Claim: Wild Kingdom host Marlin Perkins was bitten by a venomous snake on live TV.
Origins: Many baby boomers fondly recall Mutual of Omaha’s
to 1971, featuring episodes about “animal survival in the wilds, treatment of animals in captivity, the environments of primitive peoples, and the interrelationships between both primitive peoples and their animal neighbors and different species of animals with each other” and hosted throughout its run by a white-haired, avuncular, mustachioed zoologist named Marlin Perkins. Older boomers might even recall that
Marlin Perkins wasn’t above occasionally allowing non-venomous snakes to bite him on camera in order to prove a point about their relative harmlessness (“Small snakes that are not poisonous can’t injure you as much as a kitten,” he once told an interviewer), but the one of the most memorable incidents in
finger by the rattler. He quickly employed that era’s technique (familiar to all Boy Scouts) of opening up the punctures from the snake’s fangs with a knife and “sucking the venom out” as he was being taken to a hospital, and an assistant stepped up to host that day’s broadcast in his place. Perkins eventually recovered from the ordeal with no lasting ill effects, but the accident had been quite serious, and he required three weeks of recuperation before he was back on the job.
The curious part of this tale is that even though everything described above happened off-camera during a pre-show rehearsal, and no mention of it was made during the subsequent broadcast, many people still swear they remember watching the “live” episode of
An interesting after-reaction to this episode is the fact that even today I meet people who in all seriousness tell me that they sat there in front of their television receivers and watched that rattlesnake sink his fangs into my finger. At first, I used to correct them and explain I wasn’t on the show that day, that the bite occurred before we were on the air. But these people are so sure in their own minds that they have seen this thing happen that I now just let it pass and don’t try to correct them. Perhaps this shows the power of suggestion.
Clearly viewers who heard about the rattlesnake bite incident indirectly (and perhaps had seen other instances of Perkins’ being bitten by non-venomous snakes) later formed memories of having watched on television something that never
All in all, the
Last updated: 2 April 2014
Boorstin, Robert O. “Marlin Perkins, Zoologist and TV Host, Dies.” The New York Times. 16 June 1986 (p. B12). Brooks, Tim. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003. ISBN 0-345-45542-8 (p. 1118). Crosby, John. “‘Zoo Parade’ Has Come Far — To Say the Least.” The Washington Post and Times Herald. 7 December 1956 (p. C15). Perkins, Marlin. My Wild Kingdom. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1982 (pp. 118-119). Chicago Daily Tribune. “Perkins to Extract Venom from Snakes via Video.” 18 February 1951 (p. A10).