BLACKWELL, Wis. -- The original owner of Gentle Ben, a bear made famous in a television series, has died at age 73.
Anthony Pelky, owner of the Chain Lake Deer Farm in the northeastern Wisconsin town of Lakewood, raised the bear from a cub.
Pelky died Thursday at the New Rock Nursing Home, said his son, Donald Ralph of Milwaukee.
Pelky was contacted by producers who had the idea of a television show based on a bear who was a pet, Ralph said. The trainer for the show had heard about Pelky's bear, who was featured at the game farm, along with deer, fox and other animals.
'Dad and the trainer went into the pen and hollered for the bear, who we called Smokey at the time,' Ralph said. 'Ben opened his mouth and grabbed the trainer's hand in his mouth. The trainer said right there he wanted that bear.'
Pelky was paid $600 dollars for the bear, Ralph said.
Several bears played the role of Gentle Ben in the series, but his father's was the one seen in the opening segment of the show throughout its run, Ralph said.
Ralph said his father loved the out-of-doors and animals, and did not like staying in a nursing home.
'If he could have walked down to the lake one day and went to sleep, he would have enjoyed that a lot better that being in a nursing home,' he said.
Funeral arrangements are being arranged by the Suminski Funeral Home of Wabeno.