Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proske #1 (From Eric Beheim)

Proske-1, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

Back when I was in high school, and long before I had ever heard of Charly Baumann or Gunther Gabel Williams, I read LIONS, TIGERS, AND ME, the 1956 autobiography of famous wild animal trainer Roman Proske. (The fact that he was originally from Vienna had special meaning for me since both of my paternal grandparents were Viennese.)


Dick Flint said...

Roman Proske was born September 21, 1898, and died July 3, 1972, in Miami from cancer.

Critics gave Lions, Tigers, and Me mixed reviews but it is insightful to know the backgrounds of two such commentators writing book reviews for two major publications.

Writer August Derleth’s review in the Chicago Tribune (Aug 15, 1956) described Proske’s book as “…a story so rambling as to be almost disorganized.… There are many stories here of death at the claws or teeth of the animals, so many, in fact, that one is ultimately chilled by the succession of horrible accidents Proske sets down. Proske is no great shakes as a writer, and he makes no claim to be. His book is much more like a transcribed monolog—with events put down just as they came to memory—than a carefully constructed autobiography.… His book, for all its flaws as a book, is nevertheless consistently entertaining. It will be especially so for all lovers of the big cats … because of his eminently humane attitude toward his animal charges.”

Derleth was a leading American regional writer of his day, prolific in several genres, including historical fiction, poetry, detective fiction, science fiction, and biography. Derleth can also be considered a pioneering naturalist and conservationist in his writing, a keen observer who recorded nature with an expert eye. A Wisconsin native, his most serious work is the Sac Prairie Saga, a series of works designed to memorialize life in the Wisconsin area he knew--which was Sauk City, not so far from Baraboo.

A less sanguine review appeared in the New York Times on April 8, 1956, by the vice president of the New York Zoological Society (Bronx Zoo) who wrote that “It is obvious to readers … that the author has no real inner feeling for animals.” The writer contrasted Proske’s tale “with that of Helen Martini, the ‘mother’ of the big cats at the Bronz Zoo.” Martini’s own book, My Zoo Family, was published just a year earlier and the reviewer likely favored the work of someone with his own organization over that of Proske. Derleth, by contrast, had no axe to grind and was a skilled professional writer and early naturalist. Blog readers may recall that Martini and her book were discussed extensively here at the end of last year.

Dick Flint

Chic Silber said...

It's spelled Gebel Eric