Friday, July 13, 2012

TEDDY THE TENDERFOOT: "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" (1977)

I've got to be careful. There's so much I could say about "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams", the iconic mountain man TV series that ran on NBC for almost 2 seasons starting in March of 1977, before even bringing up CMS. So I'll try to keep it short. This is one I have vague memories of from childhood. I can't remember what I thought of it at the time, whether I liked it or not. Since growing up, coming out, and falling in with the bears, it's a show that now takes on an entirely different meaning when I watch it today. A lot of bear guys look at Dan Haggerty and see this vivid manifestation of a sexy archetype, or at least admire his thick beard. His character, James "Grizzly" Adams, even shares a relationship with an actual bear animal that lends itself very easily to reinterpreting as a gay relationship (as Seth MacFarlane famously did on a "Family Guy" episode).

I have to point out something very special before jumping into my rundown of "The Tenderfoot", the 8th episode from the show's first season (first broadcast March 30th, 1977). In the movies and TV shows I have watched so far for this blog, this was the first time CMS was credited as CHARLES Martin Smith, instead of using the more casual Charlie.  I'm not sure of the reasoning behind the switch, though you'll see in the next several CMS roles I look at after this one that he seems to have been going for a slight image make-over. It might have been nothing more than reflecting the fact that he was getting older and maturing (bravo to that!).

You may or may not know the general premise of the series: Mid-19th century American Wilderness. Adams falsely accused of murder. Flees from civilization with a price on his head. Uncanny ability to connect with wild animals.  Learns to live off the land. Friends with crabby old prospector "Mad" Jack (Denver Pyle) and Native American tribesman Nakoma (Don Shanks).  Best friends with Ben the Bear.

These folks deep in the mountains spend a lot of time talking to animals. Adams has conversations with Ben the Bear, who seems to grunt and growl in response. There's also Joshua the Racoon and Gertrude the Goose (among other animals), who chitter and honk back at Mr. Adams when he chats with them. Even "Mad" Jack shares this trait, as we see near the start of the episode, when he talks to his mule he calls "Number Seven". They are waking alongside a small creek as Jack tells the mule that he can sense someone is watching them. And indeed someone is, staring down at them from a hilltop through a pair of binoculars. Who could it be? Is it possibly... a bounty hunter looking for Adams?

No it's not. It's none other than Charles Martin Smith, playing another one of his adorable bumbling nerd roles. He plays Teddy, a young fella out on his own exploring the wilderness, who's so klutzy he can't even walk down a hillside to introduce himself to Jack without stumbling and falling into the creek. Although Teddy is confident he is doing well for himself in the wild, he's feeling kind of lonely, and he asks Jack if he can tag along with him for some company. Of course grouchy Jack isn't too keen on this request, preferring to see the young guy go on his way and move beyond the hidden valley he calls home along with Adams. "I can't stop you from following, I guess..." Jack grumbles as he grabs Number Seven's reins and starts to leave.

They don't get more than a few feet when Teddy starts to pant and wheeze, doubling over and stopping in his tracks. "I'll be fine," he gasps. "It's just asthma, chronic case." In a moment, the attack passes, and Teddy stands up straight again with a smile on his face. But Jack just shakes his head. "If you're smart, you'll be going home," he tells the young guy. "Now. Before you get yourself killed." But Teddy doesn't listen and trots along behind the old man and the mule as they continue on.

After several miles, Jack stops to set up camp for the night, and he asks Teddy what he knows about campsites. The young man reaches into his coat and pulls out a red-covered manual: "The Outdoor Life" by... someone named Lethingwell? I'm not sure, I can't quite make it out. Let's just say it's Lethingwell and move on. "It's the greatest book ever published," Teddy gushes. "It has everything in it: How to blaze new trails. How to survive... under any circumstances. How to make the wilderness your natural home." Jack is not impressed. "Does it tell you anything in that backwoods bible about collecting wood for a fire?" he asks, motioning off towards the open field. Teddy smiles and takes the challenge. "You just leave the fire to me, old man," he enthuses, and he turns away before he can see how he has insulted Jack. "Old man?!?" the grizzled trader fumes, and continues setting up camp.

Teddy does find some good firewood, but only because he literally stumbles upon it. He's awful at making a fire though, first scraping his hand when he tries to use flint and steel to start it, then when he cheats and uses a match he catches the nearby underbrush on fire. Oops! Jack starts to stomp out the fire, but Teddy grabs Jack's canteen of water in a panic and dumps its entire contents on the flames.

So now he needs to head out and find some water, where there are no obvious sources of it anywhere nearby. As he turns to head off on another Lethingwell-guided search, he stands for a moment in profile... and once again my eyes are drawn to that beautiful bubble butt that Mr. Smith possesses. Even covered in layers of outdoor wear, I cannot help but take notice of that captivating curvature. Sigh...

After returning with some nasty-tasting water found in the center of a log (Jack calls it "skunk water" and refuses it when offered), Teddy discloses the reasons he is out here alone in the middle of nowhere. "Well, I have a purpose. A very important purpose," he explains. "I've been called to high service. I'm absolutely sure of that. Destiny is beckoning to me.... I'm going to be somebody, someday. But I've been plagued with illnesses ever since I was a child. My father says that physical fitness is the key to success. So that's why I'm out here!" When he suggests that he just stick with Jack for an extended time, the prospector isn't having it, and he again strongly urges the misguided young man to head back to civilization as soon as he can. Early the next morning, Jack sneaks away from camp and leaves Teddy alone sleeping by the fire.

But it's not that easy to get rid of this "tenderfoot", as Teddy manages to follow Jack to "Grizzly" Adams's isolated log cabin. As he proudly strolls over to Adams and Jack, he finally formally introduces himself: "How do you do? My name is Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt." Gosh, he's not any old run-of-the-mill clueless city slicker... he's a future great president of America! Now all that personal information shared while sitting by the campfire makes sense. If only Adams and Jack had any idea who their unwanted visitor would grow up to become....

Sometime later, Teddy is asleep in Adams's bed inside the cabin while the other two talk outside. Meanwhile, Native American tribesman Nakoma (possibly Cherokee like the actor portraying him) walks up to the exterior of the cabin and whispers for Adams through the bedroom window. Hmm, makes me wonder what sort of rendezvous these two have, what with Nakoma showing up at his bedroom window whispering his name. Two-Spirit indeed! He playfully grabs a bucket of water to dump on the person sleeping in the bed, who he assumes is his buddy "Grizzly". Just as Nakoma realizes his error, Teddy awakens in a fright, shouting out in alarm: "Indians! Indians!" In the blink of an eye, he's out of bed and pouncing on the confused "intruder", shouting and screaming and flailing the whole time.

Nakoma manages to fling Teddy off his back, but young guest just won't quit. "I warn you, I'm an expert!" he announces as he puts up his dukes. Nakoma backs away to avoid a punch and accidentally falls over a stool behind him, tumbling to the ground. Teddy takes advantage of the tribal warrior's position, hopping on top of him and pummeling him with his clenched fists. Just in time, Adams rushes into the cabin and pulls Teddy off his downed friend, actually lifting him off the ground with both hands, scooping him up (one hand placed firmly under Teddy's butt) and throwing him across the room! Woah!

While Adams points out that the "savage Indian" is actually his peaceful friend and blood brother, Teddy remains unconvinced. "He attacked me with a bucket of water!" he blurts out, and almost immediately realizes how ridiculous he sounds. Nakoma shares a knowing look with Jack, insults Teddy in his tribe's language (calling him crazy and stinky), and storms out the cabin door. Adams reassures Teddy that it will blow over and asks him to pitch in to clean up the messy aftermath of the altercation. "It was hardly my fault, after all," Teddy mutters in protest and walks outside, leaving  his hosts to clean up the post-fight wreckage strewn all over the cabin. How rude! Jack is understandably irritated, but Adams is a bit more forgiving.

It's time for Teddy to meet the animal friends of Mr. Adams. Gertrude the Goose startles him while he's trying to wash his face in the stream that runs nearby, taking a moment to peck at his behind with her beak (I'd be doing the same thing as Gertrude if I were in her position). An attempt to ride Number Seven ends poorly as Teddy is flung from the temperamental animal's back and into the stream. But you gotta admire the young chap's perpetual pluckiness, as he picks himself back up with a laugh and a smile (even if he does limp away from the scene of the accidental tumble).

Then there's the encounter with Ben the Bear. Our cute tenderfoot has retreated back to the cozy interior of the log cabin, removing his wet clothing and stripping down to his union suit. This would have made for quite a sexy scene, except that it all happens offscreen while we focus on Adams and Jack conversating outside. When we join Teddy, his damp apparel has already been removed and he's wrapped up in a thick blanket. Aw... no Teddy in his undergarments? As you might have seen in a previous entry, the sight of CMS in his underwear makes me very happy (almost as happy as the sight of CMS naked makes me, but I'll get to that in future entries). But as I mentioned, there's an incident with Ben the Bear (one that works to my advantage).

So here's Teddy, chillin' on a bench in front of a warm fire... when in comes the aforementioned  bear. Teddy is startled by the sight of this beast lumbering into the room, even if Ben is being mellow and smiling cheerily at him. Yes, the bear is actually smiling. I guess the bared teeth came across as bloodthirsty. In any case, Teddy throws the blanket off and jumps to his feet. "Bear! Bear!" he shouts as he backs against the wall, shaking with fear. I'm grateful the situation resulted in the sight I was hoping for when the scene began: more unclothed CMS! I'm really loving it, since the long johns are pretty snug, clinging to his beautiful body in the most lovely way.

There's a rifle and ammo across the room, so Teddy scoots by to grab it, which allows me to view his flattering underclothes from behind too. Awww, yeah! There's that deliciously delightful derrière that I adore so much! Teddy's tantalizing tookus, even covered in a (thin) layer of fabric, is such a pleasure to behold...

OK, he's got the rifle in his hands. He's packing the ammo, ready to fire. Can he do it? Can he remain calm in the face of adversity? Well, he can pull a trigger but he can't hit a target, not even one as big as Ben. The bear trots back outside, unscathed, while Teddy gets a face full of black crud as the gunpowder blows up in his face. Oh, will the klutziness never end?

Racing outside under the assumption that the bloodthirsty animal will be attacking his hosts, Teddy is surprised to discover Adams and Jack calmly standing by as gentle Ben meanders away. "Is that your bear?" Teddy asks in disbelief. "He thinks I'm his," Adams replies. Did I mention already how the relationship between the mountain man and his favorite bear is very easy to interpret as some sort of backwoods gay love affair? How the man and the bear more-or-less sleep together? Though Ben is so huge he takes up the whole bed, leaving Adams to sleep on the nearby floor.

Teddy seems to be getting used to things being a little different in this neck of the woods, as he accepts the unconventional relationship between man and beast with an "Oh..." and a shrug of the shoulders. As he turns to leave, I am treated to one last glimpse of his perfect posterior that I can't shut up about. Ahhhh.... so nice.

Soon, Teddy is clothed again (frown) and announces that he's saying goodbye. "What you've accomplished in this valley... I'm very very impressed," he explains to Adams. "I want to do the same thing. And I'm sure I can succeed. I have quite a few ideas of my own." And he marches off into the hills, Gerturde the Goose following closely behind. She must have become as much a fan of his butt as I am, presumably anticipating the opportunity to bite on his behind with her beak a bit more. I can't really blame her for desiring such things...

Things start off nicely, with Gertrude cozying up in Teddy's arms while random deer stroll up and lick his hand (actually CMS not-so-discreetly feeds the cute creature a treat, and as soon as the morsel in his hand is consumed, the deer is outta there). "It's wonderful how friendly the animals are," Teddy muses, seemingly feeling a new connection to the natural world and it's inhabitants. He discovers exactly how friendly when he takes a nap under a tree. He awakes to discover a porcupine crawling around between his legs, sniffing at his crotch. Gosh! But Gertrude is a jealous bitch, and she squawks and beats her wings which scares the cock-curious critter away.

It doesn't take too long for the enthusiastic greenhorn to screw something up again. An attempt at chopping a tree down goes horribly wrong when the timber topples onto Teddy! Oh no! He's trapped underneath! Like something out of "Lassie", Gertrude races back to the Adams cabin, where her distress honks are correctly interpreted to mean that young Theodore is in trouble! Acting like a faithful dog, the goose leads Adams and Jack back to the site of the accident. And just in time too, because a very unfriendly rattlesnake is slithering dangerously close to the pinned young man! Using nothing more than a stick and his bare hands, Adams scoops the serpent up and away. Wow, that was impressive! No wonder this mountain man is so legendary.

"Mad" Jack and "Grizzly" Adams make another plea to "Tenderfoot" Teddy that it's time to go home and leave this wilderness world that he is just not prepared to handle living in. But Theodore is oh-so stubbornly insisting that he is fully capable of roughing it in the wild. To prove it, he will lead them back through the woods to the cabin... and proceeds to head in the wrong direction. Jack's patience is at it's end, but Adams insists on treating Teddy with a little more compassion and understanding, so they still accompany him along the wrong route anyways.

After wandering for who-knows-how-long, Teddy admits he has no idea where they are. A landslide wipes out the trail down a mountainside that they would have taken back to the Adams estate. Their only other option is a decayed rope bridge across a gorge. The others can tell it's not gonna be safe to cross, but of course Teddy volunteers to give it a go. Sensibly pocketing his glasses, he steps up to the edge of the cliff...

Ooooh! It's a long way down to the raging river roiling along the chasm's bottom. All you would need is some crocodiles in the water and some Thugee cult members adding more menace and you would have a setting fit for the finale of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984). Thank goodness there's no whiny Kate Capshaw around. Teddy, in a combination of bravery and stupidity, steps out onto the rotting wood planks of the crumbling overpass. "Lethingwell never said anything about bridges," he tells himself. "I guess I'm on my own." Yes he is, as the other 2 stay behind, shouting for Teddy to come back.

Danger! Danger! Half-way across, the ropes begin to split and the planks crack and collapse under him! Yikes!  In the midst of this perilous predicament, I get the unexpected surprise of a camera shot from between his legs looking up at his crotch. Now THAT'S exciting!

Obviously, Teddy is going to survive and grow up to become the president... but I am going to stop my recap right here. Even if you know the golden rules of 1970s TV (specifically, everything turns out OK in the end), I'm not gonna tell you how this literal cliffhanger resolves itself. There's been enough spoilers in this entry already.

Speaking of spoiling, I'm getting spoiled by all this tasty footage of an intensely cute and dreamy Charles Martin Smith. I don't know how I felt about the show itself. I'm all for it's message of respecting nature and living in peace with the animals, but I don't think Dan Haggerty is a very charismatic actor. He grows a nice beard, but I found myself more captivated by a clean-shaven CMS. Haggerty has a nice smile, but on that count Mr. Smith has him beat too. I am sure many of my bear friends would think me insane for not being attracted, but "Grizzly" just doesn't do it for me. I'd much rather choose Charles, who in addition to being super-adorable in this episode also gives a very entertaining performance. Admittedly, he's just playing one of those awkward nerd roles again, but he's so damn good at it!

I shouldn't be surprised that this much-beloved TV series is not out on DVD. Like I've said before, there's a ton of movies and TV content from the 1970s that has seemingly disappeared into the void. Fortunately, some nice fan posted episodes on YouTube, including the one I have written about here.


  1. You must have really enjoyed him in Starman...he was wonderful.

  2. Oh yeah, I love him in "Starman". That's one of my favorite CMS movies.