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Grizzly Adams

Grizzly Adamsw I am not usually into the celebrity scene. Nine talented young musicians have my attention and I keep tabs on them. (This is entirely self-serving, in that one day I can claim "I knew them when"). Otherwise, I have a couple of celebrities I admire and I'll leave the rest to the paparazzi and their fans. Having said that, I was truly saddened to hear of Daniel Francis "Dan" Haggerty's (November 19, 1942-January 15, 2016) passing.*

     As a child, many an day was spent with Grizzly Adams, Ben, Nakoma and the lovable Mad Jack. Due to our transitory lifestyle, these characters, along with those found in books, served as surrogate companions until I overcame the "new kid" persona. What I did not know at the time, was that Grizzly Adams was based on an actual person. I had read, or so I thought, about all of the mountain men with Jim Bridger (1804-1881) being my favorite. It was a bit of a surprise upon learning that Haggerty's portrayal was based on a historical figure. 

     John "Grizzly" Adams (circa 1813-1860) made his way west from Massachusetts in 1849. He was possibly lost after his father's suicide, leading to the decision to undertake the journey. Adams  followed in the path of many others that went west after the gold rush in 1848 but, he shared only the westward direction with the others.

     To make his living, Adams instead chose to use his skills at hunting and developing camaraderie with animals, which he had honed as a younger man in parts of Vermont and Massachusetts. Adams supplied and trained animals for menageries and circuses. In 1855, during an attempt to catch a grizzly, he received a severe scalp  laceration. The wound was reopened by his bear "General Fremont" and Adams never quite recovered.** He died in 1860.


Grizzly Adams 1w

     Although the beloved Haggerty undoubtedly gave the best-known portrayal of Adams, he was not the first to act out parts of Adams' life. As this advertising pamphlet shows, actor E.T. Goodrich of Goodrich & Thode's Company first portrayed Adams in Grizzly Adams, the "Most Successful Play of the Day." It was lauded as a border drama without the "blood and thunder" of others of that class.

      William Frederick Thode (1853-1911), the company's business manager, was born in Prussia and immigrated to New York.*** In an amusing turn of events the "Popular Young Actor," Goodrich, is elusive. His name appears in the 1884 edition of the Buffalo City Directory, and that is all I can find in a search. Goodrich, Thode, and Goodrich & Thode's Company do not appear in A History of the American Theatre 1790-1950, suggesting their run at stardom was short-lived.****

     Although the playbill announces opening week (September 4th), at the 8th Street Theatre, neither year nor location is provided. Based on the Buffalo City Directory's dates for Goodrich, a date of 1884 is probably pretty close. The fantastic cut signed "Ledger Print Phila." is most likely from the Public Ledger (1836-1942) of Philadelphia which was enjoying an era of high profitability in the 1880's. These bits of information help somewhat for date, but do nothing for a location. 

     The sponser, "Merchant's Gargling Oil," a liniment for man and beast (advertising page not shown) was established by Geo[rge] W. Merchant in Lockport, New York in 1833. The date still fits as Merchant's was in business until "the present" time, but the advertisment also claims that Merchan'ts Gargling Oil is the "standard liniment of the country." This information does not exaclty pinpoint a location of the theatre. More than likely the play was held in New York. 

 Grizzly Adams 2w    Grizzly Adams was obviously a person who inspired curiosity, admiration, and interest. While alive, he had his own "fandom," if you will. They lined up at venues such as P.T. Barnum's circuses to catch a glimpse of Adams. After his death, he elicited this little-remembered border drama. Yet, it is Dan Haggerty's portrayal of Grizzly Adams that was loved, and will be always be remembered.  Best, Pat 

Comments, Questions, Ideas, Suggestions? We love to hear them.

--Copyright © 2016 Passed Time. All Rights Reserved.--

*I was also saddened by the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Maybe celebrities make more of an impact than I realize.

.**Some accounts state a monkey bit the wound soon after the mishap with General Fremont, but that might only be conjecture, romanticization, and exaggeration.

***Another source gives Thode's date of death as 1914. It also gives a birth date of 1860 which is 7-8 years past what other sources list. In fact, many different genealogy sites have different dates for him. It is confusing, so hopefully the 1853-1911 is correct. The person who input that information had more information about Thode's spouse and children, etc. so is perhaps a more reliable source.

****Hughes, Glenn. A History of the American Theatre 1700-1950. Samuel French 1951. (Despite its age, I love this book and would recommend it to anyone who has interest in theatre)

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