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This article is about Frank Buck, whose philosophy of hunting wild animals was to "bring 'em back alive". For other people with the same name, see Frank Buck.

Frank Buck
Born March 7, 1884(1884-03-07)
Gainesville, Texas, U.S.
Died March 25, 1950 (aged 66)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Occupation Film actor, author, film director
Years active 1930–1949
Spouse(s) Lillie West (pen name Amy Leslie) 1901-1913 (divorced), Nina C. Boardman 1914-1927 (divorced), Muriel Reilly 1928-1950 (his death)

Frank Howard Buck (March 7, 1884 – March 25, 1950) was a hunter and "collector of wild animals," as well as a movie actor, director, writer and producer. He is probably most famous for his book Bring 'Em Back Alive and his 1930s and 40s 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

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 his hand at farming before getting a job as a cowpuncher. Accompanying a cattlecar to the Chicago stockyards, he refused to take the trip back to Texas, and spent the rest of his days supporting himself on various jobs while seeking adventure. In 1911, he won $3,500 in a poker game and decided to go overseas for the first time, leaving his wife and setting out for Brazil.[2] Bringing back exotic birds to New York, he was surprised by the amount of his profits. Trips to Singapore followed, and he traveled the world for 18 years, until the stock market crash of 1929 left him penniless. However, friends lent him $6,000 and soon he was back to his profitable work.

San Diego Zoo

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


Frank Buck (right), director Clyde E. Elliott (next to Buck), cameramen Nick Cavaliere (left) and Carl Berger (next to Cavaliere) ready to leave for the far east to film Bring 'Em Back Alive (1932)

When war correspondent Floyd Gibbons suggested that Buck write about Buck's animal collecting adventures, Buck collaborated with Edward Anthony on Bring 'Em Back Alive, which became a bestseller in 1930. While the book 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's autobiography, All In A Lifetime, was published in 1941. Buck wrote On Jungle Trails, All in a Lifetime, and three other books in collaboration with a radio dramatist, Ferrin Fraser.

Buck wrote Animals are Like That with a journalist, Carol Weld.

Bring 'Em Back Alive was printed as Classics Illustrated #104.

George T. Bye, a New York Literary agent, represented Frank Buck in the publication of Bring 'Em Back Alive and subsequent books.

Circus star

Frank Buck, star attraction, 1938

In 1938, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus made Buck a lucrative offer to tour as their star 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."[4] 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 Century of Progress. Over two million people visited Buck’s reproduction of the camp he and his native assistants lived in while collecting animals in Aisa. After the fair closed, Buck moved the camp to a compound Buck created at Amityville, Long Island. In 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.[5]

Movie star

Buck appeared as himself in 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 took place in Asia). Buck played "Frank Hardy" in the 1937 15 part Columbia 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 adventure series, Bring 'Em Back Alive.

Frank Buck Zoo and animal collecting

Original poster for Bring 'Em Back Alive (1932)

The Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, Texas (initially populated 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 in 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 close friend of Frank Buck and frequently assisted Buck in his animal collecting endeavors.[6]

Personal life and final years

In 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. In 1914, Buck married Nina C. Boardman, a Chicago stenographer. They were divorced in 1927. In 1928 Buck married Muriel Reilly and had a daughter. In 1937 Buck bought his first home, in the Encino area of Los Angeles, 5035 Louise Avenue. He spent his last years in his family home in San Angelo, Texas, 324 South Bishop Street. Although his life was an adventurous one, and he reported many brushes with danger, Frank Buck died in a hospital bed, in Houston, Texas, from lung cancer brought about by a lifetime of cigarette smoking.[7]


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. ^ New York Post, May 5, 1938
  5. ^ Frank Buck's Jungleland
  6. ^ Current Biography 1943, p84
  7. ^ Bring 'Em Back Alive: The Best of Frank Buck. Texas Tech Univ Press 2006, p xviii. [1]


External links

Jungle Cavalcade theatrical poster, 1941


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