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Frank Buck (animal collector)

Frank Buck
Born Frank Howard Buck
(1884-03-17)March 17, 1884
Gainesville, Texas, U.S.
Died March 25, 1950(1950-03-25) (aged 66)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death Lung cancer
Occupation Film actor, author, film director
Years active 1930–1949
Spouse(s) Lillie West (pen name Amy Leslie)
(m.1901–1913; divorced)
Nina C. Boardman
(m.1914–1927; divorced)
Muriel Reilly
(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 1940s 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.


  • Early life 1
  • 1920s 2
  • Author 3
  • Circus performer 4
  • 1933 Century of Progress and 1939 World's Fair 5
  • Movie actor 6
  • Radio 7
  • Record album 8
  • Frank Buck Zoo and animal collecting 9
  • Final years 10
  • Filmography 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • Gallery 14
  • External links 15

Early life

Frank Buck (right) and Edward Anthony with their book Wild Cargo ca. 1932.

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."[1] While still a child, Buck began collecting birds and small animals, and tried farming before getting a job as a cowpuncher. Accompanying a cattlecar to the Chicago stockyards, he refused to return to Texas, and spent the rest of his active life earning income by various jobs while seeking adventure. During 1911, he won $3,500 by a poker game and decided to go overseas for the first time, leaving his wife and traveling to Brazil.[2] Bringing back exotic birds to New York, he was surprised by the amount of his profits. He traveled then to Singapore and after that many other places.

Charlotte Henry (left), Frank Buck (center), Clarence Muse (right) in the movie Jungle Menace (1937).
Frank Buck (right) and Duncan Renaldo (left) in Tiger Fangs (1943)

During 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. During 1914, Buck married Nina C. Boardman, a Chicago stenographer, who accompanied him on jungle expeditions.


Frank Buck began 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 initiator. Dr. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoo, had recommended Buck for the job. But Buck quickly disagreed with the strong-willed Wegeforth and quit the zoo after three months to return to animal collecting.[3]

Buck and Nina were divorced during 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." [4] During 1928 Buck married Muriel Reilly and had a daughter. During 1937 Buck bought his first home, in the Encino area of Los Angeles, 5035 Louise Avenue, next door to the home of Charles Winninger.[5]

The stock market crash of 1929 left Buck penniless. However, friends lent him $6,000 and he was soon doing profitable work again.


When war correspondent Floyd Gibbons suggested that he write about his animal collecting adventures, Buck collaborated with Edward Anthony for the publication Bring 'Em Back Alive (1930). which became a bestseller, and Wild Cargo (1932), another bestseller. 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."[1]

Buck published Fang and Claw (1935), On Jungle Trails (1936), All In A Lifetime (autobiography, 1941), Tim Thompson in the Jungle (a fictionalization of some of his adventures, 1935), and Jungle Animals (1945) in collaboration with a radio dramatist, Ferrin Fraser.

Buck published Animals Are Like That (1939) with journalist Carol Weld.

Bring 'Em Back Alive was printed as a Classics Illustrated comic book, issue #104. During 2000, Steven Lehrer published a new collection of Frank Buck's stories.[6]

literary agent, represented Frank Buck for the publication of Bring 'Em Back Alive and subsequent books.

Circus performer

Frank Buck, main attraction, 1938.

During 1938, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made Buck a lucrative offer to tour as their main 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."[7] 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

Souvenir booklet.

Buck furnished a wild animal exhibit, Frank Buck’s Jungle Camp, for Chicago’s exhibition Century of Progress. More than 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 relocated the camp to a compound Buck created at Amityville, Long Island. During 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.[8]

Movie actor

Buck appeared as himself in the movies 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 occurred 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 television adventure series, Bring 'Em Back Alive.


Buck was the main feature of an NBC radio program, Bring 'Em Back Alive, which aired October 30–December 18, 1932, and July 16–November 16, 1934. The program promoted the RKO film.[9]

Record album

"Tiger", a 1950 Columbia Records children’s phono-album, was Frank Buck’s last recorded performance. The text combines two stories from Bring 'Em Back Alive.

Frank Buck Zoo and animal collecting

The Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, Texas (populated initially with retired circus animals) is named in his honor.

The menagerie retrieved by Frank Buck for the world's zoos and circuses is impressive. He estimated that during 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 good friend of Frank Buck and frequently assisted Buck in his animal collecting endeavors.[10]

Final years

Buck spent his last years living in his family home in San Angelo, Texas, 324 South Bishop Street. Although his life was an adventurous one, and he reported many dangerous events, Frank Buck died in a hospital bed, in Houston, Texas, from lung cancer.[11]


Czech movie poster to film Fang and Claw (1935)


  1. ^ a b Current Biography 1943, pp84-88
  2. ^ Current Biography 1943, p86
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Cured of Fondness For Wild Animals. Montreal Gazette – Google News Archive – Nov 16, 1934
  5. ^ Variety, July 29, 1937
  6. ^ Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. pp. xi.  
  7. ^ New York Post, May 5, 1938
  8. ^ Frank Buck's Jungleland Archived 22 September 2009 at WebCite
  9. ^ Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 120.
  10. ^ Current Biography 1943, p84
  11. ^ Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck, Texas Tech University Press, 2006, p. xviii. [2]


  • Lehrer, Steven (2006). Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech University press. p. 248.  


External links

  • 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
  • (1932)Wild CargoTIME review of
  • (1930)Bring Em Back AliveTIME review of
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