Tag Archives: Johnny Carson

The feeling is mutual

Peter Gros of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom comes to Chandler this month

Wildlife advocate and educator Peter Gros says he has fond memories of watching the television show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” every Sunday afternoon as a child growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley. The feeling is mutual.

I often watched the show during weekends spent with my father at his Denver apartment — usually while he was cooking dinner or working nearby on fishing-related projects. Sitting still long enough to watch a TV program was never his style.

My dad grew up in South Dakota where duck and pheasant hunting was a popular pastime, but Gros grew up watching rather than hunting the wildlife around him. Seems his backyard, a playground or sorts, was a huge fenced perserve filled with thousands of trees and stocked with various types of wildlife.

Picture diverse conifers and desiduous trees dropping multicolored leaves. Then add in grouse, deer, owls, hawks and more. “It was the ’50s and ’60s,” says Gros, “and I always felt most comfortable and alive when I was in nature.”

Gros recalls “migrating West” during the ’70s to study wildlife husbandry at a place, now defunct, that embraced “the idea of bottle-raising animals and having them become imprinted on you.”

He worked during his 20s in “a pocket park” north of Santa Barbara, where 500 or so hand-raised animals roamed free. “We let them do natural behaviors,” says Gros, “and they’d get a food reward.” Gros’ duties also included giving environment-related lectures.

Gros later moved to Northern California and “helped develop Marine World/Africa USA” in Redwood City, where having “lots of space, waterways and islands” made it possible to turning animals loose.

They took tourists around in “large forty-man Colorado river rafts,” something Gros playfully describes as “caging the people.” Soon Gros got his “big break” — assisting with the largest litter of tigers ever born in captivity. There were seven of them. “We knew they’d only survive,” he recalls, “if we could rotate their nursing.”

“Someone took a picture” says Gros – and it got into some pretty big hands. Soon Johnny Carson called and invited him to “bring the pups” to appear on his show. “Jim Fowler was there,” recalls Gros, “and things went well.” A meeting with Fowler and Marlin Perkins soon followed. 

Perkins originally hosted “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” which debuted on NBC in 1963, but retired in 1985 for medical reasons. Fowler, a naturalist who had assisted Perkins with the show, got the hosting gig. Today Fowler and Gros co-host a revamped “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” on the Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet.”

Gros also serves as a special ambassador for the show, traveling to share the Mutual of Omaha message that “there is a correlation between protecting the world’s natural resources and our business of protecting a family’s resources.”

He’s concerned that today’s youth are suffering a “nature deficit disorder,” but encouraged that parents are “starting to figure it out.” Technology, reflects Gros, disconnects us from nature. So does too much time spent indoors playing video games or just meandering through the mall.

“I want to promote an understanding of the natural world,” says Gros. “It’s healthy,” says Gros, “to set aside daily time to disconnect from technology and walk or hike.” We inspire our children, he says, when we allow them to “see life up close.”

Too little time with nature sometimes leads us to fear it, adds Gros. “Children need to learn about it,” he says, “so they feel comfortable with it.” Like most things in life, the less we know about wildlife, the more likely we are to fear it. He’s concerned that children hear too many stories about animals being dangerous, and too few about their contributions to the planet.

Gros wants children to “understand and respect” the animal kingdom, so they’re moved to act when things like dwindling species impact our ecosystem. It appears his own children, three grown sons, share his fervor. John is a diving instructor. Tom is working on a bioengineering degree in San Diego while twin Jesse helps people explore places like Nepal and Peru through Insight Adventures.

“Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Starring Peter Gros” comes to Chandler Center for the Arts Sun, Feb. 19 at 3pm — so those of us who grew up with the TV show can take our own children and/or grandchildren to experience a live performance featuring Gros and several of his animal friends. It’s being presented with Arizona’s own Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium.

Gros notes that “wildlife footage and bloopers” comprise about one-third of the show, while another third features hand-raised wildlife appearing on stage (and interaction with volunteers called onstage to assist him). The other third involves “positive stories about good things happening in the environment” like pockets of rainforests coming back to life.

Expect a few surprises, says Gros, because at least one creature will “fly over the audience and land on stage.” Sounds like even kids enamored with “Angry Birds” will find plenty to love.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about this and other performances coming to Chandler Center for the Arts, and here view to video of Gros in action.

Coming up: What’s new pussycat?

Gifts of art

James told me a proper "Stage Mom" needs a Broadway Cares tote bag

The arts were front and center as we celebrated Christmas this year. Everyone got books — and mine included Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat.” There were Broadway Cares T-shirts, totes and such – all in support of Equity Fights AIDS.

My son Christopher gave me a nifty camera that’ll fit in my pocket or purse for those times I find myself unexpectedly at the scene of an arts adventure — whether a street fair, a gallery collection, a museum exhibit or a student performance.

Jennifer made me a lovely piece of original art — an homage of sorts to my “Stage Mom” blog. It’s a twist on an IOU for a notebook she’s putting together with copies of each of my nearly 500 posts.

Since so many of my art musings double as miniature memoirs, I want to be sure my children have them to read once I’m farther along in the circle of life.

The Sondheim, of course, was a gift from Lizabeth — who is enjoying her last Christmas living at home before heading off to college in the fall.

This gift spent plenty of time in others' hands before I got to really enjoy it

I called that one before I even unwrapped the box, since the book has a rather distinctive size and shape — and since I’d just seen a Sondheim appearance on “The Colbert Report.”

I held the wrapped book up to my forehead a la Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” from “The Tonight Show” of so many years ago — predicting that it contained Stephen Sondheim.

The Carnac bit went over the heads of everyone in the room except my hubby and his parents as Lizabeth assured me that she had not, in fact, stuffed Sondheim into the package. Alas.

My in-laws gave me a lovely piece of garden art and other treasures — including a tote bag from the National Audubon Society, which I dearly love because it pictures two owls. My mother collected owls for many years and they remind me of her still. (Figurines, not live birds.)

Apparently friends and family prefer that I write about art rather than making it myself. No fingerpaints. No canvas. No clay. It would be enough for them, I suppose, if I could master the art of taking a really good photo.

A very special friend thought to hunt down a book I adore but haven’t been able to locate in town – “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.” That darling child caught on video snubbing a book he got from Santa has much to learn.

Several of the gifts we exchanged, like this 2010 Tony T-shirt, support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

I have much to be grateful for this holiday season — including the opportunity to experience the riches of art, music, theater and dance in a world where so many people don’t even have a roof over their heads or food to feed their families.

If you’ve been especially moved by an arts experience in your community, consider giving something of yourself to assure that Arizona arts and culture remain vibrant for future generations.

A financial gift before the end of the year. A regular committment of volunteer service during the New Year. A resolution to spend more time enjoying the arts with friends and family.

With all the arts have given us, now is the perfect time of year to give back…

– Lynn

Note: To learn more about the arts scene in Arizona and ways you can get involved, visit the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts and the Arizona Humanities Council.

Coming up: Stage Mom’s “Best of Broadway” quotes, Music & memories, Outdoor concert fun