July 23rd 1983 | Director

Marlin Perkins

Perkins was the host of Zoo Parade, a television program that originated from the Lincoln Park Zoo on NBC station WNBQ-TV (now WMAQ-TV) when he was the director there. As a result of his work on Zoo Parade Perkins was offered the job in 1963 for which most North Americans remember him: host of the nature show Wild Kingdom.

00:00:00 - 00:00:12

Marlin Perkins, Director Emeritus at Lincoln Park Zoo, and also the St. Louis Zoo. We’re gonna be talking today to Marlin about his days at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

00:00:13 - 00:00:17

When did they start Marlin, when did you start at Lincoln Park?

00:00:17 - 00:00:58

I started here in 1944, and I had just come from the Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo New York, where I was the curator, but in Buffalo the curator is really the director, or he was in those days, the old English term, and before that I was a curator of reptiles at the St. Louis Zoo, so I’ve spent 43 years working in zoos total, and I was 18 years in the Lincoln Park Zoo, I left here in 1962 to accept the directorship at the zoo in St. Louis where I had first started my zoo work.

00:00:58 - 00:01:04

Well, when you started at Lincoln Park Zoo, you took over from what former director?

00:01:04 - 00:03:48

Oh, well it was Floyd Young who was the director who was retiring, and George Donahue came to Buffalo, he was the General Superintendent of the Chicago Park District, and he came to Buffalo and interviewed me and asked me then to come to Chicago for further conference here, about the job here, and Floyd was retiring within nine months of the time I came here. So George Donahue thought it would be a good idea, and I guess his board did too, that I come ahead of time to get with Floyd and be with Floyd to get some of the knowledge of the working of the Lincoln Park Zoo, within the Chicago Park District, and it was a good thing, it was a good thing for me to be here early and to talk with Floyd, before that, Floyd had come to the Lincoln Park Zoo under Alfred Parker, and Parker had brought him in to run the aquarium, freshwater aquarium, and then when the Shedd Aquarium was built, Floyd came down to St. Louis and went through our reptile house there in order to get ideas of how he could convert the freshwater aquarium to a reptile house, and that was the first time I met him, and that was, I can’t remember the year exactly, but it was in the ’30s, I’d say ’35 or somewhere along there, and then he did convert the building, and they operated then as a reptile house, but while it was an aquarium, all that space in the basement was a fish hatchery, and they hatched millions of fry there, which were liberated in Lake Michigan as a service for the fisher’s department of the State of Illinois. So Floyd was more a fish expert. Yes, he knew fishes, and he knew fish hatchery operations, but he started life as a jeweler, and how he got involved in fish I think was accidentally, I think he got started as an aquarist in his home, and that developed into a paying job for him, and then that developed into director of the zoo itself.

00:03:49 - 00:03:53

Did he give you any words of wisdom when he handed things over or?

00:03:53 - 00:04:37

Oh, I had many words of wisdom from Floyd, he gave me a lot of background on the zoo itself, and how the Chicago Park District operates and all the various departments, such as the electrical department is separate, and they were, at that time, I suppose they may still be in the same building with the powerhouse and the big smoke stack, and that was all provided for the zoo so it didn’t have to be a problem for the director of the zoo at all, except to put through a requisition to get things done. Works the same way today. Same way today. The system’s a pretty good system, it works quite well.

00:04:37 - 00:04:41

What kind of zoo did you find when you came to Lincoln Park?

00:04:41 - 00:08:03

I found an old time city zoo that had grown up just like Topsy, and if you look at the old records of the Lincoln Park Zoo, you will see that somebody gave a bear to the zoo, or to the park. Actually, the first animals in the zoo, according the old history book which I left here, and I’m sure you’ve read, and you can get all the information straight out of that, but, a pair of swans or two pairs came in from Central Park Zoo, which would’ve been New York, and they were put on the pond in front and back of it, and that was the beginning, then somebody gave a bear and somebody gave some deer, and then a circus came through town and they bought an old tiger, and each time they had to build something to put it in, that’s the way the zoo started. And it never had a master plan, all the time that I was here, until Les came along, well, I did a master plan when I first came here, and I took an architect from the Chicago Park District downtown, we visited a number of places around the country, other zoos, and we talked, and then we worked for about a year or more on a master plan for the Lincoln Park Zoo. Well, it was so grandiose, I thought they really were serious when they talked about they wanted to make this one of the world’s finest zoos, but it turned out that they did not really mean it, and the master plan was never implemented at all, never got any place, and it probably is a good idea it didn’t because the concepts of zoos have changed in the meantime, and it’s better that Les has the opportunity to expand it because the newer concepts of zoo meaning and why a zoo is a zoo, and why we have the rights to take these animals out of nature and bring them here for public exhibition is quite a different concept than it was in the early days, animals were just something that you could do anything you wanted with, and you got them and you had them and you exhibited them, and if they did all right, that was fine, if they didn’t all right, well, that was too bad. But now here we are with a brand new hospital here with all kinds of fine technical equipment and people with expertise who have not only veterinarian school background, but the internship at other zoo and working with wild animals, there was very few vets in the early days knew anything about wild animals and they didn’t care much either. I was gonna say, it brings up a point, when you started at Lincoln Park Zoo, you didn’t have a very big professional staff surrounding you. Very little, very little. We had, under the director was a superintendent and he was really a foreman of the zoo and he had charge of the keepers.

00:08:06 - 00:08:07

Was that gentleman Richie Allan?

00:08:07 - 00:08:34

That was Richie Allan, Rich was a good head keeper, type fellow, and he made the guys to the mark. And when he told him something, he reinforced it with a four finger, and now you remember, he had a pretty strong German accent and he was a good guy, he did his job well.

00:08:34 - 00:08:45

So you really started to acquire professional people, when you were here at Lincoln Park Zoo, am I correct that the first assistant director was under you?

00:08:45 - 00:10:15

Well, yeah, but before I had an assistant director, I started with a zoologist, we got run Blakely and was a zoologist when he graduated from Michigan state and I was able to get a title in the budget, and I thought we’d better start with somebody and train them rather than to try to go to another zoo and get a curator who was already established, so it was a training period concept that I had of getting young zoologists in and creating a term zoologist, he’s a zoologist in the zoo, and then he was, Ron was interested in birds primarily, and so he had the opportunity to work under George Irving, who had been the curator of birds and was the curator of birds for a long time, until he became the general curator here and learned what George knew about bird keeping and how the building is run, but then we started getting other zoologists in, and finally curators came in when they were qualified, then they became curators, and we had three curators here by the time I was ready to move on to St. Louis and an assistant director.

00:10:15 - 00:10:18

And was the first assistant director Leo Grimmer?

00:10:18 - 00:11:30

Leo Grimmer, yes. Yes, he was. Actually, many of them have gone on to other many zoo, zoo professions. That’s right, Leo quit here to go to Washington DC, to be assistant director there, and then he got tired of zoo work or something, and he decided he would retire completely from zoo work, and he went down to Cayman Island, and I think he’s still down there, but. They had the right idea. Yeah. Yeah, but anyhow, you’re right, many of the people who got their start in zoo work here at the Lincoln Park Zoo, went on to bigger and better jobs elsewhere, and they’re scattered all over the United States, and when they gave me that award in Denver, a couple years ago, we asked them to stand up and there were 22 of them there, and Les Fisher had already left to come home for some emergency, and there are some others who weren’t there as well. So Lincoln park really has been a teaching zoo. Been a turning ground.

00:11:30 - 00:12:21

Yeah, for a lot of young professionals. yeah, yeah. In the beginning, we talk about the grade eight collection at Lincoln Park being world famous, and of course it got started one point, it didn’t become world famous overnight, nothing does. No, no. You were instrumental in starting some of the, and acquiring some of the younger roles that today formed the nucleus of our troops at Lincoln Park Zoo. Could you tell me a couple of things, one, some stories and recollections about those animals that you were able to actually go over and get, and also you worked with Bushman. Yes. And Sinbad, of course, in the beginning, kind of maybe start with Bushman, if you could, and tell us a little something about, ’cause he was world famous.

00:12:21 - 00:12:23

Yes, indeed.

00:12:23 - 00:12:28

How many girl has had their picture on the paper when they’ve died?

00:12:29 - 00:12:32

Internationally, I don’t know. I don’t know either.

00:12:32 - 00:12:52

Anyhow, Bushman became quite an institution within his own here in the zoo, but he was already here when I came here, and he was already a full grown gorilla when I came here in 1944, ’cause he came in here I think in 1930, Didn’t he?

00:12:52 - 00:12:55

2830 or something 28 maybe.

00:12:55 - 00:12:58

Well, I think he was captured in ’28 and brought here in ’30, wasn’t he?

00:12:58 - 00:14:40

Well, ’cause I think so because some of your original film of the zoo right segment shows him in ’28 in Africa. Yes, that’s right. As a youngster. Yes, that’s right. So. Classic footage. Yeah, well, Bushman was, just a fine physical specimen, and Eddie Robinson was his keeper, he came in under Alfred Parker, he was brought back from Africa by old Paul Buck, WL Buck, who’s no relation to Frank Buck, but was an animal dealer, and his field was West Africa mostly, and he came to a town called Yaounde which was the capital of the then French Cameroons, and there were no hotels in this town, so he went to the only place he could go to stay, which was the American Presbyterian Mission, and they put him up there. Well, when he got there, he saw this little gorilla whose name was Bushman, and the Dr. Good and his wife were raising it, and they just thought the world of this little gorilla, and they had employed an African to look after him, a man who was his full-time keeper and playmate and provider of food and all of this kind of thing and disciplinarian, and they all played with him and he just loved everybody and he could climb trees around there and they’d call him down, he’d come down to them.

00:14:40 - 00:17:50

Well, naturally old Paul Buck fell in love with Bushman and immediately he thought what a fine physical specimen he was, and how well oriented and imprinted he was to the people, and he decided that he would like to try and buy him. Well, at first, they didn’t want to talk to him about buying the animal, and they were so enamored of Bushman that they couldn’t think of his not being there, but over, he stayed with him for two or three weeks and he kept talking to him about it, and he also, I must have told him that this animal is gonna grow up and be something really big, and you have to build an awfully strong cage to keep him in ’cause you won’t be able to just let him run around, and I’m sure they knew that anyhow, but, they also were building a church and they needed money for at that time stained glass windows for the church itself, so, they finally made an agreement, the Buck would bring Bushman back to the states and sell him for as much as he could get for it, and then he would split that money with the mission station, and he did that, he brought him first to, I think, Washington DC, and I think he also offered him to St. Louis and to Philadelphia and to the Bronx, and finally they all turned him down because gorillas has had a bad reputation for living in captivity in those days, there just were very few, so then he contacted Alfred Parker here, Parker was interested, and Buck brought him out here, and Parker found the money, I think it was $3,000 that he paid, which in those days was a lot of money for one animal. But, Buck stayed around and he talked to and showed Eddie Robinson how to take care of him and how to feed him and how to play with him, and all this kind of thing, and advised that he play with him frequently, and so he did, and then Eddie Robinson, who was a farm boy, as I remember, but he was a clear thinking lad, and he loved that animal, he used to take him out on a long rope where the collar around Bushman’s neck onto the yard and they would play football and they would chase each other, and Bushman could climb a few little trees and things of that sort, and so Ed told me that one day he got to thinking, well, now he asked people, what kind of place is it that he comes from, comes from a tropical rainforest, rainforest, well, it must rain a lot.

00:17:50 - 00:17:53

Well, what do gorillas do when it rains?

00:17:53 - 00:24:13

Well, they probably get wet, maybe it’s good for them to get wet, so he tried with the holes first and Bushman loved it, and so then he had, had a sprinkler system put in, where like a shower bath up at the top of the cage, and he used to turn that on every morning and give him a good, good wrench down, and of course that’s kept him clean, and his hair always looked fine, luxurious and beautiful, and I think it was good for him. Well, wasn’t there a fairly famous escape Bushman. Yeah, that had to do when, well, let me tell you about Bushman at the beginning, because Ed used to take him out all the time, and one day he took Bushman out on this rope, the deal, and he’d not seen or gotten out on the grass, when another keeper came, and said, Ed, we have a monkey loose in the building, you better hurry right back, so Ed went in with Bushman, put him in the cage, got in the cage with him, took the collar off, started for the door, Bushman beat him to it, and it was quite obvious that Bushman was going to jump out if he opened the door. Well, so he played with him for a few minutes and tried it again, Bushman beat him to the door, and well, Ed spent two hours in that cage with all kinds of subterfuge, getting the food from the keeper and throwing it in the other cage, and even when he did that, Bushman was back in time so he could grab the door and keep Ed from getting out. So finally after two hours, they were able to close the sliding door between the two big doors, one time when he threw food in there and Ed was able to get out, and then Ed went to Floyd Young or Parker, whoever was director at that moment, and said, I’m not gonna go in with Bushman anymore, I’m not gonna take him out, so he realized that he was much, Bushman at that time weighed about 180 pounds, and so it was too too much for Ed to handle and he realized that he couldn’t force him to do anything anymore, so that was the last time Bushman ever had a chance to go outside. Well, years later we had a new animal keeper here when I was director, and Ed was breaking him in, and they had been in Bushman’s cage, he had a two compartment cage, a double cage with a sliding door between, then there was a sliding door just on the other side of that second compartment, and that led to a smaller cage, it wasn’t a permanent cage, but it was a cage you could put Bushman into temporarily, so they could clean both of these big cages, one right after another, that’s what they had done, and as they stepped out of the door to put the big heavy, great heavy padlock, four way key padlock onto the door, Ed said to this guy, the phone rang, Ed said, I’ll answer the phone, you put the padlock on, so he did, and when he came back, he looked at the padlock, it looked all right, and so they slid the door and let Bushman into the big double cage, again, closed the door to the little cage, and then they went into the kitchen, and Ed started showing him how to prepare the food at the sink in the kitchen, and this man, this new keeper was facing the corridor, and Ed was working at on the side of the sink, cutting vegetables, and this new keeper said to him, my God, there’s Bushman, and Ed says, I was just about to hit him in the nose for pulling such a lousy so-called joke on me, he knew that Bushman wasn’t there, but he couldn’t help himself, he turned around to looking by, and actually it was Bushman, he was in the room with him, and so Ed walked over to him, took him by the hand, says, come on big boy, we’re gotta go back to the cage, and he started to walk with him and he got to where the door was, and Bushman didn’t want to go and says, and Ed tried to force him a little bit, and says, come on now, up in there, and Bushman bit him in the arm, then of course Bushman was loose, Ed was bleeding very badly, but they secured this double doors from the public corridor, and Bushman was then in the kitchen area and had access to the corridors behind all of the cages, clear up to the office of that building, there was, he couldn’t get out the window because there was security bars or diamond mesh wire on those, so, we tried everything, I of course got involved with this thing immediately, and we got surrounded, closed the building, got all the people out, closed the building, locked all the doors. The Chicago park district police department was in charge in those days, and they were a fine force, and they surrounded the building and they all had all kinds of weapons, not only, they had rifles and shotguns, and I kept going around from one to another say, please don’t shoot, don’t shoot, because we’re gonna catch that animal, and I kept pleading with all these people. Well, finally, Leo Grimmer was my assistant, and he always wore hush puppy shoes, which had rubber souls, so he went down in the other side of the building and walked down into the basement, walked through the basement to the east side of the building, which was directly below the kitchen, and there was a refrigerator there that had a fruit in it, it was a kind that you normally have in stores where you just open the door and reach in and get what you want.

00:24:13 - 00:28:19

So he very stealth fully, crept in there, safely opened this and reached in to get a bunch of grapes, and as he put the lid down he looked up and there was Bushman on the stairs, so Leo just turned and ran to the other side of the building, and he was a pretty good guy physically speaking, and so he got there and closed the door and everything behind him, and so we were back where we started, so then we had, we could get into the front of Bushman’s cages there was a door led in there from the public space, so we were able to put the grapes in the far cage, hoping that we could then close the door, so they put him in there and Bushman went over and put his foot on the sliding door and reached out clear across the cage and got those grapes, brought him back and went back into the cage and had the chair where the scales were, that failed, we got papaya, we got mangoes, we got watermelons and all kinds of things to try to lure him back into that cage, but he’d go in, but he always makes sure that we couldn’t close the doors, he was just having fun, he wasn’t doing anything wrong from his viewpoint, we were able to slide in at one point and close the doors that were just north of his compartment area, so we had him confined, to the area behind his two big cages and the kitchen, I sent them to the reptile house and got a baby alligator, we put a string around just behind its front legs and got a bamboo pole, and we slid, we had a plan to slide that through the mesh wire of the, that’s why it had to be a small alligator into the, and kind of make it go at Bushman, the rest of us, Ed Robinson and myself and a couple of others were at the double doors, and as soon, we were through looking through the crack, and we could see Bushman there, and we could see this whole thing happening, and they finally, on cue, they put this alligator in and Bushman was there and Bushman turned and ran back into the corridor behind his cages, I think he went up into one of the cages, but we didn’t wait to find out where he went, we just knew he’d gone in there, so we opened the door and closed both of those other doors, and then got, there was a bench, a park bench in there, we got that and put there and other things, and we blocked it against the railing for the basement, and then he was secure behind his own two cages, we then tried further to entice him in with food and that didn’t work, so then I sent for a garter snake, and I had to have a small snake too, because I had to slide it under the crack of the door, so I went in from my office and down the corridor to that door and slid it through, Leo Grimmer was positioned outside in front of the glass, in front of the bars of the cage, inside of the glass with a pole on the sliding door, which had a break handle, a brake bar handle, which meant that when the door went in, the handle went down like this and automatically locked the door shut. So that Bushman couldn’t have opened it from the inside, and when I slid this in, Bushman went up into this cage and clear into the other cage, Leo slid the door shut, and we had Bushman caught.

00:28:19 - 00:28:25

How did you know that the alligator came in or the garter snake would scare him?

00:28:25 - 00:29:04

Because they had tried this out on him on a control system, he was afraid of a lot of little things, like squeaky toys, you know, these little click, click, click things that look like a frog or toad or something, he was afraid of those, and we tried those on him, but in this case it didn’t work, he was very much afraid of little things like alligators or turtles or things like this, not so much of turtles, but alligators, and snakes were where he didn’t like it all, and so they had in the past used those to move him from one place to another. So we knew that this did work.

00:29:04 - 00:29:11

So he really was Lincoln Parks who’s first gorilla, and then after that, there were four others acquired?

00:29:11 - 00:30:06

Well, yeah, there was a man here named Ivin Young, and Ivin Young had been a printing missionary for the American Presbyterian Mission in the Cameroons, and he had been there at the time that Bushman was at the mission station there, he knew him there, and admired him, and then, he left the missionary business and came to Chicago and had some factories, he designed some equipment that made tags, the kind you have or maybe strings on them and you tie them onto things, he had the young tag factory here in St. Louis, and he also made the equipment to make tags, all different kinds of tags, not just a kind with strings on them.

00:30:06 - 00:30:27

And he became a very wealthy man and he kept contact with Bushman, all the time he’d come over and see Bushman, and one day he and I had lunch together, and he said to me, he said, what are you gonna do when Bushman isn’t here anymore?

00:30:27 - 00:32:19

I said, I’ve been thinking about that because Bushman had injured his foot, sliding on the old wooden floor that was in the cage, and he loved to run and slide, but this had warped somehow rather, and the crack had separated and he cut his foot and there was on the back of his foot, and he kept working on this, working on it, and pretty soon he lost a couple of toes, small toes on his forward foot, which I think was his right foot, and you’ll see that the amount of specimen down there shows that if you’ll look closely, so, we had to put concrete, we had to take that whole thing out and put concrete in, and this was hardwood floors, anyhow, so we got tickets talking about that, and he said, you know, Marlin, I have a lot of contacts still in the missionary field over there, and Dr. Good is still there, and he says, if you’d like, he says, I’ll see if I can get something started, and maybe you could go over and bring them back, and we could have a replacement for Bushman sometime. So I knew the director of the Jardin des Plantes Zoo in Paris, and the Vincennes Zoo too, you had charge of both of them. And it turned out that I wrote to him to see about getting permits, ’cause this was the old French Cameroon thing, and he wrote back and said, yes, it was no problem at all, he was in charge of that for the French government, and it was his recommendation or not, so he said, I would be happy to recommend this for you. And then he said, we also can make some arrangements with the man who’s in charge of that department for the government out there, and he could probably catch them for you.

00:32:19 - 00:39:09

And so this is what happened, so I made application for three rather than just one, and I was hoping to get both sexes and perhaps one day we’d be lucky enough to get babies, ’cause they’d never been born in captivity, and we were looking ahead for the future for gorillas too, and so finally this all transpired and I flew off in 1948 to Africa, had to go this is all propeller planes in those days, and I went to London first, and stayed there a few days because the plane didn’t fly every day, going down that direction, when it did fly, it was soon enough after the war that it was a converted York bomber that I flew down in a very noisy plane that they had no acoustical treatment inside the plane, they put some seats in it, and it was a beat up plane, it was a long story of hard travel and all this kind of thing, but I got there and got to Yaounde, and on a DC three on a gravel strip into that town and stayed there for three weeks, they had already captured three gorillas and they were there, and they were in very nicely built cages, and an African had been hired by Dr. Good to look after them, take care of them the same as he had before, and he would go to the public market downtown and get the food and bring it back, and they had powdered milk and they could make formulas and all this kind of thing, and I took a lot of powdered milk with me too and bottles and nipples and vitamins, and the whole works to make balanced milk formula for the maybe gorillas, and I also wanted to stay long enough to get acquainted with them, so, there was quite a nice big male of about two years of age, that had yaws on his face, yaws is related to syphilis, it’s a spiral key, and he’d gotten this because some native woman had been taking care of him in a small village, and he had picked up the yaws I suppose from her, and Dr. Good had been putting salt salad or something like that on the yaws, and it was getting better, we continued to do that, he had a collar and you could take him out on a little leash and give him a chance to run and play, and he was just big enough that you couldn’t force him too hard, but he was okay, and then there was another one about the same age and that was a female, and then there was there was a smaller one, which I took to be a female too, then before, about a week before I left, they came in with a fourth one, and he’s the one who became, he was very small, and he was the one who became, who was named by named Sinbad, he was just, he brought in a little wooden box and he’d been in it for, I don’t know how many days, and he didn’t smell good, and he had a cold and he’d been rolling around and all the food and everything else, and so this African and I bathed him, he did some water in a can and we got him out and he was very good with him, I shot still pictures of that, I still have those, and we got him all clean and dried him off, and he was just fine after that, and he did well and came along pretty good, and then I had to make new boxes, I had sent from here MacArthur, who was in charge of repair and construction up here, had made some collapsible aluminum cages for these animals to come back in, but they got lost in transit somewhere and never arrived, and I had to get some lightweight wooden boxes made for them and drilled holes in them for ventilation, and it worked out all right, I had bought some blankets too, they had some wandering sales people come in from up country and they brought very colorful blankets from just south of the Sahara desert, I bought four of those to wrap around the boxes in transit to keep heat in if need be, ’cause there was no heat if we got cold, in any case, I was able to get them back, it’s long story, I won’t bore you with all the details of that, but they did come in, and I had also permission to fly from Paris to New York on TWA in one of their cargo planes, which was a DC4 in those days, and the DC4’s were pasture planes also, and as we came in over Boston, I knew that the AAZPA was meeting just at that time, so I asked these fellows, I could take the animals out of their cages in the cargo plane once we were in the air and feed them, take care of them, and the little one particularly, who only weighed 11 pounds when they reached Chicago, was I in my arms up to the cockpit and they feed him up there, give him his bottle there, and after he’d had his bottle, the captain was sitting there and he turned around looking at him, so he held out his arms and Bushman went to him and he sat there and here was this half wheel in front of him, and so he reached out to get it, to put his hand on that, and he got the other hand on it and the captain put his hands firmly on it, and then he backed off and I had my camera ready and I got a picture of Bushman flying the plane, I mean, Sinbad flying the plane, then I said, if you got some way to radio into Boston, to let the AAZPA, could I send him a message?

00:39:09 - 00:39:38

They said, sure, we can radio there, and they could relay the message, and I knew the hotel where they were, so we were all set, so the message was that, at this moment Marlin Perkins is in a TWA playing with four gorillas flying over Boston, heading for Chicago, so I teared out that it was quite a vacation they announced that in the meeting of AAZPA. Anyhow, those three, those four animals.

00:39:38 - 00:39:41

How did you decide, when did you decide to take the fourth animal?

00:39:41 - 00:40:15

When it came in out there. It it just came in as a surprise, and I got permission then from the head of that department to increase my permit for three to four, and he said, you might as well take this one along too, and of course that turned out to be the best one in the lot. I named the largest male Ivin Young, after Irv young, and then they had a naming contest and the name Sinbad won the first place for that little kid and each animal was, they had names for each other.

00:40:15 - 00:40:18

So Lotus, Sinbad, and what was the other?

00:40:18 - 00:41:29

Raja. Raja, yeah. Well, unusual names, but they turned out to be alright. It’s interesting in some of the old films though, that you, maybe that’s just the way it was programmed, but the one that seemed to have most of the attention was Sinbad, or seemed to be kind of the star, and indeed he lived the longest and was, especially during the show when you were with Lee Crandle and Freeman Shelley, which was delightful, and there was Sinbad out of all the gorillas, he was I guess the one that was. He was the most handleable, one of the group, and Irvin Young didn’t live long, I don’t remember what his autopsy showed, but he was, I don’t remember what killed him, but he died within about two years. So that was really the start, I mean the start. That was the beginning of those, yeah, then eventually we got other gorillas, baby gorillas, and we had them in the children’s zoo for quite some time, and things just kept moving and rolling. And now we’re up to our ears and gorillas.

00:41:29 - 00:41:47

Now you’re up to your ears and gorillas, and I think it’s great that you are, that’s actually one of the concepts about zoos that has changed, in the early days you’d have one specimen, you’d have two specimens on occasion, that’s all you felt you needed, but that concept has gone by the boards long time ago.

00:41:48 - 00:41:58

You’re very well known for Zoo Parade and Wild Kingdom now, it started in Lincoln Park, how did it start?

00:41:59 - 00:42:00

Zoo Parade?

00:42:00 - 00:43:35

Yeah. When I came here in 1944, it was only a year later, the war was going on, and I met a director from television station and that station was WBKB, it was run by a man named Bill Eddie, and it was the only television station I had ever known about, an experimental television station, I was invited by this director to come down and bring animals from the zoo and talk about them on television. Well, I had known that television was coming for a long time, and I knew too that it would be a dynamic media because television is radio that you can see, so this was going to go out to houses and homes all over the whole country, and I knew that this would be a fantastic media for telling the animal story and publicizing the zoo, so I accepted this offer and I would take bull frogs and turtles and tame monkeys, and tame birds and reptiles of various sorts, snakes and things, and in carrying cases down to the station, take a keeper along with me, and I would start with an animal and then he would come in and I’d give him the animal I talked about, and he’d give me the new animal, and I’d talk about that.

00:43:35 - 00:43:47

Well, I would, before I would start the program that evening, whichever evening it was, I’d say, how long do you want the program to go?

00:43:47 - 00:46:03

And I had to get the same answer, oh, shrug a shoulder, you talk until you run out of steam, or until the animals get tired, you run out of animals, and then Margie will give a chalk talk or play the organ or do something else, there were a lot of women in the studio because the men were in the service, and then the next year, the war was over and wangled war and wrath Jr, joined that station to learn television, and so did Don Meyer, and so they both saw what I was doing in that, in those few times, like 18 times that I went down to give a so called half hour, three quarter hour presentation, which was in those days being beaned to all 300 television receivers in the Chicago area in Chicago land, so there weren’t a lot of people watching, but at least it gave me exposure to them, then in 1949, both of these two chaps had gone over to NBC here, and that was the year the coax cable went into it in between Chicago and New York, and when that was completed, I got a letter from wary, Ronald Were and Rath Jr, when I was snake hunting in Louisiana, and he indicated there that he was at now at NBC and that he would like to have me contact him as soon as I got home about television, so when I did get home I got in touch with him, and he said, told me about this coax cable going in, and that Chicago wanted to let New York know what kind of shows they could produce here, so I said, fine, he said, we have a remote control unit, we can bring right to the zoo and you won’t have to take animals out of the zoo anymore, I had quit going down there because I didn’t, they had at that time a remote control unit and I’d seen it down at the museum of science and industry, and I looked into the big boss and saw they had a control room in there and talked to some of the guys, and I said, what is this saying?

00:46:03 - 00:46:16

They said, this is for WBKB, and it’s a remote control unit, then we’re beaming a program out from here from, so I went back and asked the director, I went back to telephone the director.

00:46:16 - 00:46:21

and I said, I just saw your unit down at the, why don’t we bring that after the zoo?

00:46:21 - 00:51:30

So she said, okay, I’ll see what I can do, then I got the sad work that it was too expensive, they didn’t have enough funds to do it, so I said, well, bye guys, if they can take it down to the museum of science and industry and do programs from there and can’t do it from the zoo, then I think it’s time for me to bow out, I don’t believe I’ll bring anymore animals down, so I did did about 17 or 18 half hour things, and so I didn’t do anything for these next two years, so we did this program, and Bushman was on it, it was the featured him, we went down the line of all the monkey cages, and I was in the back and the cameras were on the public side, and they had lights and they would show, I would show them what I was doing, monkeys would all come over to me, and I could reach in and and show them, put their arms around my neck, and this kind of thing, and I’d talk about them, and they set a reporter out named Jim Hulbert to be there, to I could talk to and with, and he could ask questions, and if I got tongue tied, he could take over, so it was that kind of a situation. Well, Bushman of course was a great show, and he was the star of this thing, and everybody was still admired him, so that, right away, New York wanted to know about other programs, and so, they then came back to me and said, we’d like to do this on a more or less regular basis, and this was in the spring of the year, so I said, fine, and we went then in the spring and on a sustained basis, and we were doing live television shows every afternoon at 5:30, Sunday afternoon at 5:30, and I thought, well, it’ll go for a few weeks, and then that’ll be that, but it didn’t, and in the fall, again, I thought it would stop at labor day and it didn’t, and in the fall it was obvious they wanted to keep on going, and we then started talking about where we could do it, and that place in the basement of the reptile house was the obvious place, so they brought some furniture out, desk and things like this, and we put our park district I think, put in the electrical equipment necessary, plugs and all and boxes, and so we had that as a kind of a studio, and we went through that winter and started into the spring, and it was sold to jewel food stores for the Chicago market. Well, that became commercial, so we started doing commercials on the program and Jim did the, the commercials, Jim Herbert. And then in a few weeks after that, I have forgotten the length of time where he got called back into the Navy because of the Korean war, and he came to me and said he had to go, he was called back and he had to leave, and who did I know down at the station that I I’d like to have direct in his absence, and I had met Dr. Meyer so I suggested him and he came out and he really was the producer director of that during most of the time that was on the air, right up to the end and where he kind of bowed out later on, and so that show was on from, well, I don’t know whether it was April or May of in 1949 till 1957, and we had this was all live television, there was no tape even invented at that time, I had a wire sound recorder that was, and that had been invented by a professor at the university of Chicago, so then tape came in and television began to change because of the tape, and they could use tape instead of film for this or far better than film for television, so the the whole picture changed and that show went off the air, but that time Don Meyer and I were very good friends and we kept seeing each other and talking about what we gotta do to get back on the air, he knew television and I didn’t, he says you never can get the old show back on, we have to have a new show, but we be gone to Africa in 1955 and had filmed 10 half hour episodes for the old Zoo Parade Show, and then we’d gone to the upper Amazon and had filmed in two, in two and a half months we had filmed, oh, three hour long episodes, and then we got canceled, so, the concept that we came up with was wild kingdom.

00:51:31 - 00:51:45

Well, it must have been pretty good concept because am I correct, that that’s the longest running animal show that’s, I mean, from Zoo Parade starting with yourself to Wild Kingdom?

00:51:45 - 00:53:08

Well, I expect so, and I guess by this time, Wild Kingdom, is the longest, they say it’s the longest running syndicated half hour program with the same sponsor, mutual of Omaha of course. Now when you were at Lincoln Park and doing Zoo Parade, and I was one of probably many a thousand people who came to the zoo on Sundays. Yes, we did it right out in front of the people. Knowing that Zoo Parade was going to be live. Was even announced the paper. Any exciting things ever happened, ’cause it was live that all of a sudden you didn’t expect to happen, I imagine there must have been. Oh, you know, there were lots of things that happened, things that we didn’t expect to happen and working with live animals, as you have for so many years, you know that you won’t you think you could control what the animals were going to do completely, but you could also anticipate what animals were going to do, and I was pretty good at that, I know one time we had a pasomona a little tree that had a platform to a dead tree and it had some branches, and I just knew, when that little guy reached that top branch, he was gonna stop and turn around and look at me. And so I asked him to do it before he got there.

00:53:08 - 00:56:10

And then he turned around and looked at him, and I said, why don’t you turn around let us see your face again, and so he did. So you really had. You got things like that. Yeah, it was all at lib, we had a so called script which was a story outline, it was really one animal after another or it was a thing that we were talking, like say local motion of animals, how animals move, and I know on that show crazy thing happened, Jim was not very, he was afraid of snakes, and he was very jittery around them, but after talking about the locomotion of mammals and of turtles and different kinds of locomotion, including aquatic, swimming and those type of thing, and talk about the locomotion in birds and worms and other things of this sort, we finally got around to locomotion in reptiles, and then snakes came up and as you know, there are many different types of locomotion with snakes and some of them climbed trees, and I had a red rat snake, which is a tree climber or frequently does climb trees, and in order to demonstrate his ability to crawl out onto a swaying vine or moving limb of a tree, I had a close line, I said, Jim, here’s the end of a close line, you go over there and I’ll stay here, and I’ll start to snake on this, and you’ll see how he can crawl across a rope, which is a simulated divine, and he started to crawl, but of course moved his body down below the level of the rope, and right about six or eight inches that crossed the rope again, got part of his body on that side, crossed the rope again, using caterpillar traction to cross the rope all the time, but being a constricting snake, had enough musculature to hang onto this also, and then when he was fully out on this thing about in the middle of this rope, which was about 12 feet long and the snake was about five feet long, I said to Jim, Jim this snake is so secure on there that we can actually swing it back and forth a little bit and he won’t fall off, well, being afraid of snakes, Jim instead of starting off gently, went woo like this, and of course he was such a shock and came so quickly that the snake didn’t stay on the rope, went plop on the top of the table. That’s the kind of thing that had happened many times on television, and the day I was bitten by a rattlesnake. I’ll tell you before we do that, why don’t we take a break, I feel like the host will get this squared away and then we’ll put in the second take then. Okay. Okay.

00:56:10 - 01:00:53

I think you probably don’t have a picture because it’s on bad. Effectively happened during the filming of Zoo Parade. Yes. When you were doing that Lincoln Park, there was one incident where you were working with a poisonous or a hot snake, and you were bitten, could you kind of relate to, I mean, this is, I guess the worst that could happen unexpectedly. Sure, I remember it well. It was on April fools day of 1951, and we had rehearsals for the program, but on that day I was in my office and Don Meyer and Jim Herbert came in and the engineers and so forth, we sat around in there talking, the phone was ringing constantly for all those pranksters who wanted talk to Mr. Al E Gator, or Mr. Lyon or Mr. Fox or one thing or another, and so, Jim took over the telephone, Jim Herbert, and when I say, I’d like speak to Mr. Wolf please, and Jim go woo, and he was just having fun, and it didn’t hurt anything either, and we were all kind of amused by Jim’s reaction and how he would respond to these various requests to speak to certain animals, and we got carried away with this and we had a very short time for rehearsal, and so I was hurrying, and one of the things I was to do, was to extract venom from a rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and I really didn’t have to catch the snake, but it did, I was working so fast that I just went through my mind while I’m gonna catch him here, so I pinned his head and grabbed him, and I did it so fast that I violated my own cardinal rule, never hurry when working with a poisonous snake, take your time, don’t let anything distract you, when you’re working with a poisonous snake, and so I violated this and I paid the penalty, because he twisted my fingers and bit me, reached around and got into one of my fingers, and there I was snake bit 20 minutes before air time, so I took a knife out of my pocket, I always carry a knife, and I opened up the thing and I cut right into my finger and started the blood going and I sucked that, and then I cut the other side and I sucked that, and Leo Grimmer ran to the reptile house and got first aid kit, and I enlarged those and we applied this exception pumps and stuck those on, well, everything went to pot, I had to go to the hospital, I couldn’t do the show, and Leo had to do it, it was in the small mammal house, and Judy the elephant was there, and we were going to open up on her, I’ve even got the title of the show, but it was a scattered thing because we’re gonna open up on her and to be in a small mammal house, kind of an in Congress situation where you had at elephant in a small mammal house, and the title of the show was tied to the bars of Judy’s cage in that building, and when Leo finally took over and they were on the air, and they had all the camera, had all their rehearsals and he knew that he was to pan from wherever he was over there to the title of the show, that was done off the air, but when he got there Don called, Don Meer called for title and it wasn’t there, Judy had eaten it, so it was that kind of a thing that often happened on the show, the unexpected things, or one time when we were showing the little spurs on a Python and we did a real tight close up just to show that portion of the Python’s body, and we had, there was a Python about 15 feet long and with a camera right down on this, she had a bowel movement and right on camera, well, it’s that kind of thing. Live TV. Yeah, live TV, so it went out to all those millions of people watching out there.

01:00:53 - 01:04:10

You know, people I think who watched Zoo Parade and who watch Wild Kingdom know you as Marlin Perkins of television, and people in the zoo profession who know you more as not only a zoo man but as herpetologist and someone who’s worked all his life with reptiles. When you came to Lincoln Park Zoo, you started, I believe snake hunts. Oh sure. At Lincoln park Zoo. Oh, yes, I’d been, yeah, I had been snake hunting for years and years, even before I ever worked in the zoo, but at St. Louis we did lots of snake hunts, every year both in spring and in the fall we went snake hunt, and in between times on our days off just for the fun of it, then here I thought it would be a good idea to instigate the same thing, because you always get wonderful publicity on those things, and so we did this and the park district, we had a station wagon for a while, and then I suggested we get a better vehicle, and they built a body, we designed one and they built a body on the back of a pickup truck, like a half ton truck, and that was a pretty good piece of equipment for us had doors, we could get inside a step and all to get into the back end of it, and it was still small enough that it could travel on the road, it was GM truck as I remember, and it was a perfectly good piece of equipment. So, then I teamed up with St. Louis where my old assistant Moly Lens was a general curator by that time, and had been curator of reptiles after I left there, and he went every year to snake hunt, so we teamed up at their suggestion actually, they wanted to make a movie of a snake hunt, and I was a photographer, so they suggested that I go along, and we’d have a combined Lincoln Park Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, snake hunt to Louisiana, Arkansas and wherever else, where those ones we selected, and I would shoot the movies and the pictures, 16 millimeter film, and then we both have copies and we could use that for publicity and education at the zoos. So, that worked out all right, and that great big truck went along on that trip and was in those pictures the repair and construction made special little boxes with, I designed them with a sliding top into a metal of track that it went into with a padlock, a hasp and a padlock bent there so that you could put poisonous snakes in there and lock them up and make sure they’re well ventilating, and we always put them in flower sacks inside of these boxes, and then we use those snakes to ship to other zoos in other parts of the world, in exchanged for their reptiles or amphibians or whatever, and some of those boxes turned up in places like Prague and Johannesburg, South Africa. They never sent them back.

01:04:10 - 01:04:15

No, no, no. Well, it’d be too expensive to send them back.

01:04:15 - 01:04:17

We still use those today?

01:04:17 - 01:04:24

Yeah, they’re good boxes, they’re only small about this high, and so they’re different size as you can make them any size wish.

01:04:24 - 01:04:26

So the park was receptive?

01:04:26 - 01:04:28

Yes. To the idea reptile hunt.

01:04:28 - 01:06:52

Yes, and they even sent Gates priests, the photographer, head photographer along on one trip, I think that was the trip he went on, the one that was a combined trip and he was shooting still pictures, he wasn’t a movie photographer, and we were on an old logging road in a swamp up near Gramercy Louisiana on the airline highway, it goes up to battle on rug, and walking on this gates was a kind of a frail fellow, small man, and he was carrying graph flex cameras, he had a couple of those, a great big bag, so I was looking out after him, and he wasn’t walking very fast, so he and I were at the back end of this whole thing, and Moody was gung-ho way up in the front catching things and brick chambers who was curator of reptiles here with me was along, or he was head keeper, whatever of the reptile house, and he was along on this trip, and they were all strung up this old road where the rails had been taken out, but the road bed was still there and it was covered with all kinds of growths of various sorts, and so Gates and I were at the back, and I had just picked up one of these beautiful little, speckled, king snakes, green with dark green, with lighter green speckles on them, and put it in the bag, and walking along looking for others, and pretty soon Gates says, hey, Marlin here’s one, so I went back and here was another one just lying there under the, hadn’t moved, it was just underneath part of the vegetation, I could only see a piece of its body, so I caught it, put it in a bag, walked up down the road ahead of Gates, and pretty soon he says, hey, Marlin here’s another one, and he saw four of those things, and all of these other guys had gone on down, down the trail and hadn’t seen them, they were just lying there in this part of their body exposed, so finally I said to Gates, I says, I don’t understand this, all these guys have gone past here and they haven’t seen those snakes and you have, how do you account for that?

01:06:52 - 01:06:56

He says, do you suppose it’s because I’m colorblind?

01:06:56 - 01:07:22

He was spotting. Yeah, he was, the camouflage didn’t fool him because he saw it for the true thing. Well, you’ve answered a question now, I’ve been on two snake hunts with Ed Monarda, who was one of your pro. Yes, that’s right. And Eddie is colorblind. Yeah, well. And he seems to spot those things real easier in the bush, so I wonder if there’s a correlation there. Maybe, maybe we should take colorblind people snake hunting.

01:07:22 - 01:07:47

I think, well, I don’t know, that would leave me out, I must admit I had an enjoyable. Take them. I’ll take them just. Yeah. Now, that tradition of snake hunting has continued on, you know you started. That’s good. In fact, at this September, I don’t know if I should, well, he’s going to Arizona this September, I don’t know if I should. He better get permits if he’s going on.

01:07:47 - 01:08:06

Oh, he’s been working on it. I don’t know if I should be mad at you though, because you should have started something in the mammal section. Oh, we caught mammals too. Well, I say, see, they had that tradition of snake hunting, they’re sending Eddie out every year, but they’re not sending anybody else. Oh, well. Well, when you’re talking about. Mammals are harder to catch. Well, I’d give it a good try though.

01:08:06 - 01:08:07

I’m sure you would.

01:08:07 - 01:08:13

When we were talking about elephants before, you talked about Judy, you were involved when Judy came to Lincoln Park?

01:08:13 - 01:08:16

No, no, I wasn’t, she was here when I came.

01:08:16 - 01:08:16

She was before?

01:08:16 - 01:09:17

Yeah. She was already here, but her history was a very interesting one, I’m sure you have it all down, but she came in to Virginia I believe, in a circus, was brought by a circus from Europe I believe also, mostly animals in those days came by road, Europe, anyhow, and then she was sold to another circus and then to another one and finally to Brookfield, oh, to Benson up in nation of New Hampshire, and then he sold her to Brookfield and she’d been a push animal I think in the circus, and she had some training and she did a few of training. When she was here at Lincoln Park, she was a pretty good elephant, you never had many problems with it. Had very few problems, the big problem was the winter time, when we had to put her in that poor little old building, off of exhibit. and, oh, it was just too bad after, but. We talked about zoos. Hard to keep it warm for one time.

01:09:17 - 01:09:33

We talked about zoos and new things coming up, concepts and things like that, and you designed or built the first children’s zoo at Lincoln Park, how’d that come about, had there been many children zoos?

01:09:33 - 01:09:35

Was this, obviously it was brand new for Lincoln Park.

01:09:35 - 01:13:51

Yeah, there were some other children’s zoos, well, we had a keeper here named Lyman Carpenter, and Lyman was an artist and he was a doer, he could make any darn thing, so, we had a concept, I had a concept of a children zoo and we had no funds, the budget didn’t give us anything, so, I said to Lyman, I said, Lyman, the park district had some kind of children’s thing out in parks on the west side, and they were having some kind of a children’s fair or something out there, and I said to Lyman, why don’t we get our heads together and make a portable children’s zoo thing out of plywood, and simple little cages, and take it out there for the Chicago park district at this, whatever their function they were having out there, and it was an outdoor thing, so Lyman got busy and came up, we talked the thing over pretty carefully, and other people were involved in planning for this, and so Lyman built some about those panels I think about four by six feet or so, and he painted those things in animal motifs and designs, and arranged them cleverly so that they would work, you could set them up and make a triangle, or this box out of or anything, and then with all these different cages, they were flashy, brightly colored things to attract the tension of children or anybody, and then the animals were things that you could actually take out and handle, non poisonous snakes and turtles, and tame guinea pigs, and all the usual things that you would handle, so, that was a kind of a success, then we had all this stuff afterwards, so we set it up down near the south pond, and had a kind of a little temporary children’s zoo down there, one summer, and this was very well received, we got a lot of publicity at the press, the park district did pictures of it and was put into the publications that they developed, and from that point forward, we pushed for funds for a children’s zoo a good one, and I had some concepts on that, it was also Lyman who got tired of being a day keeper, and wanted to be a night keeper, and so I shifted him to be a being a night keeper, and then he would sometimes get things in in the evening, people would bring things like baby squirrels, or baby raccoons or possums or something like this that they’d found, and bring them to the zoo, and Lyman would take them and find a place for them and look after them, and then when baby animals were born, Lyman was very good with animals and he would take care of them at night time here, and this was so successful, I approved of that wholeheartedly because up to that time, we had sent baby tigers or lions or whatever out to private homes, some of the people working in the zoo would take them home with them, and I prefer to have them here, because of health reasons for the animals, and so that they don’t get too highly imprinted on people, and they be, have a variety of people taking care of them instead of just one or two, and so we developed the first children’s, let’s see, what do I call that thing?

01:13:52 - 01:15:48

The nursery, the zoo nursery, and that was built on the floor of the lion house, and it was just a temporary structure, but it had glass windows, and we had, just the floor of the building below it, and we’d roll these cages out right up to the front, and then we had the formulas posted on the window and our vital statistics, about when the animal was born, and what its food was and how much it weighs now, as the whole chart, and they could see all these charts, we’d just turn around and hang them on a nail so that the public could read them too. Done, still today. And so we also put that on television, on the old Zoo Parade Show, and one Monday morning I got a call from a man in Cleveland, and said, I saw that lousy homemade incubator you had there at the zoo, he said, why don’t put your animals in a human incubator, they’re so much better, and I said, well, we don’t have one, we don’t have any money for one, and he says, well, I manufacture human incubators, and he said, I’m going to send you one, so he did, and then I wrote him to thank him for it, and he wrote back, we had some correspondence back and forth, and finally I wrote him one day, I said, we need two more of these things, and he sent them right on. So that was the beginning of incubators being used, human incubators being converted for animal use, and it turned out fine, and now, you know, what has happened in the children’s zoo, with all the wonderful controls that you have there for maybe animals. We have women animal keepers today, and it’s taken for granted, but when you were at. Yeah, that’s a recent edition, and I think a good one. In fact, didn’t you hire the first. We had some girls, we had girls in the children’s zoo.

01:15:48 - 01:16:14

Right, that mean that that was done when you were here. Oh yeah, sure, yeah. I have to be nice, ’cause the camera girls see as one of our better keepers I have to. Yeah. Well, I highly approve of women working with animals as animal keepers, and some are very, very good with animals. I think all of that I know, I’ve ever known one who wasn’t good with animals.

01:16:17 - 01:16:18

Now, what else do you wanna know?

01:16:18 - 01:17:43

There was another famous animal here, Mike the polar bear. Mike the polar bear, that’s right. And he was a very large bear. he was a little over 10 feet tall when he stood up with the behind legs, and he was almost as tall as the top of the bars, and if they hadn’t had a curvature over, he could have probably muscled his way out, but with the curvature overhang of the bars themselves, he couldn’t get out of the cage. You think animals, when you talk about Mike, and you talk about Bushman and Sinbad, and I remember looking at the old newspaper clippings and I would just see fantastic crowds, there was one newspaper clipping, of two alarm tanks that came in via airplane or something, the crowds in the building were 10 deep, 20 deep. Well, we fill a building with people in those days. Yeah, but you don’t do that today for a new acquisition, I mean, we have pretty good publicity, but it certainly doesn’t seem like you fill a building, you know, if we got two new gorillas from Britain, we didn’t fill a building. Well, they’ve seen gorilla, they’ve seen a lot of gorillas by now, but when Bushman was here, there were only about eight gorillas in captivity, well, less than that, I think in the United States at that time.

01:17:43 - 01:17:45

Masa bamboo, some of those.

01:17:45 - 01:17:50

Yeah, yeah, they were there and Bamboo is still alive, is he?

01:17:50 - 01:17:52

No, no, did he finally die?

01:17:52 - 01:18:36

Yeah, I think in fact, in looking at that old kind scope of the gorilla show, it’s interesting how things progressed, Freeman, you asked Freeman Shelly, you said to Freeman, Freeman how old do you think a gorilla can get to be, it’s probably in the 50s, and Freeman thought for a minute, and he said, well, you know Marlin I’ll bet they could live to about 30, I’ll bet you, and today, Philadelphia and Masa I think is over 50 years old or approaching 50, so we’ve come a long way. Yes we have. Is Nasa who is still alive. Yes. Yeah, that’s the one I meant. Yeah, Bamboo died. Yeah, Bamboo died I knew that, I got the name mixed up. So, but they seem to generate much bigger crowds.

01:18:37 - 01:18:59

Yeah, I guess so, and maybe the television has something to do with that too, in fact they can see animals on television so well, and so close up, and the news part of television showed lots of animals. Now, a question, what made you, you came to this Lincoln Park Zoo, and it was kind of a little menagerie zoo. Well, yeah, sort of.

01:18:59 - 01:19:15

You had good points but bad, and you kind of did some nice things with it, and I guess as all things are, you know, you left some for someone else to do, but picked up where someone else had left off, how come you decided to go to another zoo?

01:19:15 - 01:19:25

What prompted decision to leave Lincoln Park, and our part, that part of our history, and then go on to other things that were very nice, but what was the transition then?

01:19:25 - 01:24:00

Okay. Speaking of famous people here. Anyhow, the reason I went back to St. Louis was because I had had a nostalgic feeling for the St. Louis Zoo, the zoo that where I had my start, and a zoo that was a very beautiful zoo, wonderful topography there, the grounds of rolling hills and natural trees, the old oak trees there, lots of white oaks there, and other kinds of oaks, and the design for that zoo was a very good one, it was a carefully planned and worked out thing, there had been a master plan for it, early, early in the teens, and John Wallace was the architect, and I knew a lot of, he was a very, he did was full time, employed full time as a zoo architect to build that zoo, and he didn’t have any other, other outside business, except maybe with friends houses and things of this sort, well, that was one reason I left, another reason I left was because, I had regularly asked for increases in salaries, not only for myself, but for the zoo personnel, all of them, they had the animal keepers classified as laborers in the civil service classification, they were under a labor ceiling, they couldn’t make more money than X number of dollars, it would be for that group, the gardeners in the greenhouse were skilled technicians, so they got more money than the animal keepers did, and I kept pushing and fighting for this and finally got them reclassified, and they did then make more money, the guy that made the most money in that general classification was our truck driver Art, and he of course belonged to the right union, and so did some, one of the board members was the president of the union, I think, and so they got quite a lot more money than any of that level people working in the zoo, and I had, I was getting $10,500 a year in 1962, and most of the other zoo directors were way above that, around the country, way above it, I mean up to maybe 20,000 or something like that in those days, maybe some even more. and I was offered $25,000 to go down to the St. Louis Zoo, and so that, and the fact that I went to the park district and to Mr. Galey the president and to George Doughney the general superintendent and asked them to go to the board through, and here is an offer a legitimate offer that I have to go to St. Louis, now, if you’re interested in keeping me here, you must come up with that or better, and they didn’t, and so I went to St. Louis. Well, it was I think a very wonderful time though. Yes, it was, and I have fond memories of Chicago and the Lincoln Park Zoo, and I don’t hold any grudges against them for that, actually I earned the Chicago park district many times my salary, by having Zoo Parade, because the Chicago Park District got paid by NBC for the rights to televise on Chicago Park District property right here in the Lincoln Park Zoo, they made about $150,000 out of the old zoo parade show, a lot more than I made out of it. And actually that was a show that received a lot of awards in the early days of television, and education.

01:24:00 - 01:24:13

Sure, sure, but having received this money, they were so shortsighted in not having me, and I think they felt that, well, he’s making money on television, why should we have to pay him anymore?

01:24:13 - 01:24:39

But that must have been their concept, but it wasn’t correct, it wasn’t right that they should do that, and not increase the salary of the zoo director, ’cause how are you gonna hire somebody else take my place, when Les came he got more than I did right off the bat, you know that. And you, and Les was a part time. Les was part-time veterinarian. Yes.

01:24:39 - 01:24:47

And then he came when I decided to go, he came over and talked to me about the possibility of being zoo director, and how did I feel about it?

01:24:47 - 01:24:56

And I said, well, why would you wanna leave your lucrative practice in Burwood and come be a zoo director for $10,500?

01:24:56 - 01:24:58

I said, can you live on that?

01:24:58 - 01:25:37

He says, no. And so, anyhow, he worked out something on that, and he’s made a tremendous success, I think he was the best possible choice for this, and I think everybody would agree because Les has done great things for this zoo. Well, I wanna thank you for your time. You’re welcome. And it’s been a pleasure that to have you come. So nice to be with you Mark. About, you know, the time at Lincoln Park Zoo. We all like the zoo, we all have, again, a fondness for all the people that have come through it, whether as your teaching proteges that came through and now are directors of other zoos, yourself.

01:25:37 - 01:28:23

Well, that my concept on that, let’s go back to that just for a minute, if you got any more time. We got time. My concept was that, there is no place in the country where you can learn to be a zoo man except in a zoo, and I felt obligated to teach, and to have the people who are working here in in the curatorial or zoology level, to learn not only one department like reptile or birds or mammals, but I had in, I insisted that they all make the rounds in the zoo every day, and then I used to have a meeting of about five or 10 minutes in my office, following their rounds, we had a more or less set time for this, and they used to come in and say, well, there’s this and report into me, but I made the rounds too, and I knew what was going on all over the zoo, but I wanted them to have the feeling of knowing more than one small section of the zoo, because when you, there’s so many reasons why it’s important for them to know more than one little grouping of animals, and it was this concept that made the difference between men who could go out then and be full time zoo directors. Must have made a difference. It did make a difference. A well respected people who started at the zoo of Lincoln Park Zoo. Yeah, Ed Maruska for example came in here as an animal keeper, when he hadn’t even finished high school, we helped him to finish high school, he was already married and had three kids, and he finished high school, and then we were able to get him down at Roosevelt College, where he got zoology, and we were able to do this because I could arrange, by that time we had two days a week off instead of one, and I could arrange his days, so he could coordinate with the courses in school, he went to night school to finish high school, and then he went to Roosevelt, and didn’t some night work there, but he also took courses on the two days that we could arrange his time. I say one of the things that I was told a while back, that one of the responsibilities of the zoologist when he was at Lincoln Park Zoo, and I guess in coordination with the nursery, that every morning he had to go to the lion house, and if there were baby cats, they had to exercise them on the floor, I wish today that was part of the responsibility of the zoologist, that’s part of the fun, you know, the higher you go, the more administration you get and the less content.

01:28:23 - 01:30:47

It’s was in the early mornings and at night, though sometimes they would let the young cats out, not the tiny babies but the others for exercise. Well, I’d here, that’s a very good policy, that’s not too tough a job too. Yeah, I’ll tell you something else that Lyman found out about, in taking care of these little baby animals that were coming in, I know one night somebody brought in two or three little baby raccoons and they’d had them in a box couple days and they were doing well, and so they thought they better get over here, they brought them in lamb and took them in, and their bellies were just extended, they were just like a drum, they were so tight, and with Lyman’s knowledge of animals he figured, well, now, if these were with their mother, she would start urination by licking them, so he put his finger underneath the faucet and got some water and simulated the mother’s tongue with his finger and right away, they started urinating, and he got all three of those, that was the first time ever heard of that practice and Lyman called it piddly, and this became common knowledge now, and all zoo baby animals are piddled. And I think that was Lyman carton who. May have the first. Yes. Okay, thank you very much, and now, give me about 10 feet or to 10 numbers on that. Just fast forward as head 10, because as long as I’ve got you on tape, maybe three more minutes, and we’re putting together a training tape on elephants, training and so forth, and I got Alvie Nelson from Madison Wisconsin we were up there, and he, you know, talked about elephants just a little, and as long as you’re here, it’s kind of a quick golden opportunity, I just like to a couple of things about, what I’m trying to do is a training take for keepers to instill in them that elephants can be dangerous, and you have to be careful when you’re working with elephants, that it’s not, as you said, concentration, you know, it’s not something that you cannot have your wits about you, that you have to have fun with them, but always be aware that these are big guys that can hurt you, and maybe we can do just a little quick, little thing like that, because that would be nice if we could do that.

01:30:47 - 01:30:48

All right.

01:30:48 - 01:30:52

You wanna talk about how they work at trainer in India?

01:30:52 - 01:30:57

Well, that’d be a nice thing, sure, absolutely. I think first thing I’d like to talk about is that.

01:30:58 - 01:30:59

Are we on?

01:30:59 - 01:31:01

We’re on. Oh, great.

01:31:01 - 01:31:22

We’re are having bit here, that when you’ve been around a lot of zoo animals, but you’ve been around elephants a lot in your career as a zoo director, if you had to tell me a young novice starting out working, wanting to work with elephants, what advice could you give me as pertains to working with elephants and safety?

01:31:23 - 01:40:56

Well, the best way to learn how to take care of elephants is to work with an elephant man who’s had experience, and we had an old man here, an old trainer, an old, he was an old man, and he’d had some injuries too from elephants, and his name was Harvey Carlisle, he had been with Ziggy, when Ziggy was named after Zig Feld, and Zig Feld had bought that little baby elephant and Harvey Carlisle, was the elephant trainer for that baby elephant, and they went all over the world with Ziggy as a small elephant, when I got here, Harvey Carlisle was all bent over, Kind of punch back. He was all bent over like this and he had to look up this way, and he’d had a bad injury here and there, one time or another with elephants, and we had, so I seeing his condition, he was a very good man with elephants, and he knew them very well indeed, and he knew how much, how to apply pressure with his elephant to stick and do all of these things, and he knew how to trim their toenails, and the bottom of their feet had to have the grasp put on them if they didn’t, if they didn’t wear it down enough, and many, many other little things about elephants, then actually handling them and precautionary things don’t ever let an elephant maneuver your next to a wall, a keeper was just recently almost killed in Omaha, by an elephant that rubbed him out next to a wall, but the elephant sent out a warning signal to this man who was the chief trainer there at the zoo, at those elephants which is breeding male, and he threw water at him with his trunk, and then the elephant next door was in asterisks, and had been breeding and they had separated, and he was trying to get the elephant do the usual things, and he didn’t read the signs, so he almost got killed, and he didn’t fortunately. And it’s when Harvey Carlisle was here, we had Paul. Temble. The Temble, and Paul was selected, he liked elephants, and he had been working with Harvey, because Harvey couldn’t do a lot of heavy lifting, yet Harvey kept holding out information, he wouldn’t tell him everything, he was a circus man, and he had the feeling that if he told Paul all he knew about how to take care of elephants, that Paul would then take over his job that he’d lose out. Well, I read that one, and I finally talked to him about this, and I said, I told him the facts of the situation, that it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to his job, ’cause we’re civil service here, in order to get you out of this zoo, I have to find you doing something wrong and I have to prefer charges against you, and you have the right to speak in defense of yourself, and I can just walk in some day and say, you’re fired, because we’re civil servants in the park district, and it doesn’t work that way, so you’ll never be fired by having somebody take your job away from you, and as long as I’m here you’ll always be in charge of the elephant, but you do need help, and you should think of the elephant, ’cause she may outlive you, and if you don’t have somebody ready to take over, when you have to go then by golly, what’s going to happen to Judy, and this kind of approach to it, so finally we broke him down, I put Leo on the job, and some of the other zoologists, and they all kind of probed him a bit here and there in their own way, and finally, he broke in Paul De Temble, and Paul knew then how to take care of the elephant, but it’s that, it is the best way to learn how to do it, and that’s the way they do it pretty much in India. We filmed a story in the Southern part of India near Maison, at Pocket Okhla forest preserve, they call them, and there they have working elephants, which they catch in the area, and they catch them as adults or as young adults, and they don’t catch the babies, although they do have some babies, but they have, this is in the hills and they have hill tribe people, and those hill tribe people are average of fairly small stature, and have their own language of course, and they are the mahouts for those elephants, and they are, when they catch one, a young man is assigned as a mahout for that particular animal, and he’s the first one that ride, gets on the neck of that animal and rides that animal, and he feeds it and takes care of it, and takes care of the little sores that may occur or the breaks in the skin and all of these things, and they teach them about 50 or 60 words of hill tribe language, and they can do virtually anything just by the words themselves, for example, the word to lie down is ziet, and I learned that the hard way, because we were filming a story about how elephants are captured, and how elephants are trained and then worked, and I was writing a great male elephant, and Tom Allen one of Ross Allen’s sons was with me, and he rode another male, we had two photographers, we set our cameras up on a jungle path, a little trail going through the jungle, and it gravel was there in this spot, and the elephants were positioned right near this, just beyond that path, and we were to walk this little path, and pass by in front of the elephants, and the elephants then would lie down and we would get on their backs, and then we would exit the scene out, down that path, and so when they rolled the cameras and we got the signal, there were cameras were rolling, and leading Tom, ’cause my animal was on the other side, we passed in front of the first animal, and then I went in front of the other one, and at that moment I was about to pass in front of my animal, the mahout gave the order to lie down, and he said Zeit, and the elephant, I was so close to the elephant, that he couldn’t reach forward with his front legs to lie down, so I was in his way, so he did the obvious thing, he reached out with a tusk and flicked me out of his way, I woke up on the ground about eight or 10 feet away, and I landed face first, I just woke up there and my hand that was here holding onto the strap of my binoculars, that hit the ground and my face, my nose was broken, my teeth went through my lips and I had three broken ribs, just from that one little thing like that, that the elephant did to get me out of his way, so you can get injured without even half trying, by not recognizing little things of that nature, I should have gotten off the path, and gone around in front of him, but there were a lot of bushes and stickers and things there, and I thought I could probably get by, that close to the front of the elephant, because he’d been perfectly gentle up to that point, but if they hadn’t been given the order, it would’ve been all right, but when the order to lie down was given, it wasn’t all right. So, these people are awfully good, they can have an elephant go forward, back up, turn right, turn left, trunk up, trunk down, raise your right foot, raise your left foot, raise your right hand foot, raise your left hand foot, swing your head, pick up that log, all these things, they tell them all these things, and they take very good care of them, and they have a special big loaf about the size of an elephant dropping, that is filled with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, that they give them in addition to the green things that they cut for them for fodder.

01:40:56 - 01:44:32

That’s an interesting concept for animals and captivity, for feeding them and things like that. Okay, thank you on that, I think that’ll be that, I think we got enough of that. But I like to, if you’re still rolling, I like to had one more word. Go ahead, and that is, that you never should work with an elephant without somebody else being there, that was the mistake that chap made in Omaha, he got there early in the morning, and he worked that elephant before the other keepers got in, and this was against the rules, but he did it, and the rules are there for a purpose, and the zoo director does have some sense and they have some experience, and if there is a rule made like that, it’s for a very important reason, and I just feel that it’s important that you as a keeper would always pay attention to the rules themselves because you break a rule, it’s your fault, and if you follow the rules and do the thing, the regulations that are laid down, then you’re on a much safer side, not only because you’re following orders, but for your own safety, because elephants can be enormously dangerous, and if they ever maneuver you as they’re clever as they can be to maneuver you into a tight situation just next to a wall, or in a corner or something, you may never cut out of that corner, or they never be a grease spot on the floor after having having an elephant rub you up next to a wall, so, sure there are dangerous, there are a lot of animals that are dangerous. When I was first introduced at the St Louis Zoo, I was on the laboring gang, mowing grass and digging ditches and clipping hedges and things like this, and then one day the director came by, and says, I have a job for you to do up in the north, in the east end, so he took me up there and introduced me to an animal keeper named Floyd Smith, and so Floyd is going to put you into one of the yards here because he has a job that you must do, and here I am, 21 years old, my first job in a zoo, and the first chance to work with a zoo animal, and the animals were Rocky mountain, goats, and my job was to go in the yard, while Floyd would start me there, then he would go in a journey yard for the big horn sheep, and I was to rake the yard, but look out for the goats, and as he introduced me to this, he said to me, now kid, he says, I want to impress on you, the importance of being careful, he said, all animals are dangerous, and even a mouse can bite you, so it was that kind of an approach that got me, my first start in the zoo animal field and Floyd was right, Floyd eventually became the trainer of the elephants and had the first elephant show for the St. Louis Zoo, and was there throughout the time until he retired, unfortunately, Floyd is no longer living, but at least he wasn’t killed by an elephant. Okay.

About Marlin Perkins

Marlin Perkins
In Memoriam
Mar 28, 1905 - Jun 14, 1986
Download Curricula Vitae


Saint Louis Zoo: St. Louis, Missouri

Director Emeritus

Marlin Perkins was a zoo man. In 1928 he was named curator of reptiles at the St. Louis Zoo. Later his career path took him to the Buffalo Zoo, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and finally back to St. Louis where he retired in 1970.

While director at Lincoln Park Zoo he hosted the first ever animal show in the history of television. It was called Zoo Parade and ran from 1949-1957. This success spawned another show Wild Kingdom in 1963. His adventures even took him to the Himalayan Mountains where he joined Sir Edmund Hillary in an expedition to find the Yeti.

Related Interviews

View All of Our Interviews

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Zoo & Aquarium Video Archive or those acting under their authority.