For as long as I can remember, wild animals have been an essential element in my life. My moments of greatest joy and satisfaction have come from being around them, and I’ve developed a special interest in those that make their home where I do, here in America. Like most people I’m fascinated by any creature that lives in total independence from humans. I’ve always wanted to get closer, to understand what makes them truly wild.
Join me as we travel through the years to explore ‘Marty’s World’…That’s what the kids called our house when they came over to play on the little car I built for them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When I was a kid growing up in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, The woods were right out our back door.
My brothers, Mark and Marshall . . .and my sister Mari, spent endless hours playing and filming each other.
We also filmed our pets and orphaned wildlife that called our house home. . .like Foxy, the fox kit. Here’s my earliest attempt at capturing an exciting predator/prey sequence on film.
As with most boys raised in the country, guns and hunting were a part of growing up. I’m convinced that my hunting skills and my home movie experiences led me into hunting with a camera. That was certainly the case with me. Even retrieving a dead duck in freezing water was a way to relate to the animals---in the most primal way possible.” We packed our gear into a beat-up Chevy station wagon. Besides our supplies we carried 50 rolls of film and a Super 8mm movie camera I’d bought at a Gibson’s Discount Center.
We fished for salmon along the Gulkana River in Eastern Alaska. And we hiked around Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. Here I saw for the first time, up close, herds of caribou, moose and other large mammals that had always seemed so magnificent to me. On the high slopes, a band of pure white Dall sheep grazed as if we weren’t even there. It was here that I saw a wild grizzly for the first time in my life, a huge Toklat grizzly. He rose up on his hind legs to watch us, and I thought that I’d never seen anything so amazing.
I stood on the shoulder of that huge mountain, breathing in air so fresh it seemed never to have been breathed by another living thing. On the last day of June, David and Charlie left Alaska but I stayed on. I had no idea that I would come close to never seeing my friends again. I traveled to Kodiak Island where I met a halibut fisherman who agreed to take me to a place called Cape Chiniak. I’d heard about a colony of Steller’s sea lions and I wanted to hunt and film them. Later I learned that Cape Chiniak is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be in a boat.
I rowed a little dinghy to a low group of jagged rocks and tied up, but got so absorbed in filming that I forgot to pay attention to what was happening around me. When I looked up, I saw a fog bank rolling in, the fishing trawler leaving and my dinghy floating away.
A 13 foot high tide was due and the rocks I was perched on would soon be under icy waters. I ended up being rescued by a Coast Guard Helicopter just before my rocky perch disappeared under a wall of water. Later, I found out that the Halibut fisherman had reported me for dead.
Next I left for the remote valleys of the Brooks Range…resolved to be more careful this time. I had been hired to do carpentry at a hunting camp.
In my original letter to the hunting guide, I mentioned that back in the 6th grade I’d taken a correspondence course in taxidermy. So, I was promoted to assistant guide in addition to framing and insulating the plywood shack next to the lake.
I soon learned that caribou are more interesting than carpentry. I took up my pack and headed out into the stern beauty of the Brooks Range whenever I could.
Near the end of August an early snowstorm moved in. I’d seen an old Dall sheep ram several times on the far slopes and I canoed across the lake and followed a faint trail that bordered a small creek. This great-grandfather of a ram I was stalking old, long past breeding age. When I shot him, I examined his teeth and saw they were all worn down. I knew he would have starved in the approaching winter. The old ram proved to be my lifeline.
Everyone had left the isolated camp for fear of being snowed in….everyone but me that is. The plane would return the next day to pick me up, I was told. But, that’s when the storm became a full-scale blizzard and I was forced indoors for days. Even when the weather cleared the scheduled plane did not arrive and the temperatures fell well below freezing. By the 12th day, even the Dall sheep meat had given out. Then, on the afternoon of the fourteenth day, the promised plane arrived. Again, I had dodged a bullet.
At the beginning of September, I returned to Fort Smith with almost 100 rolls of Super 8-mm film which I edited into “Alaska”. I stood up with a microphone and narrated to the picture. Each showing sold out completely, with about 1,800 people a showing. Tickets were $1 in advance and $1.50 at the door.”
Sync: PM Mag Interview
“So, I persuaded a safari company to let me make a promotional film for them, this time in the professional 16mm format. The day after exams, without waiting for graduation, I flew to Botswana. What I saw on safari there would change my life forever.
The Okavango River enters Botswana as a broad stretch of crystal-clear water. But as it flows toward the Kalahari Desert, it spreads like the fingers of an outstretched hand into a huge lush delta, teeming with wildlife. I had arrived in the last great wilderness area left on the African continent.
Almost every day, I immersed myself in the wildlife. I was fascinated by the hugeness of giraffes and elephants. It was a wonderful filming opportunity…10:16but a horrible experience. The safari companies were bringing in great numbers of people for the primary purpose of hunting and killing as many animals as was legally permissible in as short a time as possible. While working on the film for the safari company I saw more animals shot and killed than I could have seen in twenty lifetimes
The reality of this slaughter was brought home to me during several encounters with some Bushmen in the Kalahari. These tribal people have an intimate knowledge of and respect for the land and its animals. They have evolved elaborate methods of hunting, and they hunt to live.
Armed with only a lightweight bow, tiny poison-tipped arrows, and a spear or knife, the Bushmen travel on foot. For them, this is not sport but an essential life and death contest for food, not ego gratification. For centuries, Africa was a continent teeming with life, but in our own time it has teemed with death.
The edited version of my film was a failure. Nobody in either my home town of Fort Smith or in neighboring Oklahoma seemed interested in Africa. After the slaughter and bloodshed of Botswana, I decided to turn my camera toward doing something meaningful in my own country. In Africa I had filmed death. I returned to America to film life.”
Interview in Oklahoma (1972?)
“For almost as long as I can remember, the Rocky Mountain bighorn has been a kind of personal totem, the wild creature I thought I would be if I were reincarnated as an animal.
I wanted to record them on film in order to help keep them from vanishing. Within a hundred years of the white man’s arrival in the Rockies, the estimated original population of more than 2 ½ million bighorn had been decimated. The survivors were forced into the most inaccessible areas of the mountains where no more than 25,000 bighorns just 1 percent remained.
In many ways, “Bighorn!” was my first film, in that I planned it, cared about it, and really believed in it. I wanted to know all about their behavior and what motivated them, but most of all I wanted to get to know them in a personal sense, because I believe every animal is an individual. I wanted them to accept me so that maybe I could learn a little about my own personality in the process. The Expenses of making “Bighorn!” never approached covering the expenses, which were underwritten to a great extent by my generous and understanding parents. The awards that “Bighorn!” received encouraged me to turn my attention to another idea that came to me while filming the endangered Desert Bighorn.”
“To promote public awareness of the new Endangered Species Act of 1973, I decided to document all the mammals and birds on the Endangered Species list. I set a course that took me all across America beginning at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, a wintering ground for the whooping crane. In 1973, only 59 birds remained in the wild. These statuesque birds inspired the elaborate campaign which established federal protection for vanishing species.
My childhood friend C.C. Lockwood and I filmed a pair of rare Red Wolves and their litter of pups in Arkansas and then we headed West. We spent 6 weeks near the Mexican border searching for the only remaining herd of Sonoran Pronghornan estimated 75 individuals scattered over thousands of square miles of the Cabeza Prieta National Game Range. I was convinced that rare animals would yield rare footage. I was wrong.
Heat waves through my 1,000mm lens distorted the images of a few pronghorn grazing---poor quality footage and undramatic behavior. But our hard work was not a total loss because I filmed thousands of feet of other desert wildlife. My practice of being an opportunistic shooter would prove invaluable to me in just a few short years.
After spending three years filming endangered wildlife with the help of friends and my brother, Mark, none of the television networks were interested. They were unwilling to touch such controversial subject matter.
But, word was spreading about our work to save wildlife. Mark and I were invited to appear in an NBC special hosted by academy award-winning actors, Paul Newman and
(Sync: Paul Newman, VO Joanne Woodward over Mark and Marty then Sync Marty.)
“Because of ‘The Wild Places’ program a small portion of our endangered species film finally made it to television. At nearly the same time, C.C. Lockwood and I shot a film in the swamps of Louisiana amidst the nutrient rich waters of the Atchafalaya Basin.
It depicted the importance and fragility of this unique ecosystem and was seen by many people, from school children to politicians. As a result of public opinion, plans were cancelled which would have drained the entire river basin for development.
If the power of film could help to preserve this damp, brooding swamp, I reasoned it could surely help protect the most endangered, magnificent and controversial creatures of the wild---The Predators.”
“The Predators’ premiered on NBC TV to a huge audience with Robert Redford narrating. Robert Redford - a champion for wildlife, helped launch my television career and never even cashed his check for narrating the film.” Redford VO set up of predator program.
To me, that moment when predator and prey come together epitomizes the essence of existence. The moment of predation is like the Olympics of the animal kingdom, and each of the contenders is like an athlete who trains for years for the big game. If the competitor trips and falls, it’s all over. Of course, animals don’t win any gold medals. What they ‘win’ is far more importantthe right to live.
The predators took seven years of traveling around the North American continent. Sequences never filmed before highlighted the show. And, ‘The Predators’ was the first wildlife film to make extensive use of slow motion photography. Here a bobcat chases a snowshoe hare at 200 frames per second rather than the normal 24. Predators miss at least nine out of ten chances to bring down a meal. That was the case here.”
“Of all the predators I filmed, grizzlies totally captured my imagination. Ever since I saw my first one in Alaska I was hooked. They are the symbol of untamable wilderness. This was not a life and death struggle but a fight over breeding rightswho will father the next generation.
In the back of my mind, I hoped there might be a grizzly or two remaining in the deep forests and shadowy canyons of the Colorado Rockies where I live. I set up a Foundation with the sole objective of reintroducing a female and her cub and raised $10,000 which I offered to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. ‘No’ they responded. I’m sure that delighted the livestock ranchers who lease our public lands at rock bottom prices.
I figured that if the Division of Wildlife wouldn’t introduce grizzlies, I would release a cub in a remote and undisclosed corner of the Colorado Rockies.”
Interview Channel 7
Scenes from The Man Who Loved BearsWill Geer narrating “During my two years with Griz, I tried to teach her how to survive and be independent. She taught me that animals are just as capable of a wide range of moods and emotional responses as people ---fear, anxiety, loyalty, and happiness.
Misunderstanding has been a big reason for the continuing gap in communication between we humans and wild animals like the grizzly. I hope we bridged the gap in ‘The Man Who Loved Bears.’
Interview Segment - Denver
“My adventures with Griz were filmed with me primarily in front of the camera and my brother, Mark, behind it. Thankfully, ABC agreed to pay to air it.
Many tell me that ‘The Man Who Loved Bears’ is their favorite of all my films. While my next film would focus on wild babies --- the babies would be learning survival skills, not from me, but from their natural parents in the wild.
By 1979, I’d shot enough footage on Wild Babies to edit a one-hour special, but the networks had lost interest in broadcasting wildlife programs. Syndication and public television were the only alternatives.
While filming ‘Wild Babies’, I shot a great deal of footage on two animals in particular---white-tailed deer and timber wolves. I edited the footage into a half hour“The Wolf and the Whitetail”. . .and I re-edited “Wild Babies” into a half hour as well. Both were destined for educational distribution.
But, in the long run schools and libraries would prove to be a very small part of my eventual audience. Appearances on network series helped keep my work before the public. Then, in 1981, I got a huge break. A half-hour series proposal I presented to PBS was accepted!
“Wild America”, the first television series ever to focus exclusively on North American wildlife, was born. I offered the series of 10 ½ hour shows at a rock bottom price. Gone were any illusions of Leslie Nielsen narrating.”
PM Mag Interview
“TV Guide described Wild America as ‘home grown television,’ which I found flattering, whether or not it was meant that way. Just a few months before the birth of Wild America, my wife, Diane, and I had our first child, a daughter we named Hannah. I like to believe that our newborn daughter was the lucky charm that helped to clinch the deal.”
“I was the common thread woven throughout the programs and in retrospect I believe it was one secret to the success of the series. 30:54But, despite the many times I appeared as host and wilderness guide, I still thought of myself first and foremost as a cinematographer. Other secrets to success were the chances we took. We did not censor out the main events of an animals’ life…birth, mating, predation, and death, like this juvenile lynx, or this aborted Pronghorn fetus. The entire cycle of life was included.
We exposed a wide audience, not only to the most elegant of American animals but to the most unlikely of stars as well, like the Diamond Back Rattlesnake, and in our Southern swamps, the enormous Alligator Snapping turtle. My favorite all time ugly stars were featured in year two of the series. When ‘Hog Wild’ aired people across the country were amazed by an animal that might be smarter than the family dog and as ferocious as an angry lion.”
Fishers in the Family
“Clearly some of the most charming moments of Wild America included my family.” “From the time Hannah was old enough to walk she was a part of the series. She was three years old when I brought home a pair of orphaned fishers---the most arboreal of all weasels. Fishers not only climb trees, they climb anything.”
“Hannah proved to be a natural actress and loved to be on-camera even though she was smart enough to pay no attention to the camera itself. She illustrated beautifully how fascinating the wonders of wildlife are for children of all ages...especially if you know where to look.
In ‘Growing up Wild’ she ran away with the show. In a way this is a program made in her honor. It was about baby animals growing up but its main theme was how rewarding it is for baby humans to grow up with wild animals in their lives. Hannah’s baby brother, Luke, was featured even before he decided to bless our world with his presence.
Cottontails and Kin
“In ‘Kids and Critters’ Luke and Hannah raise two baby falcons. Teaching them to hunt brought home the reality of the predator and prey relationship to Luke when he was only four. Eventually the kids could fly the young Kestrels without their jesses. And finally, they gave them their freedom.
Passing on the tradition of visiting Yellowstone to Luke…and filming our adventure reminded me of my own boyhood…still hamming it up for the camera and loving it.”
“Who knows if Luke will take up the camera professionally. For now, it’s just pure fun. These silly Stouffer home videos sometimes inspired equally silly Wild America segments…like this one from ‘Those Smelly Skunks. On a more serious note, I continued to promote wildlife and habitat preservation.”
PBS promo followed by promo for Operation Earth
“Wild America gave me the opportunity not only to promote conservation, but to experiment with new ways to present our natural world visually.”
Sync: PM Magazine interview
“Even as a child, filmmaking was magical to me. With Wild America I was able to reveal more to an audience than they could ever see on their own. Through the use of time lapse photography, hours were condensed into a few stunning seconds.
Eventually, we were able to combine a moving camera with the condensed action of time lapse. Time lapse plates fixed in the ground allowed for transitions through the seasons…or over the course of a few months.
Some programs required underwater photography. The tight-collared dry suit gave me claustrophobia and the underwater housing was heavy, but the point of view shots were essential to the story of Yellowstone’s cutthroat trout. In their shallow spawning streams, I donned a camouflage net to film their ancient mating ritual. Digging a grave-sized pit into the back of a riverbank allowed me to film young kingfishers in their nest burrow. Once the four babies and their parents were accustomed to me, I got this rare look at a parent feeding its offspring.
I love giving the audience another point of view, like this steadicam shot tracking an armadillo to its nest. Or, aerial views to establish location. Here, we mounted a camera on the wing of a smallplane. Wild America was one of the first nature series to make extensive use of slow-motion photography. With a 300mm lens, and, at eight times normal speed, I captured this lynx-snowshoe hare chase.
At the rate of 400 frames per second, a cutthroat trout leaps the rapids. We shot over 3 hours of film to get this one image.
Slowing down the action allows us to better see a fight, or the bizarre courtship of a sage grouse, and the beauty of flight. Once its 11 year run on PBS ended, Wild America continued on commercial television. Because I was closely identified with the series as was the Bighorn Sheep, we were both incorporated into an innovative television commercial.”
Mt. Dew Commercial
“Here’s a look at the raw footage we supplied to the commercial designers.
And here are the amazing results achieved through a combination of digital cloning, rotoscoping, and blue screen. Wild America transitioned to the big screen in a feature film about the life of my brothers and me produced by my brother Mark with Scott Bairstow playing yours truly.”
Sync Aspen interview
“Especially rewarding for me is my continuing participation in the Make-A-Wish Foundation---helping dreams come true for seriously ill children. With some help from a young Grizzly named Mikey, Anna Shaw had a great few days with me and our family in Aspen.
For years I had my own unfulfilled dream. I had a new idea to bring the wonders of nature to a world-wide internet audience. It had never been tried but I feel there is no time like the present.”
“My dream is becoming a reality. We launched Wild America online in late 2004. A whole international community of users are connecting with nature and finding harmony in their own lives in the process.
Montage of Marty
“Wild Animals have always spoken to me in all their magic and mystery, with all their wisdom and wildness. My hope is to continue speaking for them…and for a forever Wild America.”
"Marty's World" was made possible by the support of a great many writers, cinematographers, and editors. My sincere thanks to all those contributing individuals and companies.