I am the great-grandson of Mark Huling, a world-renowned seal trainer. Mark trained many famous seals (aka sea lions). Sharkey was his favorite. Access to family archives provided a treasure trove of material, which inspired me to write the true untold story of Sharkey and his flippered colleagues, Sharkey: When Sea Lions Were Stars of Show Business (1907-1958). (Book publisher and publication date still to be determined.)
In 2015, a journalist contacted me about doing a story on Sharkey. Discussions about trained seals during my childhood and adulthood had been a rarity and I was unable to shed any light on the matter. Three months later, the journalist released his podcast, “Why Won’t They Let Sharkey On the Radio?” I listened and learned more about my great-grandfather than I had learned my entire life. I soon discovered he had two brothers who were also seal trainers. One famously travelled to Australia and New Zealand with a troupe of seals. I felt an instant connection having toured both places as a musician. Another brother was a big-time vaudevillian. Again, I felt a connection having performed in a vaudeville revue with Broadway legend Joel Grey. I also learned my great-grandfather and Sharkey had performed at Radio City Music Hall. Once again, I felt a connection having performed there with Itzhak Perlman. What were the odds of having all those parallels? I needed to know more. I needed to know everything.
Countless hours of research followed: visits to major metropolitan libraries and institutes, correspondence with curators the world over, scouring news articles, and conducting interviews. Uncovered were newsreels, short films, original scripts, TV kinescopes, press photos, a rare 78-rpm recording, programs, posters, and dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Puzzling together and crafting the story was a labor a love.