Archive for the ‘Motion Picture Business’ Category

When I was about the age of 15, I was sitting in class when I received a note from the office that I had a phone call. I excused myself and ran up to the office desk and picked up the phone. As students we knew that when we were getting a phone call at school it was not usually a phone call from one of your parents telling you they loved you.

I picked up the phone and said, “Hello, this is Tana.”

“Tan it’s your Dad, Hey babe, how are you?”

“Dad, what’s up? Everything ok?”

“I am sending your Mom to come pick you up, I need you to wrestle an alligator for the ‘Mike Douglas Show’ today.”

“Dad, I have never wrestled an Alligator before why me?”

“I thought it would be fun for you to be on air with your old man, plus you’ll do great as long as you listen to everything I tell you, kid. I love you. Mom should be there in the next 30 minutes, go home and get some shorts and tee-shirt. Love you.” And the phone went dead as my heart jumped into my throat.

I am not sure what the poor secretary was thinking as she overheard this conversation, but I am sure she was thinking of calling child services. I smiled at her and just said, “Family Fun Time, thank you,” and walked away. I couldn’t stop going over the stunt in my head. I had been around alligators and didn’t have a problem with them nor was I afraid of the stunt, but pleasing my Dad on National TV, now that was terrifying. I hated to let my dad down and loved to prove I could do anything the men could do.

Mom collected me from school and drove me home to get a change of clothes for the show. She said, “Dad wants you to wear a tee-shirt and shorts.”

“Mom, I am not wearing a tee-shirt while wrestling an alligator in water on national television! Don’t need the world to see my ittie bitties, thank you very much!” I went to my room, picked out a red flannel shirt and jean shorts and got changed. I packed clothes to change in to afterwards. I knew this would not please him and he preferred me to look more girlie, but he had a tomboy for a daughter and this was what he would have to settle for.

We got to the set and everyone was hustling and bustling around. I loved being on set as I felt right at home. Mom and I were greeted when we walked in the studio and we were shown where my dad and the guys (trainers) were. We walked over and I was greeted with a hug from my dad and a collective “Hey Tan” from the guys!

Dad, affectionately gripped my shoulder with his hand and led me over to where the metal swimming pool was where I would be doing the stunt. I saw this thing and said, “It really isn’t that big”

“Na, you’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Dad, where is the Alligator and how big is he?”

“He is in the back right now chilling. He is just over 6 foot, perfect size for you!” I just gave him one of those quizzical looks. I was 5’6”.

Dad gave me the up and down look, cocked his head and said, “ What are you wearing?”

“What I feel comfortable in,” I said.

“Well, I guess it will do,” said Dad.

Dad pulled me to the side where no one would hear us and started to talk to me about the stunt. He always talked to me right before and never let me rehearse, which was unheard of for most stunt people. Dad new I had already been working with animals longer then anyone there besides him and he trusted his animals and me completely. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean I went in all conceited, it means I knew better then to ever think I couldn’t get hurt. I always had a respectful fear, a lion is a lion not a dog, no matter how loving, their natural instincts always came first and I respected that at all times for every animal. The animal’s safety and the animal feeling safe with you was also very important.

“Okay Kid, this is what you have to do. The men are going to hold the alligator in position for you when you step in to the water. I want you to kneel down, one knee on the right of him the other leg over is back so you can lie down when we let go…” This conversation lasted about 3 minutes, we covered hand and body positioning, his teeth, mouth, protruding scales, nails and tail- I had it all down. I was ready.

“Dad, since I have never wrestled an alligator before, what is the hardest thing to do, and to make it look like a great stunt?” “If you can flip him over on his back. It is not easy and takes a lot of strength and I am not expecting you to be able to do that. Just do what I have told you, be careful of the things I have warned you about and you will be fine!”

“ One last question Dad, do I have to be with you during your interview? Can I just be waiting by the ‘gator?”

“Of course you will go up with me! You’ll be fine and Mike is looking forward to meeting you.” That was when my heart started to pound! I hated being in front of the camera, alligator no problem, but when that darn red light went on and I was meant to talk, the world started to spin.

I went back and reacquainted myself with the Alligator and gave him a pat. All the guys were there making fun of me as usual and trying to wind me up, but it never worked, I was comfortable with stunt work and at home with the animals, it was all the rest of it, which no one knew, I was smart enough to keep that to myself and just breathed deeply.

We were in position to go on stage, ugh, head spinning, heart pounding…

We were introduced and walked on stage. I was trying to smile without my lip quivering, it always gave me away if I didn’t control it. Mike and the guests were all very nice and concerned for me. Dad and I assured them I would be fine. I was thinking, just let me get off this stage. Finally it was time for me to wrestle the alligator, I just thought ‘thank god’. We all got up and walked over to the metal pond and I stepped in, my whole body relaxed as soon as I was with him, my head cleared, my heart slowed down. I got in position and the guys asked me if I was ready. I said “Yes, let him go,” and the wrestling started.

When I was in the middle of any stunt, everything came naturally and instinctively.

I knew before I started this stunt there was only one thing I had to do, and do it fast, as I would only be on camera for less then a minute, and that was to figure out how to hold him tight and flip him over so his belly was up.

Time was ticking down, I couldn’t hear anything except the alligator and the water splashing. It was about 20 seconds into everything I got my hands and legs in position, I was getting tired so I had to act now. I pulled him in to my chest. I took a deep breath: I knew I might go under the water with the weight of him on me. I held on, flipped us both and his beautiful shiny belly was up! Just as I did this I heard “Cut” and then all the applause from the audience, Mike and his guests. I flipped us both back over and waited for the guys to step in and take over.

I stood up, wiped the water from my face and looked for the only person who mattered to me, my dad. My dad’s and my eyes met, that was all I needed. He had a huge smile on his face and he helped me out of the water and patted me on the back! “Great job, kid, you did me proud.”


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I was known as the tester child amongst the family and close friends (trainers on the ranch). Whenever an animal was up for a movie or TV show and there was a child actor involved, my dad would always say yes to the production, even before knowing which animal would work best with the child actor. That is where I was always brought in.

I was about 4 or 5 years old when a call from the studio came in about doing a “pilot” show and they needed a child who could ride a zebra. Of course my dad took the production, before any child had ever ridden ‘Folsom’ our Grant’s zebra. He could be ridden, but on his terms of course. Folsom had a mind all of his own and animals, like humans, pick and choose whom they like and don’t like. When my Dad came to me and told me he needed to see me ride Folsom, the first thing I said was, “Are you crazy?” as I had seen Folsom throw grown men who he didn’t like. And although Folsom and I always got along well, it was with my feet firmly on terra firma at all times.

My Dad said, “Tana, you have been riding since you could sit up, you can do this.” “Dad, I know I can ride, it doesn’t mean Folsom wants me to ride him.” “Tana, don’t let me down honey, I need to see if Folsom will be ok with a kid on his back, I will be right next you in case he try’s to bolt and Frank will be holding the reins.” “What is in it for me?” My Dad took a deep breath, as I had learned to negotiate at too young an age. “I will be extremely proud of you,” he said. I laughed, “Dad that worked when I was a little girl. How about I get to choose the next movie we all go to?” “Ok, kid, that sounds fair to me.”

The next day we were at the ranch (Africa U.S.A.) and I was watching Folsom come out and a couple of the guys with him. My Dad called out for me and asked me to join them. I yelled back, as he was a ways away, “I want to see one of the guys get up on him first, to see what kind of a mood he is in!” My dad dropped his head, as he was not use to anyone questioning him or not jumping to his every whim. He called out to Dick (a trainer) and asked him to get up on Folsom. Dick walked over to Folsom and jumped on, sure enough it took Folsom all of 2 seconds to decide he didn’t like Dick and he took off. Poor Dick was being bounced from side to side for about 20 yards before he could jump off.

I was rolling with laughter watching, till my Dad walked over and said your turn! I straightened right up and said, “Did you see that? He is not in a good mood, and you want me to get up there? Are you crazy?” “Tana, trust me, have I ever let you get hurt? I love you honey, please.” I looked up at him with my hands on my little hips and said “NO!” I walked off to the nearest fence, climbed up and refused to move.

My Dad took a deep breath, walked over and for the next 15 minutes stood there looking up at me and pulled out all the stops to talk me down. I finally came down and walked over to Folsom, I approached him from his head so he could see me, then I slowly walked to his side and put my little hands on his belly and slowly walked towards his head while talking gently to him the whole way. I was explaining how I had to ride him and I would so appreciate it if he would allow this and not try to run off with me.

When I got to his head he lowered it and I kissed his nose. I looked at my dad and said, “Okay, lets do this.” My dad slowly lifted me and gently put me on Folsom’s back, he didn’t let go till he saw I had the reins firmly in my hand and that Frank had a good hold on Folsom’s head collar. He looked at me and asked, “Are you ready?” I nodded back and said, “You so owe me,” and one by one each person released and it was just Folsom and me. I kept talking to him and gave him a gentle nudge with my feet and he started to walk. I set out and then turned him so we were going in big circles then I reversed the circle, he was a perfect gentleman with me. I jumped off and gave him a hug around his neck and walked him back over to Frank who had a grin on his face. I looked up at my Dad and said, “There you go!” He cracked up and bent down and gave me a hug and then said, “See you listened and all was fine. Good job kid.”

When the producers came out to see the animals they wanted to hire for the production they asked to see Folsom and me, I rode him around for them and to my huge disappointment they not only hired the animals, but they wanted me to be the little girl in the pilot! I hated acting and now to my poor Dad’s apprehension he knew negotiations were about to begin all over again with me! The TV show pilot was for the hugely successful TV series ‘Daktari.’



The child star was Erin Moran


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Hello Beautiful People, Just a quick update. We are moving tomorrow, so I went over to the new house yesterday to see how the work had progressed. The toilets in the staff quarters, not done. The electrical wires, still hanging down the wall. The floors still not finished. But, the good news the fence only had one whole left to be fixed. When you live here one must leave their idea’s of promptness behind them, as Kenyans lives on a whole different time line. LOL. I called the landlord and asked very politely, “When will everything be ready?” the response “Dont worry Tana, everything will be ready.” Translation, when they get to it. So one thinks to themselves, ok don’t worry, I will put in a portable camping toilet, keep dogs out of rooms with hanging wires and dogs will live inside till fence fixed LOL… This will work for a tad bit. xxx

I want to Thank everyone for their continued support of my BLOG.

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After on amazing summer holiday spent at the coast with my beautiful daughters and friends, it was time to drive back to Karen in our 25 year old Land Cruiser.

Now normally it may take people anywhere from 5 to 8 hours but our dear old vehicle took us at least 10 hours. Slow and easy but always home safe and sound.

This year on our way home we had 6 teenagers with us all exhausted from two weeks of parties and fun.

About 6 hours in to the drive in the far off distance I saw a Policeman and yes he was waving me down. When I got close enough to him I pulled over. “Hello Sir, how can i help you?” I asked. To which he replied, “ Hello Madam. I am afraid you were speeding and I will have to impound your vehicle.” I laughed to myself as he didn’t have one of those speed reading machines and I had to think fast as we were literally in the middle of no where.

“Oh Thank you officer,” I said. This confused him, and he looked at me strangely. I continued to explain myself to him. “Sir, do you have any idea what it is like driving hours on the road with 6 teenagers who are hungry and tired? So, thank you! please take the car and please make sure there are enough beds for all the teens and plenty of food, oh and would you please call all their parents and let them know where they can collect their children, from your phone as I don’t have enough credit.” I then smiled.

He just looked at me and literally scratched his head. “Madam, I think we can come to another arrangement.” We both smiled, I handed him the crisps that I had on the seat and wished him a good night and drove off. While driving away we started laughing concluding yet another great holiday.

Hope you enjoyed this little story and please leave me a comment on this story or tell me one of your own! Have a wonderful fun filled day! xxx T

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Hello Everyone, I will be posting funny short stories and some very real stories about Kenyan police. For those of you who don’t know, most of our police do not have vehicles, they stand on the side of the road and wave you over to stop you! They also shoot first AND then ask questions!

I was very politely waved off the road by the police officer. They must have a special class they take while training for law enforcement as every single one of them have the look of doom on their face when they first see you.

“Hello Sir, How is your day?” Then I smile.

“Fine Madam.” I smile and he smiles back, this is a good sign.

“Is everything ok?” Keep the smile on.

“I need a lift to Karen, will you please drop me”

“Off course, hop on in”

Make friends with the nice officer and hope he remembers you were the nice Mzungu (white person), they usually do.

This is common practice in Kenya.

Hope you have a few giggles with me and please leave a comment and tell me some of your stories.

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Hi Everyone, Here is my latest story, this one kept the girls and me talking for years to come. I posted in the ‘4 GO WILD’ tab.

“I kept calling out “hear kitty kitty” more to amuse myself and also give any game a heads up”

Hope you enjoy it. xxx

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Would love to hear from you after you read them! Share with us your countries little quirks, we all had a great time coming up with ours.

I have another story in the works will try to post it in the next few days, so keep checking in. Thank you for all your support and kind words! xxx

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13th March 2010

I was born in 1963 to Ralph Helfer and Toni Scott also known as Toni Ringo Helfer. If you have read my Mum’s book, Gentle Jungle you will get to know the whole story of how I came in to this beautiful world. But my story begins from early childhood stories and pictures and then my own memories kick in.

'Beauty and Baby'I was brought home to our little cabin, which was at a bottom of hill in Soledad Canyon across from our ranch, which was Called Africa U.S.A. Some of you may remember this company name as it was world renowned for being the largest exotic Animal compound in America and my Dad was renowned for revolutionizing the motion picture industry with exotic animals by creating, what the pressed called ‘Affection Training’. Some of you may even remember our tv shows Daktari, Gentle Ben, Cowboy in Africa, Flipper, Beast Master, Any Which Way you Can, Savage Harvest and about 4000 more combined motion pictures, tv series, commercial and print work.

By the time I was born the only thing my mum had ever raised was her pet dogs, and my Dad had raised everything but a human child, I am sure this intrigued him and why I got deemed the tester child jokingly of course, but called Mogley the girl child. He believed because he was so successful in raising all his amazing creatures that adding a human child to the bunch would work out just fine. It did.

I literally shared my crib with orangutan babies and chimp babies, hence my amazing flexibility and wrestling skills were learned at a very young age, Later in life this didn’t help me with the boys, but made my dad feel much better. Zamba who was better known to me as my God Father lived in the house with us, all 550lbs of masculine full mane Zambian Lion. He was the most gracious, gentlest of souls and we loved each other dearly. Needless to say no one could just approach me with out his permission. My Dad was an avid snake lover, which explained the wooden coffin in the house where Astaroth my dads 18ft python resided.

At the ranch were not only animals, but the unforgettable trainers, also known as wranglers. And some even known as x-cons, Vietnam vets and actress that couldn’t find work. Does this help in setting up the world I was born in to? I LOVED EVERY MOMENT. I ran around topless, but had to wear shorts or pants, I had curly blond hair, big blue eyes and could hang with the best of them. The people and the animals were truly a Jungle Book life and nothing about it was ‘real’ life to anyone I ever met on the outside, yet it was the closest to heaven I could imagine. Literally.

When my parents were working I was left in the nursery with all the other babies animals, we grew up together. They grew much faster then I did and moved out of the nursery long before me! When I was finally up and walking that was when I got to play in the arena with all other babies, all mixed in together, leopard babies, lions babies, tiger babies, cougar babies, bear babies and so on! We had a blast together, although it would be years before I got the upper hand, I endured years of having my tackies (sneakers) torn off and chewed, my pants torn from wrestling around, but I learned everything from my animal family, especially how to be a better HUMAN.

More to come…

How have your animals influenced your life? I would like to know.

If you are interested you can click on my side bar and see My Dad’s book’s Modoc and Zamba and Mum’s Book Gentle Jungle, Both International best sellers. Learn more about the family history.

I am trying to get someone in the states to scan the cover of my book to upload, so coming soon the out of print WHEN YOU FIGHT THE TIGER.

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Here you will find humorous stories from a mom who has spent more than half of her life in Africa.

We are going to share exactly what it is like to live in this incredible place. If you have ever seen the movie, ‘Out of Africa’, than we have a treat for you.

Here you are going to see lions, Elephant, Leopards and all sorts of animals, and much much more.

If this is your first time here, please leave me a comment. You might be a return visitor and your comments are also much appreciated. Leave a comment here.

Tana as a young girl.

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