The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams is a 1974 independent feature film inspired by a 1972 historical fiction novella written by Charles E. Sellier Jr.. The film's popularity led to an NBC television series of the same name. The title character, played by Dan Haggerty, was loosely based on California mountain man James "Grizzly" Adams (1812-1860), whose real name was John Capen Adams, a one-time Boston shoe and boot maker.
The film and TV series portrayed the fictional Grizzly Adams as a frontier woodsman who fled into the mountains after he was wrongly accused of murder. While struggling to survive, Adams saves an orphaned grizzly bear cub he adopts and names Ben. The bear, while growing to its huge adult size, becomes Adams' closest companion. Consistently kind and gentle, Adams discovers and demonstrates an uncanny ability to gain the trust of most of the indigenous wildlife of the region, and he helps, sometimes rescues, takes in and tames many species. Originally a hunter, with his learned affection for wildlife Adams resolves never to harm another animal whenever possible. In the television series, Adams had two human friends, an old mountain man trader named "Mad Jack" played by Denver Pyle who was often featured with his mule ("Number Seven"), and a Native American by the name of "Nakoma" played by Don Shanks. Adams, Mad Jack, and Nakoma helped myriad mountain visitors while protecting wildlife at the same time.
NBC aired the series finale on February 21, 1982 by way of a two-hour TV movie called The Capture of Grizzly Adams where a bounty hunter used Adams' daughter, who was not seen or mentioned since the 1974 film, in a kidnap-extortion ploy to lure the fugitive mountain man back to civilization. In the end Adams proves his innocence.
Dan Haggerty as James Capen 'Grizzly' Adams
Denver Pyle as Mad Jack
Don Shanks as Nakoma
John Bishop as Robbie Cartman
Bozo (a grizzly bear) as Ben (named after Benjamin Franklin)
In addition to Ben, there were many other named animals in the TV series, the most prominent being Number 7, Mad Jack's ornery mule. Bart the Bear, then a bear cub, made one of his first acting appearances in the series playing Ben as a cub.
Gene Edwards—a stunt double for Dan Haggerty—later played Grizzly Adams in the otherwise unrelated 1990 film The Legend of Grizzly Adams.
Grizzly Adams was created and produced by Schick Sunn Classic Pictures, a company based in Park City, Utah and operated by its founding executives, Patrick Frawley, Charles E. Sellier Jr., and Rayland Jenson. The low-budget independent studio successfully introduced innovative marketing and promotional methods. Its 1974 'Grizzly Adams' movie was a runaway success. Produced on a small $140,000 budget, the film grossed over $45 million at the domestic box office and $65 million worldwide. It was the 7th highest grossing film of 1974. The 43% market share captured by a 1976 airing of the film on NBC led to network executives green-lighting the television series. The series drew a 32% market share, a significant figure to this day. The series also aired at a time when the environmental movement flourished.
The show's theme song, “Maybe,” was written and sung by Thom Pace. The song was released as a single in Europe, where it reached number one, and in 1980 won Germany's Goldene Europa award for best song. At the beginning of each episode, part of the theme song is sung, while at the end, the entire theme song is sung. "Mad Jack" also introduces the circumstances of Grizzly Adams, referring to him as a "greenhorn", his friendship with Ben and all of the animals. After selling many products bearing the Grizzly Adams brand name, the brand was eventually trademarked by its creator, film producer, Charles E. Sellier, Jr. Following Sellier's death in early 2011, the brand rights were transferred to Grizzly Adams LLC.
Shout! Factory, under license from CBS Home Entertainment, released both seasons in two region 1, 4-DVD sets: season 1 on November 6, 2012, and Season 2 on February 19, 2013. The same eight discs were reissued as Grizzly Adams: The Complete Series on May 31, 2016.
The Season sets do not include the succesful 1974 film The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, which led to the series. The Season 2 set does include Once Upon a Starry Night which aired just after the regular series ended in 1978, but not The Capture of Grizzly Adams, which aired in 1982.
On November 12, 2013, CBS Home Entertainment released The Capture of Grizzly Adams on DVD in Region 1 for the first time.
Dan Haggerty also played Jeremiah, a modern-day version of Grizzly Adams, in the films Grizzly Mountain (1997) and Escape to Grizzly Mountain (2000).