Interview of Lloyd Beebe by Brian Shoemaker

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Title: Interview of Lloyd Beebe by Brian Shoemaker
Creators: Beebe, Lloyd, 1916-
Contributors: Shoemaker, Brian
Keywords: Little America
Marie Byrd Land
Walt Disney Studios
Subjects (LCSH): International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958 -- Interviews
Photography -- Antarctica -- Interviews
Antarctica -- Discovery and exploration -- Interviews
Issue Date: 2005-07-12
Publisher: Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program
Series/Report no.: Polar Oral History Program
Abstract: Lloyd Beebe, the celebrated wildlife photographer, was born in 1916 in British Columbia, Canada, less than a mile from the American border. In later years, after some hesitation, he opted for American over Canadian citizenship. He grew up in Forks, Washington, a logging town, in the difficult years of the Great Depression. Money was scarce. Beebe dropped out of high school, and helped his father through logging, trapping, shooting cougars for the bounty, raising mink, and, after 1940, farming in Sequim, Washington. In time, this farm became the Olympic Game Farm. On the farm Beebe learned to appreciate and work with various animals, including elk, cougar, mink, bears, and others. As visitors came to photograph the animals, Beebe decided he might like to do the same. Thus, a career was born. Many of his early pictures were shots of a cougar in the wild. Actually it was a tame cougar that rode with Beebe in the front seat of his car. The cat stuck his head out the window like a dog, and got car sick like people. The success of the cougar pictures enabled the purchase of better equipment, and shots of wild elk and bear. In 1949 Beebe contacted the Walt Disney studio and he, and his wife, Catherine, were invited to visit. Some of his cougar pictures were used in the classic film, Vanishing Prairie, but more shots were needed for the film, so Beebe trained other cougars for additional scenes. After working five months on his first film, he started on White Wilderness. This called for a much more difficult assignment than taming cougars - taming wolverines, animals well known for vicious behavior. For several months he lived and slept day and night near the cage of four wolverines. Gradually they came to accept him; one would even gently lick a cracked egg off his fingers. Park rangers and others were truly amazed. Once tamed, Beebe moved his four wolverines to wilderness camp for filming. The animals would climb trees, pick berries, chase a fox, and then, on command, return to the cages to be fed. Beebe also filmed caribou and polar bears in the wild. By now Beebe was enjoying a growing reputation as a wildlife photographer. He had become a close personal friend of Walt Disney, and in 1955 he was invited to take part, at double his previous salary of $700 a month, in an eighteen-month project in Antarctica. Beebe was asked to represent the Walt Disney studio on a new expedition to Antarctica commanded by Admiral Richard E. Byrd. He boarded the Glacier in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, traveled through the Panama Canal, crossed the Equator, and stopped for a time in Lyttelton, New Zealand, where Admiral Byrd invited Beebe to his room for a private dinner. Such invitations would be repeated in Antarctica. Beebe thought the Admiral was lonely since few of the Navy personnel dared to approach him unless it was on official business. The send-off from New Zealand was outstanding, and the trip south was fascinating as Beebe saw icebergs, flying fish, and got a clear look at the stars. Once in Antarctica, the icebreaker Edisto cleared a path for a landing at Cannon Bay. Accommodations were primitive; Beebe slept in a tent although some men slept on the ship. Penguins were common, and they were not afraid of humans. Once Beebe hiked three miles over ice and filmed for two hours at a penguin rookery at Cape Crozier. These were the first photographs ever taken at Cape Crozier. He was given free reign of the base, and Disney had provided him all of the equipment he needed. Over time, he photographed the entire building of Little America V, and accompanied Admiral Byrd to visit and photograph the four earlier versions of Little America, or what was left of them under thirty feet of snow. Sometimes Seabees aided Beebe in his photographic assignments, especially after he would offer them a case of beer. Some filming was done in ice caves and in crevasses, up to 80 or 100 feet deep, which required cables of 200 feet. The views were said to be "really spectacular." Once, however, inside a crevasse, there was a partial collapse of an ice wall, and Beebe was fortunate that he escaped the crashing chunks of ice. He and his two Seabee companions escaped with their lives, but none wanted to go there again. Still, it was worth it, because Beebe got some spectacular photographs. Most of these were color motion films, but he also took many still pictures using a Bolex camera. Beebe did not recall filming any sun halos while in Antarctica, but he did film arcs, also known as sun dogs, and got several spectacular shots of the rising moon. Beebe also spent the winter season in Antarctica. He made several flights with Bob Stretch, the pilot. Once they nearly ran out of gas and barely made it safely back to base. He also accompanied several of the traverses to Byrd Land. On one three-week excursion, a tractor train fell into a crevasse. Max Keel could not be rescued in time, and his funeral was held in Antarctica. Beebe photographed the scene of the dead man wedged deep in the crevasse, and in so doing fell himself into another, shallow crevasse. Another dangerous assignment he accepted was to drop bamboo trail stakes, or crevasse markers, from outside the open door of a tilted helicopter while secured with nothing more than a narrow belt with a single snap. Beebe took part in four lengthy tractor train overland excursions, using Weasels and Snow Cats, to Byrd Land. He filmed the entire construction of the base at Marie Byrd Land. Many of his pictures later were used in the three Disney movies of Operation Deepfreeze. After completing his fourth tractor train expedition to Byrd Land, Beebe prepared to return home. He was flown out to the Curtis, and the ship stopped at McMurdo Sound and Australia on the way home. On reflection so many years after the trip to Antarctica, Beebe expressed no regrets over having gone there. Beebe returned to his original interest in animals, and operated an animal park in Washington State. One of his endeavors involved training three polar bears he had purchased. In sixty years of working with wild animals Beebe had never had an accident. He continued working from time to time for the Disney studio for another 28 years.
Description: Erwin Verady, production manager for Walt Disney studio, pp. 11, 20 Walt Disney, filmmaker, p. 21 Roy Disney, filmmaker, pp. 21, 70 Admiral Richard E. Byrd, explorer, p. 27, George J. Dufek, pp. 31 Ches Wombley, weather forecaster for the Byrd Expedition, p. 37 Dr. Elrick, team physician, p. 45. Bob Stretch, Otter pilot, pp. 47-48, 52, 55 Max Keel, died in Antarctica, pp. 48-51, 53 Elmo Jones, Antarctic photographer for the Coast Guard, pp. 71-73
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