After all, Rosa had been performing her signature serpentine dance inside the lions’ cage since she was a teenager. Moreover, her fiancé, Joseph Bouglione, an animal trainer, was also confident that the guests wouldn’t gnaw on the happy couple.
Indeed, he had once assured Burt Lancaster about the safety of filming a scene with a lion at the Bougliones’ family-owned circus, the fabled one-ring 19th-century Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. (Just to play it safe, the priest at the wedding presided from outside the cage.)
Nine decades later, Rosa Bouglione, the matriarch of the family that still operates the circus, died on Aug. 26 in her home in that city, just around the corner from the Cirque d’Hiver’s circular 2,000-seat arena, which was commissioned by Napoleon III. She was 107.
In announcing her death, the Bouglione family, which has owned the company since 1934, described her as “the undisputed queen of the circus world.”
Madame Rosa, as she was known to millions of circus lovers for generations, was born into a traveling Roma, or Gypsy, circus family and never outgrew the wonderment at the big top that beguiles children of all ages.
Among her pets was a foulmouthed parrot, Coco, who lived to 45 and was fluent in French obscenities. She memorialized her dead pet leopard Mickey by converting him into a dining-room table throw, gnashing teeth included. She smuggled a baby gorilla into a hotel in a hat box and roomed with him for a month. Cases of Perrier water had to be stocked for Jackie, another great ape, who refused to drink anything else.
Along with the acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and animal acts, guest celebrities also appeared with the circus at its famed arena and sometimes in shows under the Eiffel Tower. Among them were Josephine Baker, Ingrid Bergman, Maurice Chevalier, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth and Jerry Lewis.
Maria Callas was nearly stomped by an elephant who was said to become agitated when Joseph Bouglione was around women other than his wife.
Rosalie Van Been was born on Dec. 21, 1910, in Ixelles, Belgium, a suburb of Brussels, in a horse-drawn circus caravan. Her father, Jules, was an animal trainer. Her mother was Gina Penetenti.
“I was born in a caravan, and that’s where I left my heart,” Ms. Bouglione said in her autobiography, “A Wedding in the Lions’ Cage: The Great Saga of the Bouglione Circus” (2011), which she wrote with Patrick Hourdequin.
She began performing with a circus called Ménagerie Van Been Frères at 14, interpreting a Serbian dance choreographed by the American actress and dancer Loie Fuller. (It included a pride of prowling lions directed by her father.) She also introduced an act that starred a Siberian white wolf, with a supporting troupe of dogs.
She married Joseph Bouglione in 1928. He was a third-generation lion tamer who with his father and three brothers had been performing in a version of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
They had seven children. Joseph Bouglione died in 1987. The family said that Ms. Bouglione is survived by a total of 55 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.