Richard “Marlin” Perkins was born March 28, 1905, in Carthage, Missouri.
In the fall of 1919, Perkins entered Wentworth Military Academy.
There Perkins demonstrated his fascination with snakes by keeping blue racer snakes in his room. One afternoon, while exercising them on a lawn behind the barracks, he was spotted by a faculty officer and got in trouble.
Perkins briefly attended the University of Missouri, but quit school to become a laborer at the Saint Louis Zoological Park.
That was the start of a brilliant zoological career.
Perkins rose through the ranks, becoming the reptile curator in 1928.
After being hired as a curator for the Buffalo Zoological Park in Buffalo, New York, Perkins was eventually promoted to director in 1938.
He then served as director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, from 1944 until 1962, when he returned to the St. Louis Zoo, this time as director.
During his time at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Perkins joined Sir Edmund Hillary as the zoologist for Hillary’s 1960 Himalayan expedition to search for the legendary Yeti.
He also married Carol in 1960.
Soon Perkins was offered the spot of host for Zoo Parade, a television program that originated from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo on NBC station WNBQ-TV (now WMAQ-TV) when he was the director there.
During one rehearsal of Zoo Parade, he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake, one of several bites from venomous snakes Perkins suffered throughout his career (over the years he was also bitten by a cottonmouth and a Gaboon viper). Although the incident occurred during a pre-show rehearsal and was not filmed, it has become something of an urban legend, with many people “remembering” seeing Perkins receive the bite on television.
As a result of his work on Zoo Parade Perkins was offered the job in 1963 for which most Americans remember him: host of the famed nature show Wild Kingdom.
The enormous fame he gained over his television career allowed Perkins to become an advocate for the protection of endangered species, and through Wild Kingdom he gave many Americans their first exposure to the conservation movement.
Perkins retired from active zookeeping in 1970.
He also helped establish The Wild Canid Survival and Research Center (WCSRC) near St. Louis in 1971.
This wolf sanctuary has been instrumental in breeding wolves for eventual re-placement to their natural habitats.
One piece of trivia on wikipedia is worth noting:
Because Walt Disney had once fabricated footage of a mass suicide of lemmings in its film White Wilderness, then CBC journalist Bob McKeown asked Marlin Perkins if he had done the same. Perkins, who was by then in his seventies, “firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face.”
Unfortunately, Perkins retired from Wild Kingdom in 1985 for health reasons.
He remained with the Saint Louis Zoo as Director Emeritus until his death on June 14, 1986, when he lost his battle against cancer.
In 1990, Marlin Perkins was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
A statue of Perkins also stands in Central Park in his hometown of Carthage, Missouri.
Now WE know em