The idea of escaping the pressures of civilized society in favor of a solitary life in the wilderness is a captivating one. In the 70s, the poster child for such an adventurer was a bearded mountain man with a smiling face named Grizzly Adams. First introduced by way of a a novel in 1972, the cinematic version of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams came out in theaters two years later and captured the hearts of millions, making Grizzly Adams a household name throughout the remainder of the decade.
James Capen Adams is a burly but gentle frontiersman who finds himself wrongfully accused of murder. No longer able to live in society, he makes the heart-wrenching decision to abandon his young daughter Peg and escape to the surrounding wilderness. Forced to live off the land, he raises an abandoned bear cub he names “Ben” into a fully grown grizzly, one who offers companionship, as well as some more-than-adequate protection.
Years pass as Grizzly becomes one with his surroundings and finds a pair of human friends in an old prospector named Mad Jack and a Native-American brave named Nakoma. But his new life is disrupted when Peg, now fully-grown, makes an unexpected visit to the woods, intent on bringing daddy back to civilization. Ol’ Grizzly has to decide whether to honor his daughter’s wishes, or remain in the majestic mountains he now calls home.
When it came time to cast the lead role in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, producers found the perfect fit in Dan Haggerty, a burly former animal trainer with a million dollar smile. Theater audiences fell in love with the character and the film, which was made on a shoestring budget of only $140K, earned a whopping $65 million at the box office. This unexpected success lead to a prime-time television series that debuted in 1977 and ran for two seasons. Haggerty reprised his role, as did Denver Pyle (Mad Jack) and Don Shanks (Nakoma.) The series concluded with a made-for-TV film, The Capture of Grizzly Adams. It should also be noted that two other Grizzly Adams films were released in the 1990s, but neither starred Haggerty, and both were promptly forgotten. The original film, however, and the series that followed are both still fondly remembered by many.
If you were a fan of the film, or tuned in each week to watch the television show, we would love to hear your thoughts and recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to one of the most memorable mountain men to ever hit the big time.