Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bring 'em Back Alive!

It is likely there are very few people under the age of sixty for whom the name Frank Buck would have any degree of meaning or recognition. A early-20th century adventurer, world traveler, animal collector, author and filmmaker, Buck would become forever associated with his famous mantra,"bring 'em back alive." For our purposes here, Buck would inspire tribute and parody in Disney-produced cartoons of the era.

Buck earned his reputation not so much as a big game hunter but as a big game collector. "Bring 'em back alive" was more than just a catchy motto, it was the basis of Buck's very own business model. His goal was not wall trophies but actual live specimens that he could sell to zoos and circuses. In the early 1930s, he became world famous when his animal collecting adventures were chronicled in both books and films. In an interesting contrast, his second movie, Wild Cargo, shared the screen with Disney's Silly Symphony Funny Little Bunnies at Radio City Music Hall during the spring of 1934.

Disney cartoon makers translated Buck and his adventures via gag and parody into the 1946 Donald Duck-Goofy short Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive. Donald assumes the Frank Buck persona as he heads deep into exotic jungles in search of a "wild man" that can be returned to the mainland for eventual circus sideshow display. The Goof plays the distinctly crazy yet still very clever quarry. The ensuing contest would be recycled shortly thereafter in 1947 when Donald would similarly chase the Aracuan Bird in Clown of the Jungle. Those cartoons, along with Goofy's own 1945 short African Diary, made spoof of Hollywood's then very popular jungle movies and serials, a genre that was inspired in part by Buck's early productions.

Buck was very popular with young people who were thrilled by his globe trotting exploits. He was especially proud of the elementary school reader he wrote entitled On Jungle Trails. Evidence of this juvenile-based popularity can be found in the treehouse hideout of Huey, Dewey and Louie in the 1949 Donald Duck cartoon Donald's Happy Birthday. Pinned on the wall is a poster emblazoned with a tiger and proudly advertising the Frank Duck Circus, a clever aside to both Buck and the earlier Frank Duck cartoon. Buck was the proprietor of animal attractions at both 1934 and 1939 World's Fairs, and he also established a combination base camp and zoo on Long Island in the mid 1930s that was famous for its Monkey Mountain habitat. Buck worked briefly for Ringling Brother and Barnum and Bailey in the late 1930s. Just prior to his death in 1950, he appeared as himself in the Abbott and Costello comedy Africa Screams.

Cartoon Images © Walt Disney Company


Craig Wheeler said...

You never cease to amaze me with the little details you dig up and bring light to. Thanks, and keep up the great work!