Gentle Giants: Famous Bears in Fact & Fiction
“GRIZZLY BEARS ARE THE TRUE MONARCHS OF THE WILDERNESS.” Jane Goodall Quote
As I said in my posting “Bears in Literature” — bears have appeared in our folk tales since we first told stories. Especially in Northern cultures, where the bear was seen as a fierce and noble animal. Literally, in Northern Europe, the original “King of Beasts.”
Some cultures, especially First Nations and Northern European, believed that Bear was Humankind’s closest blood relative. Many chieftains and war leaders in old Nordic, Celtic, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon clans claimed to have Bear blood in their ancestry.
Famous fictional bears include Rudyard Kipling ‘s Baloo, A A Milne’s Winnie-the Poo, Michael Bond’s Paddington, Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben, as well as favourites Yogi and Boo Boo. 
Perhaps the best known Ursine-themed story is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” which drifted from fiction to real life when the bear who played Gentle Ben on TV once ran into the woodlands around Miami and met a little girl who was all by herself…
Famous Bears in Fact
From ferocious and dangerous attackers — to loving and carefree friends — real life bears have appeared in Hollywood productions from the beginning.
Most famously in Canada, movies like Nell Shipman’s silver screen classics of the Silent Era, Back To God’s Country and Trail of the Northwind — both filmed with animals from Nell’s own wildlife rescue sanctuary. Both including Brownie, a laid back brown bear Nell had raised from an orphaned cub.
Here are a few of the most famous real-life bears:
1. Bruno, aka Ben. Bruno, along with his brother Smoky, was rescued as an orphaned black bear and appeared in a number of Ivan Tors features, including Zebra in the Kitchen and Daktari.
Bruno’s career blossomed when he was cast as the title character in the televised version of Walt Morey’s beloved novel GENTLE BEN.
Author Walt Morey was raised in the Pacific Northwest and set his novels in the cold Northcountry of Alaska and Canada, including his popular and best selling KAVIC THE WOLF DOG and GENTLE BEN.
When Tors adapted GENTLE BEN for the screen, he changed the locale from Alaska to the Florida Everglades, where the producer had a wildlife sanctuary.
Bruno quickly learned to respond to the name “Ben.” And probably became the most famous bear of them all.
Ricou Browning, who directed many episodes, explained, “Ben was a big puppy dog. He wasn’t well-trained; he was just tame. We had other black bears, some trained better than him, that we used as doubles and backups, and also for stunts and tricks. Gentle Ben’s main capacity in the show was to work with the boy (Clint Howard) and to be friendly and nice.” 
The biggest scare they got while filming came the day Gentle Ben, alarmed by a sudden noise, “took off into the woods down here south of Miami. We all went after him with lassoes, but nobody could find him — a 650-pound black bear running loose in Miami…”
What followed was a three day bear hunt, with the crew worried that someone else — with a gun — would find him first.
“On the third day,” continued Ricou, “a little girl was riding her bike on one of the bicycle trails and rode up to our bear. She had her lunch basket with her, so she shared her lunch with our bear then let us know that she’d found him. Why the little girl wasn’t frightened to death, I don’t know.”
Producer Ivan Tors wasn’t surprised at the result of this citywide bear hunt, explaining, “Humans have only given Ben good experiences so Ben only gives good experiences in return.”
Dennis Weaver, by the way, who portrayed the boy’s father, Park ranger Tom Wedloe, used to love to play and roughhouse with the bear Ben between takes. Weaver would go on to become a noted vegetarian, environmentalist and animal rights activist.
2. Bozo, aka Ben. Bozo was a female Kodiak bear. She was found working in a travelling circus. Nothing was known about her cubhood, though animal trainer Dan Haggerty believed that because of “her amazing affection for humans” she had been raised as a pet and then sold to the circus when she got bigger.
When the TV series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams was cast, Haggerty was picked as both the bear’s trainer (the bear was supposed to be a male named Ben) and as the actor portraying the title character, James “Grizzly” Adams, a real-life independent mountain man who had lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California in the 1860’s. The series was released in 1977.
Haggerty had already experienced working with animals in movies and television, including some Disney productions and the live-action Tarzan series. Since “actors didn’t like animals leaping on them,” he easily found work as a stuntman, double and animal handler. “I had lions and chimps and leopards and all kinds of things. So working with the bear and the eagle and all that was a very natural thing for me to do.”
The series only lasted one season but has become a beloved classic. As Dan Haggerty concluded, “I think the response to Grizzly Adams shows something very important. I think it shows that people like blue skies and animals and simple things that are clean and honest.”
When Bozo developed health problems, she was retired to the Folsom Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she received care. She passed in her sleep while hibernating in January, 1990. “She was my girlfriend and my best friend and one of the best animals I ever worked with,” said Haggerty.
3. Brutus the Bear. Brutus was only a newborn grizzly cub when wildlife enthusiast Casey Anderson found him in an animal preserve. The grizzly would eventually grow to become a 800 pound adult — and a friend.
As Anderson explains, grizzlies raised in captivity can’t be released back into the wilderness. For one thing, it takes a grizzly mama a full two years to teach a cub the necessities of hunting and surviving in the wild — without its mother to protect and teach it, the cub will lose its life. And bears raised around humans become too trusting of Humankind — not a good survival trait in Hunting Season.
So Anderson raised the cub himself. He built the Montana Grizzly Encounter, an animal rescue sanctuary, where Brutus can live. And has shown him on TV on programs like National Geographic’s Expedition Wild.
“There is nothing special about me,” says Anderson. “But Brutus is an exceptional grizzly bear, who just happens to have me as his pet. In the beginning there was a lot of roaring, with me lying on top of Brutus, as we rolled around on the ground and I growled in his ear and called him a bad boy. We understand each other now, with the result that we exchange a lot of high fives and I frequently call him a good boy.” 
Brutus was Anderson’s Best Man when the naturalist filmmaker married actress Missi Pyle.
4. Blaze the Mama Grizzly. On the very day I’m writing this, the popular Yellowstone Park mother Grizzly Bear Blaze is making news — and it’s bad news. Park workers have hunted down and captured Blaze Bear. A human hiker has apparently been killed by a bear. It’s reported that he accidentally stumbled upon the sleeping mama and her cubs. If it’s determined that the attacking animal was Blaze, she will be slaughtered. No news yet what they will do with her cubs.
There’s online action, including Twitter, saying “DO NOT KILL BLAZE!”
The National Park Service is reported as saying that “the mother bear has been trapped, but not the cubs who they can hear calling for their mother from the surrounding forest. The park service has said the bears will be killed if DNA testing matches them to the evidence around the hiker’s body.”
It’s also reported that the poor hiker wasn’t carrying bear spray. When I was a much younger man, neither did I. The recklessness of youth. But knowing what I do now — and loving bears as I do — I now carry bear spray when in the woods…
UPDATE: Friday, Aug 14. This morning I had to Tweet: “#RememberBlaze! RT NEWS: THEY KILLED BLAZE & SENT HER ORPHANED CUBS TO A ZOO! REMEMBER BLAZE! HUMAN STUPIDITY…”
A sad day — one battle lost, but the long struggle to save all living creatures we share our Sacred Earth with must never end.
Do You Love Animal Stories?
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WOLFBLOOD, a Northwestern yarn in the Jack London Tradition, Free to Read ==> CLICK HERE WOLFBLOOD: A Wild Wolf, A Half-Wild Husky & A Wily Old Trapper
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 To see my complete posting BEARS IN LITERATURE, CLICK HERE NOW!
 To learn more about Nell Shipman and her popular Wilderness & Wildlife movies, as well as other WOMEN PIONEERS OF ANIMAL RIGHTS, CLICK HERE NOW!
 From THE GREAT SHOW BUSINESS ANIMALS by David Rothel, published 1980, A S Barnes & Company, California
 Casey Anderson, THE STORY OF BRUTUS: My Life With Brutus The Bear And The Grizzlies Of North America, published 2010, Pegasus Books, New York
Famous Bears in Fact & Fiction – From Gentle Ben to Brutus Bear
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