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Marlene Dennis, 1959

Did you hear the one about the lion tamer who fell in love with a trapeze artist?

It’s not a joke. Just a story of everyday life in Cannington in 1938.

Mavis Bullen was a trapeze artist from the famous Bullen’s Circus. Professionally working as ‘Miss Jeanette’, she would swing near the tent top, high over the heads of the audience in a seeming death-defying act.

A trapeze artist’s life depends on a good relationship with the man who worked the ropes. In Mavis’ case, this was Bob Dennis, who also doubled up as the lion tamer.

Now, a man who has no problems wrestling a lion isn’t likely to be backwards at coming forwards.

Even so, it was some time before Bob could bring himself to propose to Mavis. And when he did, she refused him point-blank.

The lion-tamer was not going to let a little thing like a refusal worry him. He waited until next time they were rehearsing, and when Mavis was sitting on the trapeze he asked again. Once more she shook her head.

Bob said nothing, but simply tied the rope to a post and left her in the swing until she changed her mind.

In the middle of winter it’s pretty cold sitting on a swing wearing only a trapeze costume, but she stuck to her decision.

After that, every rehearsal, Bob stuck to his strategy—only each time he kept Mavis aloft a bit longer.

When she complained to her mother about this treatment, she got little sympathy. “Serves you right,” said Mrs Perce Bullen. “You’re both in love, and the sooner you make up your minds the better.”

The following day at the end of practice Bob refused to lower Mavis to the ground.

“Will you marry me?” he shouted from the ring. She half smiled, but shook her head.

“All right, then. You’ll stay up there this time till you change your mind,” he said. And she did stay. For an hour and a half.

As Mavis shivered high in the air, Bob stayed below casually smoking a cigarette.

Eventually she called: “Let me down, Bob. I’ve changed my mind.”

Mrs Bullen, who had watched the whole proceedings from a distance, broke their embrace to give them her blessing.

The marriage does seem to have been a success, and one of their daughters, Marlene, went on to perform as a trapeze artist and to work with animals.

Did you hear the one about the lion tamer who fell in love with a trapeze artist?

They lived happily ever after. And that’s not a joke.