Gentle Ben

1967 | United States

Man's best friend in this series wasn't a dog but a huge bear that had been "affection-trained" by Ivan Tors at his famous animal training compound in the San Fernando Valley, California, which-just a year before this series was filmed had suffered a flood that washed away half the animal compound. 

In a story that could well have fit into an episode of the series it was soon discovered that the bear's cage had been swept away completely and there was no sign of the animal. A call went out for a missing American black bear with a request not to have him shot on sight! But two days later, trainers at the camp were amazed when they returned to the area where ther bear's cage used to be only to find the animal sitting there patiently. The bear certainly seemed to have a charmed life because on another occasion a train was derailed in the hills above the compound and crashed through a number of animal cages. 

Some of the animals were badly hurt, but Ben's cage was completely demolished. The night before he had been moved by truck to Florida to begin shooting the TV series. Ben's co-stars were Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke,McCloud), who played Tom Wedloe, a Florida game warden who travels around the Everglades on an airboat (obviously the setting was a lot warmer than author Walt Morey's original setting: Alaska). 

Seven-year old Clint Howard played the boy Mark - he was the brother of Ron Howard who later went on to make a name for himself as Ritchie Cunningham in Happy Days and as a celebrated film director. For extra back-up young Clint also had his real-life father in the cast, Rance Howard appeared as Henry Boomhauer, a backwoodsman who befriends the Wedloes.

Published on December 17th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.