Helfer, Ralph 1937–
Helfer, Ralph 1937–
Born 1937, in Chicago, IL; married Toni Ringo (deceased); married Suzzi Matua (a safari guide); children: (first marriage) Tana.
Home—Newport Beach, CA; Kenya. Office—Eden International, P.O. Box 25971, Los Angeles, CA 90025; Eden International Safaris & Treks, P.O. Box 7101, City Square 00200, Nairobi, Kenya. E-mail—[email protected]
Animal behaviorist, safari leader, and writer. Motion picture and television stuntman, 1950s; Africa USA (wild animal ranch), Soledad Canyon, CA, owner, c. 1960s-70s; Marine World Africa USA, Vallejo, CA, owner; Enchanted Village (theme park), Buena Park, CA, owner, c. 1970s; Gentle Jungle (wild animal training company), founder and director, 1980s; Eden International (safari company), Los Angeles, CA, founder and director. Supplied wild animals for motion pictures, including The Island of Dr. Moreau, Quest for Fire, and Clarence, the Cross-eyed Lion, and for television shows, including Gentle Ben, Daktari, and Star Trek.
Eighteen PATSY Awards for work with animals.
The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars, J.P. Tarcher (Los Angeles, CA), 1990.
Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant, Orchard (New York, NY), 2002.
Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
The World's Greatest Elephant (picture book), illustrated by Ted Lewin, Philomel (New York, NY), 2006.
Savage Harvest, based on a story by Ralph Helfer and Ken Noyle, was produced as a film, 1981; Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived was optioned for film by Tig Productions.
Ralph Helfer is a legendary Hollywood animal trainer and behaviorist who developed "affection training," a method that uses respect and kindness to develop strong bonds between humans and wild animals. During his career, Helfer worked with numerous animal celebrities, including Clarence the Cross-eyed Lion and Judy the Chimp.
Helfer published his first book, The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars, in 1990. In the work, he recounts his experiences working with a variety of animals, including C.J., an orangutan, and Gentle Ben, a black bear. Genevieve Stuttaford, writing in Publishers Weekly, stated that "animal lovers will be charmed and entertained by Helfer's menagerie."
Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived is actually two biographies in one, as Helfer tells the story of a circus elephant as well as her inseparable human companion. Bram Gunterstein, whose father was an animal trainer for a German circus, was born in 1896, the same night that Modoc was born on the Guntersteins' farm. The pair grew up together, and when the circus was sold to an American circus owner, Bram stowed away aboard the ship that would carry the elephant to the United States. A typhoon sank the ship in the Bay of Bengal, and Bram and Modoc were among the only survivors. The duo traveled through India until they were eventually found by the circus owner, who assigned Bram to act as Modoc's trainer in America. After a period of great success with the Ringling Brothers circus, Modoc was sold without Bram's knowledge and vanished for nearly two decades. A production company owned by Helfer eventually found the elephant living on a farm in the Ozarks and reunited her with Bram. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "sentimentalists and animal lovers should flock to this story," and Booklist contributor Nancy Bent deemed Modoc "a truly fascinating book."
Helfer revisits the tale of Modoc in two more-recent works, Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant and the picture book The World's Greatest Elephant. Written for a young-adult audience, Mosey was described as "an unusual but engaging combination of adventure-survival story and boy-and-his-pet tale" by Booklist contributor Chris Sherman. In The World's Greatest Elephant, Helfer recounts the remarkable story of Bram and Modoc for young readers. "Helfer's impeccable pacing keeps the suspense high as he builds the emotional connection between his two heroes—one human, one animal," noted a critic in Publishers Weekly. Several reviewers, including Booklist critic Hazel Rochman, offered particular praise for the dramatic illustrations by Ted Lewin. "His gorgeous, watercolor double-page spreads show the … rescue drama, but even more stunning are the depictions of the bond between the lifelong friends," Rochman stated. According to School Library Journal contributor Margaret Bush, Helfer's "bold and heartwarming adventure tale should have wide appeal."
Helfer chronicles his eighteen-year relationship with a gentle giant in Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived. In the work, the animal behaviorist describes his efforts to turn an orphaned lion cub into a top Hollywood attraction using the revolutionary principles of "affection training." According to Judy McAloon, writing in School Library Journal, "the many stories, both humorous and touching, make this a fascinating book." Helfer "beautifully expresses a simple philosophy so many have trouble following: respect for all living creatures, given and returned," noted an appreciative critic in Kirkus Reviews.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Helfer, Toni Ringo, The Gentle Jungle, Brigham Young University Press (Provo, UT), 1980.
Booklist, September 15, 1997, Nancy Bent, review of Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived, p. 196; July, 2002, Chris Sherman, review of Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant, p. 1840; July, 2005, Nancy Bent, review of Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived, p. 1884; February 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of The World's Greatest Elephant, p. 48.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of The World's Greatest Elephant, p. 356.
Childhood Education, fall, 2002, Irene A. Allen, review of Mosey, p. 50.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2005, review of Zamba, p. 575; February 1, 2006, review of The World's Greatest Elephant, p. 1323.
Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Ann Forister, review of Zamba, p. 117.
People, August 8, 2005, Lisa Kay Greissinger, review of Zamba, p. 46.
Publishers Weekly, March 9, 1990, review of The Beauty of the Beasts: Tales of Hollywood's Wild Animal Stars, p. 56; August 4, 1997, Paul Nathan, "If You Like Androcles," p. 36; September 1, 1997, review of Modoc, p. 90; June 13, 2005, review of Zamba, p. 46; April 10, 2006, review of The World's Greatest Elephant, p. 71.
School Library Journal, July, 2002, Vicki Reutter, review of Mosey, p. 136; January, 2006, Judy McAloon, review of Zamba, p. 174; February, 2006, Margaret Bush, review of The World's Greatest Elephant, p. 120.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1998, review of Modoc, p. 380; August, 2002, review of Mosey, p. 192.
Eden International Safaris & Treks Web site,http://www.edeninternationalsafaris.net/ (January 25, 2007).
Talking Animals Web site,http://www.talkinganimals.net/ (January 20, 2007), Duncan Strauss, "African Safari: Kenya Imagine Seeing So Many Animals—and So Close?"