by Ken Lynch
Much has been written about Daktari being filmed at Africa USA, a simulated jungle compound in California’s desert-like Soledad Canyon. These sequences were usually edited with stock African footage.
However, during the production break between the First and Second Seasons, Marshall Thompson and a film crew visited the ‘real’ Africa and filmed background scenes of him with animals, in the bush and with natives in their villages.
Marshall Thompson filmed on-location as Marsh Tracy in Africa
These sequences were edited into at least eight episodes to give the series an authentic look that added to its appeal.
Early Visits to Africa
Marshall Thompson’s fascination with Africa became a reality in 1957 when he was chosen for a role in the film East of Kilimanjaro which demanded four months of shooting on-location in Kenya and Tanganyika.
“I guess I would have done the part just for the chance to go to Africa,” Thompson recalled. “I’ll never forget the thrill of my arrival in Nairobi and the realization that I actually was there in the flesh.”
There is a strong possibility that unused animal and African village footage from East of Kilimanjaro was used in Daktari and, most certainly, in the film that spawned the series – Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion.
Left: The rhino scene in a Kilamanjaro poster
Right: The very same scene as featured in Clarence
In particular, the opening scene of Kilimanjarois almost identical to the opening of Clarence. Most significantly, the scene where Thompson’s character has a close encounter with a rhino was inserted directly into Clarence.
Thompson returned to Africa for another four months to what was then the Belgian Congo and brought his wife Barbara along.
By early 1966, Thompson was quoted as saying that he had been on “four trips to Africa in the past dozen years.”
Filming African Footage for Daktari
To date, the reference most quoted about Marshall Thompson’s African visit to film for Daktari is sourced to the show’s producer Leonard B Kaufman. Specifically, the liner notes for Shelly Manne’s “Daktari” CD quote Kaufman on filming Daktari in “beautiful but primitive Mozambique”, particularly returning with Thompson “from 10 hours of location filming” and relaxing to “the haunting and earthy sounds of distant native drumming.”
However, a recently discovered 1966 newspaper article has provided much more detail of this event.
Daktari was regarded as a solid hit after its mid-season debut and screening in January-May 1966. The announcement of its Second Season contained the promise of something new as a result of the first safari to Africa ever undertaken for a television series.
Kaufman and associate producer Ralph Helfer joined Thompson to travel to Mozambique for scenes to be filmed with the Zulu tribes of South Africa. They actually became the first TV unit to make films in the Gorongoza National Park and, later, they also worked in the private game reserve of Mala Mala.
A map showing the location of the Gorongoza National Park
Among scenes that would ultimately be highlights of the Second Season were bull elephants charging at 30 miles an hour and the Zulus of Matavela lining up to greet Thompson.
Marshall Thompson meeting African villagers
Daktari creator Ivan Tors had heard that a pride of lions had moved into a housing project near the Gorongoza National Park and so the camera crew went there to photograph them. Several abandoned houses were occupied by lions who had taken over the clean shady buildings. It was like a lion city, and the film crew’s presence did not seem to excite them or make them aggressive. The footage from this filming expedition ultimately became a major sequence in the “House of Lions” episode.
Abandoned houses near Gorongoza with lions in the foreground
Another event in the African shooting schedule was a two-mile chase after a 19-foot giraffe which ended in its capture. It too ultimately became a major Daktari storyline, this time in the “Little Miss Nightingale” episode
The Daktari crew roping the giraffe with Marshall Thompson turning his head towards the camera
A total of five weeks was spent on this safari for Daktari footage. Thompson then returned to California with 50,000 feet of exposed color film to shoot the bulk of the Second Season at Africa USA.
Although the exact date of the five-week African shoot has never previously been documented, a recently discovered picture of Thompson in Johannesburg dated March 1966 actually pinpoints the period he made this visit.
Marshall Thompson on-location in Africa
Use of African Footage in Episodes
2.5 (23) “Cheetah at Large” (First aired 11 Oct 1966) On-location African footage of Marshall Thompson is featured for the first time.
Left: A shot of Thompson in “Cheetah at Large” filmed on-location on the savannah
Right: A close-up taken back at Africa USA cleverly edited into the same sequence
2.8 (26) “The Trial” (First aired 1 Nov 1966) The first on-location shots of Thompson filmed with natives in an African village are seamlessly edited into footage at Africa USA.
Left: A picture taken on-location in Africa with motifs on the village wall at the back
Right: A picture taken at Africa USA during “The Trial” with the replicated village wall in the background
2.11 (29) “Shoot to Kill” (First aired 29 Nov 1966) Features on-location African footage of Thompson in the bush plus him getting out of a truck at a real African village.
Left: A shot from “Shoot to Kill” taken on-location of Thompson in the real African bush
Right: A shot taken of Thompson arriving at an African village
2.13 (31) “Clarence the Killer” (First aired 20 Dec 1966) Several scenes filmed on-location in Africa are used (even one of a figure dressed as Hedley searching the African bush).
Left: A shot from “Clarence the Killer” taken on-location of Thompson in the real African bush
Right: A shot of a figure dressed as Hedley filmed on-location on the savannah
2.17 (35) “House of Lions” (First aired 17 Jan 1967) Features extensive scenes of Thompson filmed in Africa wandering outside abandoned two-storey houses built for mining surveyors. For the only time in the series, the credits acknowledge the filming location.
Left: A shot of Thompson in “House of Lions” filmed on-location walking from a house to his truck
Right: A close-up at the truck filmed at Africa USA cleverly edited into the same sequence
Left: Thompson on-location entering the house with his medical kit in “House of Lions”
Right: An internal shot filmed at Africa USA cleverly edited to show him entering the house
The end credits which acknowledge filming at Gorongoza National Park
2.22 (40) “A Bullet for Hedley” (First aired 21 Feb 1967) As in Episode 2.13, authentic footage of a game warden (supposedly Hedley) walking on the African savannah is shown.
A shot from “A Bullet for Hedley” of a figure dressed as Hedley filmed on-location
3.1 (48) Judy and the Astro-Chimp (First aired 5 Sept 1967) As in Episode 2.11, footage of Marshall Thompson on-location in Africa is used again.
A shot from “Judy and the Astro-Chimp” taken on-location of Thompson in the real African bush
2.15 (33) Little Miss Nightingale (First aired 3 Jan 1967) Includes on-location scenes of Thompson capturing a giraffe. [Although listed in most episode guides as a Second Season episode, Warner Archive has confirmed that this episode actually belongs to the Third Season]
shots 1-4 from the extended on-location African sequence of the giraffe capture in “Little Miss Nightingale”
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