Frank Buck


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Frank Howard Buck was born March 17, 1884 in Gainesville, Texas to Howard Dewitt and Ada J. Sites Buck.  By the time Frank was a teenager, his parents had moved to Dallas, Texas.  He attended school through the seventh grade and was not considered to be a particularly good student, perhaps because he had many other varied interests.  As a young adult he held a number of different jobs, including working as a cowboy.  He also is said to have traveled as a hobo for a while.  Buck moved to Chicago and began working at a hotel around 1900.  There he met and married his first wife, Lillie West, some 29 years his senior.

As a child, he had collected small animals.  His newspaper obituary told that his mother had once spanked him for bringing home and playing with a two foot long copperhead snake.  Using his winnings from a poker game in 1911, Frank went on a solo trip to Brazil.  He returned with several exotic birds, which he then sold.  Encouraged by this, he began taking more trips and bringing back animals that he would then sell to zoos and circuses.  He and West divorced in 1913 and Buck married Nina Boardman, a clerical worker, in 1914.  He and Boardman remained married until the late 1920s.  She accompanied him on many of their animal hunting trips.  After their divorce, Boardman was quoted as saying that as long as she lived, she did not want to see an animal larger or wilder than a kitten.  Buck continued to capture and collect animals essentially for the rest of his life.  Buck married a third time, to Muriel Valentine Reilly, with whom he would remain married for the rest of his life.

In the 1920s, Buck briefly served as director of the San Diego Zoo and furnished the organization with a number of wild animals, but his independent nature and iconoclastic style clashed with other employees and officials leading to the end of the relationship.

Buck was the author of seven books about his adventures including “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” which became a best selling book.  The phrase also became closely associated with him, almost like a nickname.  He was approached by Hollywood to appear in feature films, of which he appeared as an actor in five productions in the 1930s and 1940s.  In addition, he was credited as writer on as many films.  Buck was also connected other films as producer and/or director.  His last film released in 1949 was called “Africa Screams” and was a comedy, starring Abbott and Costello.

Buck continued to make expeditions all over the world including trips to Malaya, India, Borneo, Burma, New Guinea, Siam and Africa.  A number of family members, including his brother Walter, had lived in San Angelo, Texas for many years.  Buck and his family moved there in the 1940s to be near them and lived in town.  Buck had been involved in a taxi accident in 1947 and had complained that he had not felt the same since.  For the last three years of his life, he also suffered from a lung ailment that eventually forced him to end his tours.  Buck died on March 25, 1950 in Houston, Texas after traveling there from his home in San Angelo for a checkup at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Hospital.  His cause of death was listed as lung cancer.  Buck’s body was cremated and it is believed that his ashes were scattered in Texas.

Buck had been honored in 1937 by the city of Gainesville, Texas.  In 1954, the city zoo was renamed the Frank Buck Zoo in his honor.  It features an exhibit of some of his memorabilia donated by his wife and daughter.

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