Ranger Porter Ricks is responsible for the animal and human life in Coral Key Park, Florida. Stories center on his 15-year-old son Sandy and 10-year-old Bud and, especially, on their pet dolphin Flipper.
Widower Steve Douglas raises three sons with the help of his father-in-law, and is later aided by the boys' great-uncle. An adopted son, a stepdaughter, wives, and another generation of sons join the loving family in later seasons.
Ivan Tors, who was responsible for shows like Sea Hunt, Daktari and Flipper, struck again with another success in Gentle Ben. Running on Sunday nights after Lassie, Gentle Ben completed an hour block of wholesome, family friendly entertainment leading into the Ed Sullivan Show.
The cast was outstanding, anchored by Dennis Weaver and featuring Beth Brickell and Clint Howard (Ron's brother). But the real star of the show was the title character, played by a bear trained by Monty Cox. The chemistry between Howard and Ben the bear was a key to the show's success.
But the one thing I really enjoyed about the show was the scenery of the Florida Everglades. It was a very naturalistic setting for a family drama and I remember the opening titles with the Wedloe family on their airboat. To me, it was one of the few TV shows where an airboat was shown.
One other thing I should point out is that Gentle Ben was actually based on a book by Walt Morey. It may be out of print but if you can find it in your local library, be sure and check it out to find out the genesis of the TV series that should be released on DVD someday.
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