My Boss, Walt

Making the Disney Wildlife Shows

by Jack Couffer | Release Date: June 1, 2019 | Availability: Print, Kindle

A Cinematographer's Coda

As a motion-picture writer, director, producer, and cinematographer, Jack Couffer shot wildlife films for Walt Disney, journeying to some of the most remote and exotic places on earth. Here, in his final book, he shares powerful, poignant stories about his favorite subject: animals.

Couffer made Disney feature and television films for 30 years. The Living Desert, Nikki, Wild Dog of the North, Never Cry Wolf, and a dozen other titles bear his identity. His stories filmed in far-away places like Africa, the Galápagos Islands, Antarctica, and the wilds of the American West give us a glimpse into the pains and joys of working with friends and adversaries inside the Disney studio.

Replete with photos, My Boss, Walt is Jack Couffer's swan-song chronicle of his long life of exploration, adventure, and joy.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Spider in the Hole

Chapter 2: The Living Desert

Chapter 3: Galápagos

Chapter 4: The Savage Eye

Chapter 5: The Grand Canyon

Chapter 6: Nikki, Wild Dog of the North

Chapter 7: The Question

Chapter 8: The Legend of Lobo

Chapter 9: Never Cry Wolf

Chapter 10: The Incredible Journey

Chapter 11: Salar, the Salmon

Chapter 12: To the South Pole for Science

Chapter 13: The Africa Pavilion: Epcot Center, World Showcase

Chapter 14: The Best Doggoned Dog in the World

Chapter 15: A Country Coyote in Hollywood

Chapter 16: Concho, the Coyote Who Wasn't

Chapter 17: Run, Lightbuck, Run

Chapter 18: The Wild Heart

Chapter 19: The Not-So-Lonely Lighthouse Keeper

Chapter 20: The Legend of the Boy and the Eagle

Chapter 21: Filming the Eagle Boy Story

Jack Couffer

Jack Couffer was one of Disney’s key naturalist / cinematographers on the True-Life Adventures series and many Disney feature movies.

Couffer grew up in Glendale, California, near the Verdugo Hills with their oak woodlands and plentiful wildlife. Fascinated with natural history he raised hawks, owls, bobcats, even a deodorized skunk named Aroma.

During his high school years, Jack worked as a student assistant at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. It was on his seventeenth birthday, during a collecting trip to California’s Channel Islands, that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The museum party was marooned on Santa Rosa Island as all West Coast ports were immediately closed following the attack.

Jacks museum mentor was an expert on bats. He was charged by the War Department to research a secret project that would use bats as carriers of miniature incendiary bombs. As a part of this team, Jack was drafted into the Army before high school graduation. Half of his military service was spent on this seemingly nutty but surprisingly valid idea. Jack has written of this bizarre scheme in his book: Bat Bomb: World War II’s Other Secret Weapon.

After the war, he worked as a commercial fisherman and paid crewman on yachts. In 1947, he married. Their son, Michael, follows his father’s passion for wildlife and is now a biological consultant and surveys for rare and endangered wildlife.

Jack enrolled at USC to major in zoology. But a lecture in the new School of Cinema Arts changed his direction. He collaborated with fellow students Conrad Hall and Marvin Weinstein in a class project that won the first (now annual) ASC student film award and sold to TV. Encouraged by this success, the partners formed a production company, Canyon Films, and became entrepreneurs while still university students.

At USC, Jack became friends with practicing film-maker instructors Irving Lerner, Andrew Marton, Laslo Benedek, and Stirling Silliphant. Lerner employed the partners on a feature called Edge of Fury. There Jack met young actor Jean Allison, who forty years later he would meet again.

With abilities as a naturalist and filmmaker, Jack joined Walt Disney Studios in the early 1950s as a camera­man. One of the great experiences of his career was an assignment in what was then one of the most remote spots on earth. Jack and Conrad sailed a 28-foot ketch to the Galápagos Islands where they lived off the land and filmed wildlife for nearly a year. He worked for Disney as writer, director, producer, and cameraman on and off until the mid-1980s. He has published eleven books. In the late 1979s Jack took an assignment directing one of the Born Free films and fell in love with Africa and a woman in Kenya where they lived together for 30 years.

He is a member of the Directors and Writers Guilds, and the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers.)

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