Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2007

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Mother Duck

Mother Duck
Ruth Manecke ´52

Animal agent Ruth Manecke ´52 looks after all creatures great and small.

David Treadwell


She´s raised gorillas, orangutans, raccoons, parrots, lions, lambs and a cheetah in her home. Millions have seen the animals in her charge on television, film and print. As producer of the widely popular “Captain Kangaroo” television show, she won two Emmys. Her daughter describes her as a combination of Dr. Doolittle and Noah.

“My grandfather´s home in Brooklyn had a conservatory which served as my own private zoo,” reflects Ruth Manecke ´52. “I´d go and sit there for hours, looking at the parrots, the monkeys, the mongooses and all the other animals.” Her father, a doctor and a naturalist like her grandfather, encouraged his daughter´s love of animals and helped with their medical care. Her family home in Long Island was always filled with assorted animals. As a girl, Manecke once earned the nickname “Mother Duck,” when the ducklings began following her around the house, having imprinted on her.

“I knew that I wanted to be a vet when I was a little girl,” she says.

Connecticut College served as an important step in Manecke´s career path. “I can´t tell you how happy I was working in the labs at all hours of the day and night,” Manecke recalls. “But it was a struggle. My fellow zoology majors were all Phi Beta Kappa or magna cum laude, and I worked hard to get Bs and Cs, but I still loved it. I remember feeling paranoid about my comprehensive exam, but my advisor Bernice Wheeler [professor emeritus of zoology] kept encouraging me, and I made it.”

But there were only small quotas for women in the 1950s in veterinary school, and Manecke was not admitted. Forced to rethink her plans, she found a job in the education department at the Bronx Zoo.“Television was just beginning to get underway in 1952, and lots of shows called the Bronx Zoo looking for someone to bring animals to the show,” says Manecke. “I appeared several times on ´The Garry Moore Show´ and ´The Today Show´ with Dave Garroway, wearing a safari outfit and showing lions, tigers, snakes, alligators and falcon hawks. As long as I had the animals with me, I did just fine.” Impressed, a producer for ABC asked Manecke to create her own animal show, which she did, “Animal Fun Time.” The show ran five nights a week for 13 weeks opposite an imposing competitor, “The Howdy Doody Show.” Though the show had a short run, Manecke caught the attention of Bob Keeshan, creator and future star of “Captain Kangaroo.” They created a pilot for CBS, and “Captain Kangaroo” was picked up in 1955, beginning a spectacular 30-year run on television.

As producer and staff zoologist (“Miss Ruth, the Pet Shop Lady”), Manecke was responsible for securing animals to be showcased on “Captain Kangaroo” every day, although she did not appear on camera.

“Mr. Greenjeans usually presented the animals, and I educated him about them.” Manecke remained off camera but was always ready to rescue a situation. “We had no serious incidents, just one minor one when a hungry bear cub began hugging Mr. Greenjeans´ legs, and I had to roll a bottle onto the set.”

Many of the animals on the show were raised in Manecke´s Purchase, N.Y., home, a practice no longer allowed. “We had lions, tigers, jaguars, bear cubs, Galapagos turtles, owls, hawks, chipons, gibbons, cougars, chickens and talking birds on the show — everything but giraffes and hippopotamuses!”

Manecke remained close friends with Bob Keeshan until his death in 2004. “Bob had great talent and timing, and he was a great advocate for children. He was a lovely man.”

Manecke developed important contacts while working on “Captain Kangaroo,” and people began asking her to provide them with animals. In 1956, she started her own company. All Creatures Great & Small, has only two principals, Manecke and her daughter, Cathryn Long.

One of the company´s early challenges was to create a jungle complete with live animals for the African Pavilion at the 1960 World Fair in New York City. “I didn´t really want to do it, so I thought of a high price and then doubled it and they still hired me!” she says. She met the challenge, building a jungle with vines and trees and sod and importing lions, baboons and giraffes.

Today, All Creatures Great & Small is the go-to firm when animals are needed for commercials, television shows, movies and special occasions.

“I can get anything,” says Manecke. Need 30 monarch butterflies for a fashion ad, the lead dog for an off-Broadway production of “Annie,” or a lion to appear on the cover of Vogue? How about a creature to appear in a music video with the biggest names in the business? Manecke is your woman.

Want to do a commercial in which a bear licks a bald man´s head? Not so fast. The animal agent turned down that request; bears are too unpredictable. First and foremost, she is an advocate for the safety and security of animals.

“I´m a zoologist first and a businesswoman second,” says the alumna. She is delighted with the changes at zoos around the United States. “Zoos are very different today. They strive to create a natural habitat and to house breeding groups.”

She is also pleased that more than 50 percent of students in veterinary schools today are women, compared to strict quotas of the 1950s.

Why does she love doing what she does? Manecke replies, “I just feel a rapport with animals. It´s my mothering instinct, my nursing instinct. I want to protect animals and see them function and flourish.”

See more about Manecke´s company at www.animalagent.com


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