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Martin Luther Stouffer Jr. (born September 5, 1948), is the narrator and producer of the wildlife and nature documentary television program Wild America that originally aired on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He was raised in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His name has been legally changed to Marty Stouffer. Along with his brother Mark, he also produced the TV series of John Denver specials for ABC in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Another half-dozen one-hour Specials for the National Geographic Society were also produced during that same time period. Stouffer's special "The Predators" was narrated by Robert Redford and his special "The Man Who Loved Bears" was narrated by Will Geer and Henry Fonda.
At age 18, Stouffer traveled to Alaska on his own with a 8mm movie camera. He returned home to a warm reception by an audience of 1,800 local Arkansas residents in the Fort Smith Municipal Auditorium who turned out to view what was basically a home movie. To that audience, he first aired an unsophisticated movie of his adventure in the North, paid for his summer vacation many times over, and easily made an early decision to spend his life creating many more such productions. Soon after that success and his decision to pursue a career in wildlife documentary-making, he graduated from college and began his career in earnest. In 1970, Stouffer graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in English. From there he traveled to Botswana to spend most of a year filming a feature-length documentary entitled Botswana, Where a River Dies. While in Africa, he was confronted with the massive and wasteful killing of animals, political unrest and human tragedies. As a result, he returned to America with the intention of producing films promoting nature conservation. One of these efforts was The American Wildlife Project.
Marty Stouffer's Wild America
By the mid-1970s, Stouffer had compiled several full-length specials that aired on television as prime time network documentaries. At that time, he approached the programming managers at the PBS about a half-hour long wildlife series. PBS signed for the rights to broadcast Stouffer's series Wild America in 1981. The series almost immediately became one of the most popular aired by PBS, renowned for its unflinching portrayal of nature, as well as its extensive use of unique film techniques such as extreme slow motion, close-ups and time-lapses through the seasons of the year.
Stouffer's stories, incorporating dramatic "facts of life," and told simply in his home-spun style, won the hearts of a loyal audience. It was one of PBS's most highly-rated regular series, never leaving the Top Ten, and in more than one year, it was the Number One highest rated regular series to air on the network. It remains the most-broadcast Series which has ever aired on Public Television. At the time, it was common for producers to limit the number of broadcasts to 4 airings over a period of 3 years. Stouffer saw no good reason for that limitation and he was the first producer to offer unlimited broadcasts of the series by the network. Many of the 260 PBS stations chose to broadcast the programs multiple times each day throughout the weeks. In some weeks, according to Nielsen ratings, it was viewed by more than 450 million viewers. In total, the Wild America episodes have been viewed untold billions of times by hundreds of millions of viewers. Wild America has become the strongest, most popular and most recognized brand in existence on the subject of North American wildlife and nature. It has amassed sales of videos, both VHS and DVD, totaling more than $60 million.
Controversy and ethics
In 1993, Stouffer was fined $3,000 in a Federal court in Grand Junction, Colorado for building a hunting camp on public land. In 1995 or early 1996, Stouffer was fined $362,000 by a jury in a civil lawsuit for illegally cutting a six-mile trail through property owned by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in Colorado to access Stouffer's illegal hunting camp on Forest Service land; Stouffer was attempting to gain better access to an elk migation path by building the trail.
In 1996, Amy Vanderbilt, then spokeswoman for Glacier National Park in Montana, expressed concerns that in Yellowstone National Park in the 1980s, rangers received tips that Stouffer was illegally baiting the cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake. The rangers were "unable to catch him red-handed and press charges" or revoke his filming license. Concerning these concerns, Stouffer said that divers who filmed the sequences in the late 1980s removed larval insects from the bottom of the stream and fed them to the fish. "Film costs $125 a roll," he said. "We don't have eight or 10 or 100 hours of film to leave rolling until one of these fish grabs a bug." In the late-1990s, Stouffer was accused by past or present crew members of staging scenes for his documentaries, including scenes of one animal killing another. He denied any wrongdoing and admitted that some scenes were "factual recreations" as was common to the industry, but he stopped short of accusing any of the many other individuals and organizations which had regularly employed the same techniques. For example, one accusation cited as unethical the filming of one species of fish eating another in an aquarium, rather than in open water, as was suggested by the context. Stouffer also said, "I am not ashamed of anything I have done." However, an internal investigation by PBS found fault with 15 out of 110 episodes of Wild America that had been filmed to that date. Those faults dealt with minor issues of biology and terminology, and none of those faults had anything to do with cruelty to animals or legal violations. During the controversy, which was widely publicized by The Denver Post, Stouffer was specifically accused by a former employee of Glacier National Park in Montana of having been cited there with the violation of having a live ptarmigan (bird) in his pocket. Stouffer laughs as he tells that story and he calls it "a complete and utter fabrication meant to disparage and discredit me for some obvious reasons that I cannot disclose based on a courtroom settlement agreement." Having nothing whatsoever to do with that controversy and, in fact, prior to any such accusations, PBS determined that it did not require any further seasons of Wild America as it was perfectly content to continue the broadcast of the existing episodes under an additional multi-year license. Contrary to inaccurately published reports, the series was not cancelled by PBS due to any wrongdoing on the part of Stouffer or due to any legal judgment against Stouffer. In fact, the truth is that the 110 episodes of Stouffer's show were renewed by PBS in 1992 for another 3 years for the sum of $3.2 million. Stouffer used a portion of that funding to create a final season, Year 12, of the series. This included programs about mustangs, polar bears, ground squirrels and wildflowers, which were already in production, since Stouffer's filming schedule provided for over 2 years of production on each of the episodes. Thus the Wild America series contains a total of 120 half-hour episodes. The average production cost was $250,000 per half-hour and the quality, depth and breadth of the productions are a testament to the fact that, as Stouffer says, "We always put the money on the screen."
The lives of Marty Stouffer and his brothers Mark and Marshall, in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas, were adapted for the 1997 movie, Wild America. Headlined by child actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the movie dramatized how the boys became intrigued with the production of wildlife documentaries. Both Mark and Marshall are filmmakers as well.
- Bledsoe, G. "Marty Stouffer". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
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- Florio, Gwen. "'Wild America' Host Accused Of Staging Tv Kills Some Ex-employees Said Caged Animals Were Used. Representatives Of 2 Parks Cited Repeated Complaints." Philadelphia Inquirer. February 10, 1996.
- Williams, Ted. "Phony wildlife photography gives a warped view of wildlife." Audubon. March-April 2010.
- "Tayman, John. "Wildlife: Marty Stouffer's Apocyrphal America." Outside. June 1996.