The True Story of Grizzly Adams
Older American television fans know that there was once an extremely successful TV show called “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.” It began in 1974 and ran into the 1980s when it finally ended its immensely successful run eight seasons after it began – in 1982.
The show, which starred actor Don Haggerty, chronicled the adventures of a man named Grizzly Adams who, after being falsely accused of murder, flees to a remote mountain area where he comes across an orphaned Grizzly Bear cub that he names Ben. The cub eventually grows into a full-sized Grizzly Bear, but its relationship with Grizzly Adams never wavers. They remain close, as close as man and beast can ever be … presumably because Grizzly Adams possesses some natural ability to keep animals from fearing him.
Interestingly, the Grizzly Adams character was loosely based on a real person – a man named J. Capen “Grizzly” Adams, a 19th century animal trapper who gained some notoriety for his exploits. In the TV series, Grizzly Adams is a woodsman, not necessarily a trapper.
What’s more, he has two close human companions, “Mad Jack the Mountain Man,” played by Denver Pyle and a native American named “Nakoma,” played by actor Don Shanks.
Grizzly Adams, after fleeing from prosecution for a crime he didn’t commit, establishes a relationship with all of the animals his path crosses in the wild, not just the Grizzly Bear. Importantly, and this was the show’s message, he and his friends dedicate themselves to the protection and care of the wildlife they encounter.
It was compelling and entertaining … and different from other shows on the air at the time. And it was hugely popular. It had a vast audience at a time when there were many other extremely successful shows on network television, sitcoms like “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son.” These other shows captured large audiences, but none had a more faithful following than “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.”
The character and the show became so popular, in fact, that it spawned a popular 1974 movie. There was also a book, “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams,” written by Charles E. Seller, Jr. that led to the TV show.
As the show neared the end of its run, the good-hearted and innocent Grizzly Adams is captured and “brought to justice.” In a tense courtroom packed with local citizens, some of whom support him while others are convinced of his guilt, Grizzly Adams is able to finally prove his innocence.
His days as a fugitive now over, the man who befriended a Grizzly Bear, can finally settle down to live a life no different from that of any of his fellow citizens. And with that striking realization, any rationale for continuing the series ended.
Grizzly Adams and the actor who played him, Don Haggerty, faded quietly into comfortable retirement and obscurity. And that, of course, is the fate of all TV actors.