Lamar Boren
Film Editing: Warren Adams
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Eddie Imazu
Music: Al Mack
Cast: Marshall Thompson (Dr. Marsh Tracy), Betsy Drake (Julie Harper), Richard Haydn (Rupert Rowbotham), Cheryl Miller (Paula), Alan Caillou (Carter), Maurice Marsac (Gregory).
C-92m. Letterboxed. Descriptive Video.
by Stephanie Thames