Of the many celebrities who appeared at the 1939 New York World's Fair, none was more famous in his day, or lived a more adventurous life than Frank "Bring 'em Back Alive" Buck.
Frank Buck was born in Gainesville, Texas in 1884. As a child, he was fascinated by animals of all kinds and by the far off places he read about in his school geography. Quitting school after the 7th grade, he worked at a variety of different jobs including cow-punching and selling songs to vaudeville singers. In 1911, he embarked on what would prove to be his life's work: trekking into the world's jungles to collect wild animals, birds and reptiles for the nation's zoos and circuses. In an age before tranquilizer darts, he learned to build traps and snares to catch animals safely and humanely. Once a "wild cargo" was assembled, Buck would accompany it back to America on board ship, personally insuring that the animals were all well treated and cared for. By the end of the 1920s, Buck was the world's leading supplier of wild animals.
Persuaded by his friends to write a book about his jungle experiences, Buck co-wrote Bring 'em Back Alive with Edward Anthony in 1930. When the book proved to be a best seller, Buck arranged for a movie crew to accompany him on his next animal collecting expedition to the Far East. Released in 1932, the film version of Bring 'em Back Alive was a box office smash
Buck set up a wild animal exhibit at Chicago's Century of Progress. Over two million people visited "Frank Buck's Jungle Camp," a faithful reproduction of the sort of camp he and his native assistants lived in while collecting animals in Malaya. After the fair closed, the camp was moved to a compound Buck maintained at Amityville, Long Island.
During the 1930s, Buck wrote more best-selling books, appeared in more hit movies, and attained a celebrity status equal to that of such national heroes as Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Charles Lindbergh, Red Grange and Admiral Richard Byrd.
In 1939, Buck arranged to bring his jungle camp to the New York World's Fair. "Frank Buck's Jungleland" offered thousands of rare specimens of birds, reptiles and wild animals along with Jiggs, a five-year-old trained orangutan, of trio of performing elephants, an 80-foot "monkey mountain" inhabited by 600 monkeys, and a feature that had proven to be hit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: camels rides.
World War II temporarily put a halt to Buck's visits to the jungles of Asia. His enormous popularity, however, kept him busy on the lecture circuit and doing guest appearances on radio. After the war ended, he returned to the jungle. "You dig the same old-fashioned pits and use the same old-fashioned knives and come back with the same old-fashioned tigers," he told The New Yorker.
In 1949, Buck, made a brief cameo appearance, playing himself in Abbott and Costello's Africa Screams. That year, he also recorded Tiger, an album of records for children that recounts one of the animal captures he had described in his first book.
Frank Buck died on March 25, 1950 in Houston at age sixty-six.
Many thanks to Eric Beheim of California for submitting the story, photos, and ads about Frank Buck and the 1939 New York World's Fair.
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