Herbert B. "Cris" Crisler was born in Elberto County, Georgia on July 23, 1893. After his father deserted the family, the 16-year-old supported his impoverished family by running his family's photo business. While serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Spruce Production Division, Mr. Crisler became acquainted with the picturesque Pacific Northwest, and relocated in 1919 to Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Settling in Port Angeles and after a brief marriage that produced a son named Robert, he opened his own photography business. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a 100-lb. Pathe newsreel camera and began filming wildlife and the majestic Olympic Mountains. In the winter, he supplemented his income by working in construction. Because the format of a newsreel camera was compatible with motion picture projection, Mr. Crisler began shooting footage that was later released as his first documentary, From the Mountains to the Sea (1924).
After an unsuccessful commercial airplane venture in Seattle, Mr. Crisler embarked upon a highly-publicized trip throughout the wilderness that spanned the Olympic Peninsula. The trek began with a $500 bet in which Mr. Crisler wagered The Seattle Times that he could complete the journey with only a pocketknife and some camera equipment. He promised he would return 30 days' later fit and heavier. The trek was completed successfully, but Mr. Crisler returned about 30 pounds lighter and with a newfound respect for wildlife. The award-winning sportsman would later say, "After that experience I put my guns away for good and turned to the camera."
In 1934, H. B. Crisler became a wildlife photographer, and was was joined seven years' later by his new wife, University of Washington English professor and Seattle mountaineer Lois Brown, whom he married on December 7, 1941. Together, the Crislers began recording Olympic habitat and wildlife, producing several films and featuring them in cross-country lectures. After seeing their documentary The Living Wilderness, environmentalist Olaus J. Murie, one of the founders of The Wilderness Society, contacted Walt Disney about the film, calling it “the most beautiful picture on an outdoor subject he had ever seen. Mr. Murie went on say, “Here is a real life, real wilderness film, produced by a rare combination of wilderness understanding and imagination, that seemed to me to have many of the qualities of Fantasia.”
Shortly thereafter, as contract wildlife photographers, Herb and Lois Crisler's television footage would be expanded and released as a 1952 Disney nature film entitled The Olympic Elk. Mr. Crisler's camera of choice was a Cine-Kodak Special II, which he used for subsequent Disney releases that include The Vanishing Prairie (1954) and White Wilderness (1958). The Crislers became actively involved in the migration of Arctic caribou and wolf pups, and Mr. Crisler's still photographs of Alaskan wildlife were featured in Lois Crisler's 1958 book, Arctic Wild, which later became another Disney documentary.
Settling in the Tarryall Mountains region of Colorado, the Crislers began raising five wolf pups they had rescued in the Arctic. The experiences were again documented by Lois Crisler in her memoir, Captive Wild (1968). The strain of protecting the wolves took a toll on their marriage, and the couple subsequently divorced. In 1973, 80-year-old Herb Crisler again made headlines when he retraced the trek across the Olympic Mountains he made four decades' earlier. He recreated his route so successfully he actually found a food cache he had buried near Lake Beauty on his original journey. In later years, Mr. Crisler's faithful companion was Pacific Northwest historian and author Ruby El Hult. Living out his final days close to nature, Herbert B. Crisler died in Puyallup, Washington on December 15, 1985.
2000 Arctic Bush Pilot: From Navy Combat to Flying Alaska's Northern Wilderness (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, Inc.), pp. 16, 185, 189, 191, 196.
1974 National Geographic, Vol. CXLV (Washington, DC: National Geographic Association ), p. 197.
2008 Olympic Trail Talks (URL: http://www.ifish.net/board/showthread.php?p=1963237).
1955 The Reade's Digest, Vol. LXVI (New York: The Reader's Digest Association), p. 82.
2009 Reel Nature: America's Romance with Wildlife on Film (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press), pp. 116-119.
2010 Seabury Blair Jr.: ONP Needs to Honor Herb Crisler (URL: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/mar/22/seabury-blair-jr-mr-outdoors-onp-needs-to-honor/?print=1).
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