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Unsung Heroes of Cinema: Bart the Bear

This week’s unsung hero of cinema appeared in one of my favourite movies of all time, The Edge (1997).

Bart the Bear

We probably never fully appreciate the amount of training that goes into bringing animals on to the screen in movies.

Whether it’s dogs, dolphins, killer whales, monkeys or any other animal that has featured prominently in a movie, like many human actors, years of training have inevitably gone into training that animal to the standard required to be on screen. Unlike human actors though, this training is not only to train the animals to obey certain commands and cues, but sometimes also to basically ignore its natural instincts.

Bart, who was a Kodiak Bear was born in the Baltimore Zoo in 1977. At just five weeks old he was adopted by animal trainers Doug and Lynne Seus who trained him from an early age using a “reward and praise” system.

Over the course of his career Bart racked up over 30 TV and movie credits and even appeared in commercials for products like Labatt beer and Tums antacid tablets.

From his very first role as a cub in episodes of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1977-1978), to starring alongside Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall (1994), Bart was the go-to bear when it came to casting bears in movies and television.

Selected other credits include:

The Great Outdoors (1988)

The Bear (1988)

White Fang (1991)

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

On Deadly Ground (1994)

Twelve Monkeys (1995)

His most praised performance was for the French film The Bear - original title L’ours (1988) which is about an orphaned bear cub who befriends an adult male Grizzly (Bart) and must survive as two trophy hunters pursue them through the wilderness.

Bart’s performance was so highly praised by some that a campaign was launched to make him eligible for an Academy Award nomination. Unfortunately the Academy we’re having none of it. ☹️

However, ten years later in 1998 Bart made an appearance on stage at the 70th Academy Awards where he presented Mike Myers (Austin Powers) with the nominees envelope. His appearance was in recognition of animal actors who weren’t eligible for Oscar nominations due to rules that preclude them from receiving nominations.

Bart wasn’t only an actor but also a “spokesbear” for the Vital Ground Foundation.

Founded in 1990 by Bart’s trainers Doug and Lynne Seus, the foundation procures threatened wildlife habitat along the Rocky Mountains and on Kodiak Island in Alaska. It also supports the Gobi Bear Fund and the work they do in the Mongolian portion of the Gobi Desert.

Vital Ground’s mission is “to protect and restore North America’s grizzly bear populations for future generations by conserving wildlife habitat and by supporting programs that reduce conflicts between bears and humans.”

Sadly Bart died shortly after a cancer diagnosis at the age of 23 on May 10th, 2000.

RIP Bart. You were one of a kind and truly an unsung hero of cinema. 🙌

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