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Dan Haggerty Really Was Grizzly Adams: True Story Of TV's Nature Man

Entertainment | October 4, 2019

Bozo the Bear as Ben, and Dan Haggerty as James 'Grizzly' Adams. Photo by: Frank Carroll/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Dan Haggerty won us over as Grizzly Adams, a nature- and animal-loving frontier character with a Paul Bunyan manliness and Dr. Doolittle-esque connection with beasts and critters. Lovers of the great outdoors and majestic beards likely remember TV's Grizzly Adams fondly, first from the 1974 movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and then in the television show Grizzly Adams.

The man who played Grizzly Adams, Dan Haggerty, led just as fascinating a life as his on-screen persona. He has to rank as one of the all-time examples of an actor playing himself.

Born In Chaos

Dan Haggerty and Denver Pyle. Source: IMDB

Born in 1942, Daniel Francis Haggerty endured a difficult childhood. His parents split at the age of three, leaving him at the mercy of military school at a young age. Naturally, the future outdoorsmen struggled with the strict code of conduct at said school.

He ran away from the institution multiple times before going to live with his father, an actor, in California. The troubled Haggerty got married at 17 which, not surprisingly ended in divorce. 

Grizzly Adams’ First Break

Haggerty getting his "Biff" On. Source: telegraph.co.uk

Following in his father’s footsteps, Haggerty got into acting. His first role was in Muscle Beach Party in 1964. The burly actor played “Biff” alongside Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. The hunk-tastic role helped him book gigs in biker and wildlife films, setting the stage for the iconic Grizzly Adams. During his biker phase, he appeared in Easy Rider as one of the hippies that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper run into. 

Haggerty Lived As Grizzly Adams On The Side

Haggerty always had a way with animals, bears especially. Source: rollingstone.com

As Haggerty made ends meet as a bit actor, he also lived on a small Malibu Canyon Ranch. There he worked with a menagerie of wild animals he tamed from birth or rescued from injury. His natural love of animals and skill with pacifying various creatures pushed him into working as an animal trainer and stuntman on set.

He corralled animals for the television series Tarzan and Daktari. According to the New York Times, he handled the heavy work since “actors didn’t like animals leaping on them.”

Grizzly Adams Gets An Upgrade

Grizzly Adams and his lovable bear. Source: bbc.com

While Haggerty was working as an actor on a film in Canada, a producer spotted the strapping mountain man. According to Haggerty, the producer said to Haggerty’s wife “now that guy would be great for Grizzly Adams, not the guy we have.” Quickly, Haggerty agreed to do the film. 

A Great Investment On The Right Man

Source: IMDB

The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams cost $165,000 to make and in the end, took in nearly $30 million. The subsequent television show, kind and heartwarming, earned Haggerty the People’s Choice Award in 1978 for most popular actor in a new series. Haggerty went on to do a variety of outdoor films like Where the North Wind Blows, The Adventures of Frontier Fremont, and Grizzly Mountain, in which he played characters who were variations on Grizzly Adams. 

Grizzly Adams Through and Through

Grizzly and a Grizzly Bear(youtube.com)

On top of raising and rescuing wild animals, Haggerty truly lived the Grizzly Adams ethos. Once Otis Chandler, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times invited him to his home and proudly showed off a bear head he had mounted on the wall. Haggerty responded by saying:

Hell, any jackass can point a gun at something and kill it. I got a bear that’s bigger than yours, and he rides around in the truck with me.

Tags: Dan Haggerty | Grizzly Adams | TV In The 1970s | What Did He Do?...

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!