“My Wild Kingdom” by Marlin Perkins
This autobiography is an interesting insight to the man that most know for his television program “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”. He was also the director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago from 1944 until 1962, when he became the director of the St. Louis Zoo until his retirement in 1970 (tho he stayed on there as Director Emeritus until his death in 1986).
Besides being an autobiography of the man himself, it is an interesting insight into the practices of early zoo keeping. The ideas of ‘conservation’ in the 30s, 40s, and even 50s are a far, far cry from what we now know.
Written in first-person narrative, you feel as tho you are sitting in his office listening to him tell you about his fascinating life. His folksy yet formal style of storytelling is just like you heard him speak on “Wild Kingdom”.
It’s a fun nostalgic read for those of us who are “baby boomers”.
However, I chose this book for my March review for a very personal reason.
I knew Marlin Perkins. Oh not in a ‘go over for dinner’ kind of way (don’t I wish!) but nevertheless, in a sweet way that typified the man.
I was ‘that kid’ who read every book I could get my hands on that was about animals. Seriously…I read the entries in the World Book encyclopedia. Growing up near St. Louis meant we made a lot of trips to the zoo.
Being Mr. Perkins was a very hands on type of zoo directors, one would see him walking about the zoo grounds, often with distinguished guest but also sometime by himself. One of those times he was by himself I spotted him. Being the 5 or 6 year old animal lover I was, of course “Wild Kingdom” was one of my favorite shows and he was my hero. I was SO excited to see him. My parents encouraged me to go tell him “hello” but I lost my nerve about 10 feet from him. When he noticed this little kid gazing at him, he smiled and motioned me to come closer. I’m not sure how our conversation started, but at some point I told him I knew EVERY animal in the zoo. So he asked me about the critter in front of us.
“That’s easy! That’s a Bactrian Camel!”
Then I proceeded to tell him everything I knew about that camel. After spending a few minutes with him, my folks gave me “the signal” that meant it was time to leave Mr. Perkins alone and come back over to them. As I skipped off (on air!), he told me he looked forward to seeing me again sometime.
Several years later (I was about 11 this time), his wife Carol was speaking in my little town as a fund raiser for her new wolf sanctuary. My parents were going out for the evening but they arranged for my sitter to take me to her lecture. Mrs. Perkins spoke about a recent trip to Australia and at one point in the slide show she asked the audience if anyone know what animal she had on the screen. No hands went up. I leaned over to my sitter and whispered “It’s a dingo.”
And the sitter raised her hand and made me tell what it was. Mrs. Perkins looked at me for a moment and asked if I would come down and talk to her for a moment when the program was over.
When we walked down to her later, she smiled and said “Teri?”
I nodded ‘yes’.
Her smile grew broader as she said, “So you're the one. Marlin wondered if you’d be here tonight.”
I tell you, I could have just burst with happiness! (And my sitter about fell over with shock at me being ‘known’ by a famous person.)
That ‘friendship’ lasted until I married and moved away. Every time I went to the zoo, I was looking for a very particular grey head in the crowd. The times I saw him, we would exchange greetings and small talk; usually about something to do with the zoo but sometimes I’d tell him something about me too.
Marlin Perkins passed away in ’86 and it was a sad time for me.
Many years later in 2005 while on a road trip, Himself and I passed thru his home town of Carthage, MO and visited a memorial to him.
And more years later I took Little Bird to see his statue at the Marlin Perkins Plaza at the St. Louis Zoo. I am so looking forward to showing her and Little Hoss the zoo, and teaching them all about the creatures who live there.
And telling them about a sweet man named Marlin, who loved the animals too.
For my art piece, I digitally altered photographs I took while in Kenya. I used the "neon" and "HDR" aps to get this look, then put them together using the 'collage' feature. The animals pictured are:
Top row: Impala, Giraffe, Zebra
Middle row: Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Wildebeest
Bottom row: Leopard, Rhino, Lion