May 12, 2019


Jim Fowler, intrepid host of 'Wild Kingdom' nature series, dies at 89 (HARRISON SMITH, 5/11/19, The Washington Post)

He was charged by a herd of 200 elephants, escaping only with the help of a flatbed truck, and was once knocked unconscious by a surly chimpanzee named Mr. Moke, who punched him "square between the eyes." But neither incident compared to the time a 22-foot anaconda swallowed his arm, up to the shoulder.

"Luckily," said Jim Fowler, the longtime co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, "I knew what to do." As the indigenous tribe gathered around him fled the scene, Fowler remained calm, waiting for the anaconda to tire itself out before he wriggled out of its grasp and returned to work, preparing for another episode the show.

For more than two decades, Fowler brought the wonders of the natural world to millions of Americans, mixing entertainment and adventure with storytelling that raised awareness of the planet's biological diversity and environmental woes. He was 89 and had a heart ailment when he died May 8 at his home in Rowayton, Conn., said his son, Mark Fowler.

Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing more than 200 pounds, the elder Fowler was known for swimming through snake-infested waters, diving with sharks and rappelling down remote cliff faces while his partner, zoologist Marlin Perkins, often watched from the Jeep or narrated from the studio -- much to the delight of Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. [...]

Fowler was honorary chairman of the Explorers Club and created several wildlife refuges, including at his former estate in New Canaan, Conn.

In interviews, he sometimes recalled that the first episode of Wild Kingdom nearly ended in disaster. Filmed in Chicago's Lincoln Park, it featured one of the massive harpy eagles that Fowler had captured and trained.

He said he kept the bird on a line to prevent it from escaping and frightening Chicagoans who might mistake the bird for "a pterodactyl." But after the crew encouraged him to let the bird fly free in an effort to improve the shot, Fowler tried an experiment, placing it in a tree but still on the line.

Unfortunately, he told the Omaha World-Herald, a woman and her poodle had made their way into the roped-off filming area. The bird took flight, apparently spotting a meal. "Thank goodness I was able to grab the line," Fowler said. "Had the eagle grabbed the woman or the dog, my career would have been over before it started."

Posted by at May 12, 2019 7:25 AM