Frank Buck (animal collector)
|Born||Frank Howard Buck
March 17, 1884
Gainesville, Texas, U.S.
|Died||March 25, 1950
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death
|Occupation||Film actor, author, film director|
|Spouse(s)||Lillie West (pen name Amy Leslie)
Nina C. Boardman
(m.1928–1950; his death)
Frank Howard Buck (March 17, 1884 – March 25, 1950) was a hunter and "collector of wild animals," as well as a movie actor, director, writer and producer. He is known for his book Bring 'Em Back Alive and his 1930s and 40s jungle adventure movies including: Wild Cargo, Jungle Cavalcade, Jacare, Killer of the Amazon, many of which included staged "fights to the death" between formidable beasts.
Born in Gainesville, Texas, Buck grew up in Dallas and excelled in geography, at the cost of "utter failure on all the other subjects of that limited Dallas curriculum." While still a child, Buck began collecting birds and small animals, and tried his hand at farming before getting a job as a cowpuncher. Accompanying a cattlecar to the Chicago stockyards, he refused to take the trip back to Texas, and spent the rest of his days supporting himself on various jobs while seeking adventure. In 1911, he won $3,500 in a poker game and decided to go overseas for the first time, leaving his wife and setting out for Brazil. Bringing back exotic birds to New York, he was surprised by the amount of his profits. Trips to Singapore followed, and he traveled the world for 18 years, until the stock market crash of 1929 left him penniless. However, friends lent him $6,000 and soon he was back to his profitable work.
San Diego Zoo
Frank Buck went to work as temporary director for the San Diego Zoo on June 13, 1923, signed to a three-year contract by Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, the zoo's founder. Dr. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo, had recommended Buck for the job. But Buck quickly clashed with the strong-willed Wegeforth and left the zoo after three months to return to animal collecting.
When war correspondent Floyd Gibbons suggested that he write about his animal collecting adventures, Buck collaborated with Edward Anthony on Bring 'Em Back Alive, which became a bestseller in 1930, and Wild Cargo, a best seller in 1932. While these books made him world famous, Buck remarked later that he was prouder of his 1936 elementary school reader, On Jungle Trails, saying "Wherever I go, children mention this book to me and tell me how much they learned about animals and the jungle from it."
Buck's autobiography, All In A Lifetime, was published in 1941. Buck wrote Fang and Claw, On Jungle Trails, All In A Lifetime, Tim Thompson in the Jungle, and Jungle Animals in collaboration with a radio dramatist, Ferrin Fraser.
In 1938, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made Buck a lucrative offer to tour as their star attraction, and to enter the show astride an elephant. He refused to join the American Federation of Actors, stating that he was "a scientist, not an actor." Though there was a threat of a strike if he did not join the union, he maintained that it would compromise his principles, saying "Don't get me wrong. I'm with the working man. I worked like a dog once myself. And my heart is with the fellow who works. But I don't want some --- union delegate telling me when to get on and off an elephant." Eventually, the union gave Buck a special dispensation to introduce Gargantua the gorilla without registering as an actor.
1933 Century of Progress and 1939 World's Fair
Buck furnished a wild animal exhibit, Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp, for Chicago’s Century of Progress. Over two million people visited Buck’s reproduction of the camp he and his native assistants lived in while collecting animals in Asia. After the fair closed, Buck moved the camp to a compound Buck created at Amityville, Long Island. In 1939, Buck brought his jungle camp to the 1939 New York World’s Fair. “Frank Buck’s Jungleland” displayed rare birds, reptiles and wild animals along with Jiggs, a five-year-old trained orangutan. In addition, Buck provided a trio of performing elephants, an 80-foot “monkey mountain” with 600 monkeys, and an attraction that had been popular at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: camel rides.
Buck appeared as himself in Bring 'Em Back Alive (1932), Wild Cargo (1934), Fang and Claw (1935), Jungle Cavalcade (1941), Jacaré (1942), Tiger Fangs (1943), and the 1949 movie Africa Screams (also known as Abbott and Costello in Africa although Buck's adventures collecting exotic animals took place in Asia). Buck played "Frank Hardy" in the 1937 15-part Columbia movie serial Jungle Menace. Prior to and during the making of this serial, H.N. Swanson, a Hollywood literary agent, represented Buck. Buck was played by Bruce Boxleitner in the 1982/83 adventure series, Bring 'Em Back Alive.
Frank Buck Zoo and animal collecting
The menagerie retrieved by Frank Buck for the world's zoos and circuses is impressive. He estimated that in his years of hunting, he had brought back alive 49 elephants, 60 tigers, 63 leopards, 20 hyenas, 52 orangutans, 100 gibbon apes, 20 tapirs, 120 Asiatic antelope and deer, 9 pigmy water buffalo, a pair of gaurs, 5 Babirusa wild Asian swine, 18 African antelope, 40 wild goats and sheep, 11 camels, 2 giraffes, 40 kangaroos and wallabies, 5 Indian rhinoceroses, 60 bears, 90 pythons, 10 king cobras, 25 giant monitor lizards, 15 crocodiles, more than 500 different species of other mammals, and more than 100,000 wild birds. Sultan Ibrahim of Johor was a close friend of Frank Buck and frequently assisted Buck in his animal collecting endeavors.
Personal life and final years
In 1901 the 17-year-old Buck, a captain of bellboys at the Virginia Hotel in Chicago, married Amy Leslie, 46-year old drama critic for the Chicago Daily News. Amy Leslie was living at the hotel when they met. They were divorced in 1913. In 1914, Buck married Nina C. Boardman, a Chicago stenographer, who accompanied him on jungle expeditions. They were divorced in 1927. When she later married a California packing company official, Nina told reporters, "As long as I live, I don't want to see any animals wilder or bigger than a kitten."  In 1928 Buck married Muriel Reilly and had a daughter. In 1937 Buck bought his first home, in the Encino area of Los Angeles, 5035 Louise Avenue, next door to the home of Charles Winninger. Buck spent his last years in his family home in San Angelo, Texas, 324 South Bishop Street. Although his life was an adventurous one, and he reported many brushes with danger, Frank Buck died in a hospital bed, in Houston, Texas, from lung cancer.
- Africa Screams (1949) as Himself
- Tiger Fangs (1943) as Himself
- Jacaré (1942) as Himself (Director Charles E. Ford, Producer Jules Levey)
- Jungle Cavalcade (1941) as Narrator
- Jungle Menace (1937) as Frank Hardy (directors George Melford and Harry L. Fraser, producer Louis Weiss)
- Fang and Claw (1935) as Himself (also director and author of the original book)
- Wild Cargo (1934) as Himself/Narrator (also producer and author of the original book; director Armand Denis, music Winston Sharples)
- Bring 'Em Back Alive (1932) as Himself/Narrator (also author of the original book), director Clyde E. Elliott, producer Amedee J. Van Beuren, music Gene Rodemich
- Current Biography 1943, pp84-88
- Current Biography 1943, p86
- San Diego Historical Society History News, Vol. 23, No. 5, May 1987, p. 3. Past Comes Alive, Fascinating facts from the Archives, Frank Buck in San Diego.
- Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. pp. xi. ISBN 978-0-89672-582-9.
- New York Post, May 5, 1938
- Frank Buck's Jungleland Archived 22 September 2009 at WebCite
- Current Biography 1943, p84
- Cured of Fondness For Wild Animals. Montreal Gazette – Google News Archive – Nov 16, 1934
- Variety, July 29, 1937
- Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck, Texas Tech University Press, 2006, p. xviii. 
- Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-89672-582-9.
Jungle Cavalcade theatrical poster, 1941
- Frank Buck at the Internet Movie Database
- Frank Buck at AllMovie
- Frank Buck at Find a Grave
- The Frank Buck Zoo
- Candidates for the National Film Registry
- TIME review of Wild Cargo (1932)
- TIME review of Bring Em Back Alive (1930)