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Trevor "Tommy" Bale Collection

Identifier: MSS 0516

Scope and Content

The collection is housed in two boxes (approximately 1 linear foot) and is alphabetically filed by subject. Included within the collection is background information on both Trevor Bale and Walter B. Gibson, the written agreement between Bale and Gibson, letters (personal correspondence, business letters and the publication rejection letters), magazine and newspaper articles, circus tour cards, circus programs, and the pre-publication manuscripts prepared by Walter B. Gibson (including handwritten corrections and signed notes and corrections by Bale and Gibson).


  • Creation: 1955 - 1957



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

In 1953, legendary tiger trainer Trevor "Tommy" Bale (1913 - 1994) realized his lifelong dream of headlining the center ring of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus - "The Greatest Show on Earth." Years of struggle, hard work and anonymity now resulted in worldwide fame and domestic stability for Bale and his family. At this apex in his career, Trevor Bale, with the assistance of Walter B. Gibson (famed ghostwriter for magicians Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston and Harry Blackstone and the creator of one of pulp fiction's most enduring characters, "The Shadow"), sought to preserve the legacy of the Bale family, in his autobiography, "The Trevor Bale Story".

Trevor Bale once said he was "born in a sawdust ring on the back of a horse", the son of Edwin George Bale, "the most versatile circus artist who ever lived." Generations of the Bale family performed, under circus tents, throughout the world, and Trevor first faced an audience as a member of the "Bale Family of Cyclists"(c.1916). Traveling throughout the world, Trevor "Tommy" Bale was a witness to many great historical events of the first half of the Twentieth Century (two World Wars, revolts in Ireland, coal miner's strikes in England, African exploration and turmoil, etc). In the mid 1950s, Bale sat down to record his memories on reel-to-reel tape to be transcribed and edited by Gibson. This typed manuscript collection is now preserved in the Belknap Collection for the Performing Arts. Throughout these pages, Bale vividly describes the excitement, politics, dangers and mishaps involved in day-to-day circus life. Bale's passionate eye for detail is evident as he recalls a late night train collision with a herd of African cattle, a shark attack, a near disaster at sea (traveling from England to South Africa aboard the R.M.S. "Edinburgh Castle" ocean liner), and a gruesome attack upon a tourist, by African natives, at the scenic South African Victoria Falls.

In order to survive the pitfalls of his stress-filled career, Bale learned all the necessary tricks, traditions and skills while traveling on the road and performing on the stage and in the circus ring. Danish born, this British citizen was a man of his times and setting and he unapologetically presents a sometimes less than politically correct description of the transient life of the circus performer. Researchers will find some rough edges, throughout this unedited manuscript, but the reader will also discover a colorful and descriptive narrative of an era long gone. Bale's goal was to recreate "what early 20th century circus life was like" and his intentions are brilliantly achieved from page to page. His life was a passing parade of show business lore including stints with the "Blackpool Tower Circus', Holland's "Circus Stratzburger", "Peglo's Circus", Sweden's "Scott's Circus", "Circus Midrano", Germany's "Circus Busch", a few Bale family circus organizations and, finally, at the urging of John Ringling North - "The Greatest Show on Earth!" Shortly after Trevor Bale joined the Ringling organization, union strikes and diminishing attendance forced the circus to close. The unthinkable forced Bale and his fellow performers to seek employment with smaller organizations until "the biggest of the big tops" could reorganize.

At this time, the interest in Trevor Bale's exciting life story also faded and Walter B. Gibson's proposals were rejected by every publishing house. Gibson transcribed Trevor Bale's recorded reminiscences and preserved, in rough form, 208 pages (approximately 8 reels) of the unpublished tome. Walter Gibson abandoned the project and never completed the editing process. Trevor Bale, "one of the world's foremost tiger trainers", was crushed by this failure and, in many poignant letters to Gibson he pours out his need for money and recognition.

The story of Trevor Bale, animal trainer, acrobat, aerialist, ringmaster and clown, is a tale worthy of telling. Unfortunately, there was no longer a need to continue Bale's recording project. Due to economics and historical events the book was shelved and the unfinished "Trevor Bale Story" never saw the light of day. Fortunately, the preliminary pre-publication efforts of Bale and Gibson are now preserved in the Belknap Collection for the Performing Arts and the story of one of the truly great, but unsung, "circus men" of the 20th Century will finally be told.


1 Linear Feet (4 Boxes, 1 Oversized Folder)

Language of Materials



Unpublished autobiography, agreements, correspondence, articles, circus tour cards, and circus programs concerning legendary tiger trainer, acrobat, aerialist, ringmaster and clown, Trevor "Tommy" Bale and writer Walter B. Gibson (famed ghostwriter for magicians Harry Houdini, Howard Thurston, and Harry Blackstone, and the creator of one of pulp fiction's most enduring characters, "The Shadow").


University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Purchased in 2003.

A Guide to the Trevor "Tommy" Bale Collection
Finding aid created by Jim Liversidge
April 2004 (Updated May 2019)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America