Thirty years since his last appearance on the small screen, Grizzly Adams returns. The first season of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams has been released by Timeless Media Group on DVD – the 4-disc set contains thirteen episodes from the show’s inaugural year on NBC.
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams starred Dan Haggerty as the title character. Set in the 1850s, Haggerty plays James Capen Adams, a man falsely accused of murder who escapes into the Western mountains. As a town-based settler, he struggles at first to survive as a “greenhorn” in the mountain landscape. During his initial time in the mountains he encounters an orphaned grizzly bear cub that he rescues and subsequently raises. The bear remains with Adams upon reaching adulthood and full-size – Adams names him Benjamin Franklin or “Ben”.
Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) with “Ben”
Grizzly Adams discovers that he has a natural kinship with animals and his respectful relationship toward animals and the natural world is a key framework for the show – it guides his own approach to life in the mountains and provides a counter-balance to visitors who arrive to exploit the region and instead encounter Adams. Haggerty’s character will not willingly hurt any animal if it can be avoided.
Adams has two close human companions as he builds his life – and a cabin – in the mountains. Mad Jack (played by the venerable Denver Pyle) is a mountain man who at first is not keen for Adam’s presence. Jack grows to respect Adams and his approach to life and will function as a form of “look-out” for any bounty hunters that may be seeking Haggerty’s character.
Adams will also form a close bond with a member of the Crow people, Nakoma (Don Shanks) – Nakoma’s community is located in the same mountain range. He will both visit Adams and join with Adams and Jack to resolve situations.
Adams also has a special bond with the grizzly bear, Ben (short for “Benjamin Franklin”). Ben was in fact played in the series by a female grizzly named Bozo who was seven years at the time of the show’s first season in 1977. Haggerty had worked professionally as an animal trainer prior to his role as Grizzly Adams.
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams is loosely based on the real-life mountain man of California, James Capen Adams (1812-1860). In addition to his life as a mountain man, the historical Adams was a trainer of grizzly bears and he did in fact have a pet bear named Benjamin Franklin. The bear actually saved the life of Adams when a female grizzly attacked the mountain man in 1855. It was said that Adams was despondent at the loss of four year-old Ben to illness in 1858.
The TV series was preceded by a feature length film of the same name in 1974. Shot on a budget of just $140,000, the film – which starred Haggerty – would go on to gross an astounding $65 million worldwide. It is considered one of the most successful independent films of all time.
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams ran for two seasons (1977 to 1979) and a total of 37 episodes. The series was shot in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona – it was produced by Charles Sellier and Rayland Jenson. In 1982, the series officially concluded with a two-hour TV movie entitled The Capture of Grizzly Adams in which Adams is able to prove his innocence. The theme song to the series, “Maybe” by Thom Pace, was also a popular hit. The following clip is the opening that played with each episode of the show:
There is great cultural resonance to The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Its ascendancy coincided with the emerging environmental consciousness of the 1970s. For a generation in childhood, Adams represented a strong and caring role-model and the show offered a chance to see the natural world. The series planted a seed for caring for the land.
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams – Season 1 was released on November 6th and is available via such retailers as Amazon. Update: Dan Haggerty passed away on January 15th, 2016, at the age of 74.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)