Ben - Large American black bear on the animal adventure GENTLE
Ben stood over eight feet tall on his hind legs and
weighed over 630 pounds. Born in the Everglades in Florida, Ben was the
family pet and constant companion of Mark Wedloe (Clint Howard), whose
father, Tom (Dennis Weaver) was game warden at the local Coral Key Park.
The Ben character was based on the novel by Walt Morey about a boy and his
bear. The television series, a spin-off of the movie Gentle Giant (1967)
transposed the novels northern setting to the Florida Everglades where a
boy befriended a bear cub after its mother was shot by a drunken hunter.
The real bear who played Ben (originally called Bruno) has led a charmed
life. As a bear cub, Ben and his brother, Smokey were orphaned in White
Lake, Wisconsin and were sent to live at the original AFRICA, USA, a wild
animal "affection training ranch" in Soledad Canyon near Los Angeles.
1969, a flood destroyed the ranch. Ben was found alive and safe two miles
down the canyon but covered with mud and weighing a few pounds less.
Another time, a runaway locomotive fell off its track and crushed Ben's
cage. Luckily, the bear had vacated the cage to go walking with his
trainer. Ben's chief trainer was Monty Cox. Ben's main stand-in was a bear
named Buck (used for the running scenes).
Dennis Weaver told TV Guide in
1970 "I liked him (Ben), but it was a cold relationship. Bears aren't like
dogs and horses. Ben didn't know me from a bag of doughnuts."
Animal Planet cable channel in association with Hallmark Entertainment
sponsored remakes of the original series entitled Gentle Ben a.k.a. Terror
On the Mountain starring Dean Cain as Jack Wedloe and Reiley McClendon as
his son, Mark; and the sequel Gentle Ben 2: Danger on the Mountain, a.k.a.
Black Gold (2003).
A company called 'Bear With Us' provided animals for both
TV movies which were filmed in Placer County in Northern California.
Bonkers the Bear played the role of Gentle Ben.
TRIVIA NOTE: The adventure
novel "Gentle Ben" by Walt Morey tells the tale of lonely boy named Mark
Andersen who befriends a Ben, a huge Alaskan brown bear.
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