Many viewers of Daktari thought that Yale Summers was perfect as Jack Dane. His rapport with animals and Cheryl Miller (his co-star and potential love interest in the show) suggested a long-term stay with the TV series.
But all was not as it seemed behind the scenes!
Revealing The Truth
Very little background has been written about the time Summers spent with the show. However, a recently discovered newspaper article has proved him to be outspokenly honest about what he thought of Daktari.
The article even offers clues as to why he quit the series before its final season, and why he later became a longtime union activist.
Appearing in Daktari
Yale Summers was a founding cast member of Daktari in 1966 coming directly from “General Hospital”, the daily afternoon soap.
In doing so, the article reveals he discovered that “Producers don’t exactly give actors who appear on afternoon series due regard. I told them I was appearing on “General Hospital” and got a sort of embarrassed laugh in return. They wanted to know what I had done in bigger shows. And all the time I thought it would be a great credit in my favor appearing on what is really a live daily show. This is a funny business.”
Summers actually read for and received his role as Jack Dane on one day, was given his familiar blue shirt and jeans costume on the next and filmed his first scene with Clarence the lion on the third day. This was without any knowledge of animals or how they would react.
In fact, Summers’ honesty about this situation even revealed itself in an official Daktari press release in which he is quoted as saying “I never wanted to be an actor and I always had an ambivalence about animals.”
Although one might think his move to Daktari was a step up the TV ladder, Summers felt that he had “stepped down in quality”. He apparently agreed with Marshall Thompson, the star of the series, that the quality of the scripts was proving to be a problem.
Referring to the two-part episode titled “Wall of Flames” as an example, he said “Cheryl and I are trapped in the jungle. There’s fire all around us. The drama comes from the way we manage to survive and save some of the animals on the preserve. This wasn’t dangerous enough. They had to throw in some poachers with guns. This seems to be their only answer to what is dangerous and what isn’t. It’s this way every week. I think we ought to create a new award – for the poacher of the week.”
The continuation of this approach may partially explain why Summers ultimately left Daktari after the first three seasons: “I had to realize the scenes are limited by the capability of the animal we’re working with. We have to get it right the first time because there may be only one chance to get the animal action the way it’s supposed to be.”
Pairing with Cheryl Miller
Yale Summers and Cheryl Miller seemed a perfect pair as Jack Dane and Paula Tracy in Daktari with the potential for on-screen romance being suggested when they nearly kissed in “Trail of the Cheetah”. The pair did eventually share an innocent kiss in “Little Miss Nightingale”.
However, it was not to be! Jack Dane returned to the USA at the end of the Third Season while Cheryl’s character stayed behind in Africa.
The romance also didn’t happen behind the scenes as Summers actually married his wife, Suzie, in October 1967 while Daktari was in production. Cheryl would marry her first husband, Stanley, in December 1968 soon after Daktari finished filming.
Serving as a union activist
Perhaps the attitudes he has so honestly described towards producers and actors were the genesis for Yale Summers becoming heavily involved in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and taking on activist roles in the acting community.
Summers joined SAG in 1961 coinciding with his screen acting debut.
Summers later became chair of the SAG Awards Committee and was one of the producers of the SAG Awards ceremonies from 1995 until its 15th anniversary in 2009.
He served on SAG’s national committee for many years, including as recording secretary and treasurer. Summers was also a SAG Producers Pension and Health Plans trustee.
In addition, Summers was on both the Los Angeles local board and national board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Quite a list of achievements for a person who (in his own words) “never wanted to be an actor”!
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