Wild Cargo

This syndicated documentary show featured films of wild animals, expeditions to Africa and South America, and other hunting trips by adventurer Arthur Jones.

As hard as it often is to dig up information on obscure network shows, it’s harder still to find out anything about many syndicated programs. Because they may not have aired in the entire country, there may not have been much media coverage, making it difficult to research them. I ran into this problem with a show called Wild Cargo. It isn’t listed in The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows (at least not in the eighth edition) and its entry in Total Television is all of two lines:

Half-hour documentary series on capturing wild animals for zoos. Arthur Jones was the host.

According to Total Television, it was released in 1963. The same information is included in The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs, 1947-1976. That wasn’t much to work with. It turns out that Arthur Jones, the man who hosted Wild Cargo, later went on to invent the Nautilus line of exercise equipment in 1970. In the late 1950s, however, he was appearing on television shows like I Search for Adventure and Bold Journey, presenting films of his successful expeditions to Africa and South America.

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For example, on June 6th, 1957, he was on I Search for Adventure (a syndicated documentary series; this particular episode was shown in Los Angeles) with a film that showed him “capturing giant African reptiles for shipment to the United States” [1]. On September 22nd, 1958, he appeared on ABC’s Bold Journey with film of “an expedition into the African Congo jungle to capture the great apes of the region” [2]. Another episode of I Search for Adventure, shown in Los Angeles on March 26th, 1959, he showed “how he captured 25 alligators and crocodiles by wrestling with them” [3].

Although Total Television and The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs, 1947-1979 indicated otherwise, Wild Cargo debuted in syndication in New York City on Wednesday, February 15th, 1961. It was broadcast by WPIX from 10:30-11PM. In its television listings, The New York Times simply wrote “Film series on big-game hunting” [4].

In the opening credits, a man named Mel Levitt (I’m not sure of the spelling) appears to be the host, not Arthur Jones. Episode descriptions in The New York Times included “Hunting cheetah and elephants with pistol in Africa,” “Hunting the beaded lizard and the boa in Mexico,” “Rattlesnake round-up” and “Hunting the javalina and the kinkajou in Mexico.” If the television listings in The New York Times are accurate, a total of 29 episodes were shown before the series went into repeats in August of 1961; a handful of additional new episodes may have been shown in June of 1962 before WPIX dropped the show.

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In Chicago, Wild Cargo premiered on WGN on Tuesday, January 16th, 1962, airing from 8:30-9PM (local time). Television listings in The Chicago Tribune indicate there were a total of 34 episodes; repeats began in November of 1962 and continued through August of 1964. Episode descriptions in that paper were more in-depth. A choice selection:

A documentary film hunting the Asiatic buffalo and a filmed look at the primitive Australian aborigine native dance

Natives making rope for use in capturing elephants, setting up elephant traps, killing of tigers during the night, and an attempt to capture a man-killing leopard.

A native hunter uses an ancient muzzle loading musket to hunt his prey. Various scenes of antelope, zebra and giraffe.

An attempt to locate native game poachers is highlighted by a look at various methods of killing animals by the poachers.

Hunting the Louisiana swamps for alligators, jungle rats, giant snapping turtles and black widow spiders. Shooting jungle rats with a bow and arrow for food for alligators in captivity, collecting alligator eggs, and catching water snakes.

Arthur Jones and Peter Hankin attempt to drive out and remove all types of animals serving as hosts to the deadly tsetse fly, a carrier of the sleeping sickness.

Wild Cargo also aired in Los Angeles, beginning Monday, May 28th, 1962 on KCOP. Several articles in The Chicago Tribune stated that the show was broadcast in color. The Paley Center for media has two episodes of Wild Cargo in its collection.

Arthur Jones died on August 28, 2007. He was 80.

Works Cited:
1 “Best TV Bets Today.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Jun. 1957: A14.
2 “Monday – September 22, 1958.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 20 Sep. 1958: C12.
3 “Thursday – March 26, 1959.” Los Angeles Times. 22 Mar. 1959: G16.
4 “Television.” New York Times. 15 Feb. 1961: 71.

Originally Published March 9th, 2009
Last updated May 17th, 2018

17 Replies to “Wild Cargo”

  1. I sure do remember Wild Cargo: Jones was not the host but was the only guest. Don’t remember the host’s name, but I do recognized the cargo net backdrop in the photo.
    Jones showed film clips of his adventures & occasionally brought a crated critter into the studio. It always seemed like an old show, already in reruns, but I guess that was syndication back then.
    I just remember be astounded when I read the same Arthur Jones invented Nautilus.
    There was another program of that sort, something called Adventure Theater, with a host named Forrest (Ray Forrest, I think). I liked all those travelogue shows.

  2. For many years my family gathered around to watch repeats of Wild Cargo which for several episodes was co-hosted by my Uncle Bill (William) Wilson of New Orleans. He later told me many
    tales about working on the show and the bizarr behavior of Arthur Jones. Uncle Bill said that he was a genious (Developed the Nautilus sports equipment) yet very odd at the same time and lived in a home surrounded by a moat with alligators in it.

    1. Sir;

      Being one of Arthurs’ sons, I have to say that the house did not have a moat, though he did repeatedly joke about doing such. He did have a collection of alligators. When this show was being made, the alligators were kept in his zoo in Slidell, LA. When he had Nautilus, the gators were first kept in a building at the plant, and then later at his farm in Ocala, FL.

      1. Went to his snake farm near Slidell on many occasions as a kid. It was right next to The White Kitchen on Hwy 90. The only way to get to the Gulf Coast back then. Did he have the snake farm in LaPlace as well?

      2. I was a friend of Ralph’s who cared for Arthurs collection. I thought that he was a unique person. He once flew a Mexican West Coast female Rattlesnake back to Mexico in his private jet just to release it safely. He also supplied the infamous croc that killed the boy at Haasts place.

  3. The host’s name is Mel Leavitt, and he was a staple here on NBC affiliate WDSU-TV in New Orleans for many years. He hosted live coverage of Mardi Gras parades from the station’s balcony in the French Quarter, for example, and wrote a lively book, “A Short History of New Orleans.”

  4. I was researching the WWII era B25 bomber dubbed “Wild Cargo” on the ‘net and discovered what could be a very interesting link to the TV show…while transportring live animals (ie: alligators and snakes !) evidently this plane crash landed after the co-pilot bailed out….it slid to a stop in what was described as a perfect wheels up landing and then…..they began to round up the 1500 snakes that survived ! By the way, the pilot walked away unscathed.
    The B25 now flies as “Wild Cargo”….check out this website….www.fighterfactory.net

  5. Richard Wilson, it’s amazing to read your comments. I am in the middle of reading Arthur Jones’ autobiography and I’m sure that he mentions your Uncle several times. I could certainly find the passages that he is mentioned in and send them to you. By the way, the book is called “…And God Laughs”.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking, but does your uncle have an e-mail address? I would love to hear his thoughts and experiences with Arthur Jones. If there is anything that you can do to get me in touch with him (I’m a serious historian of Arthur Jones…long story) I would GREATLY appreciate it.

    Kevin Cory
    [email protected]

  6. Mel Leavitt started working at WDSU-TV in New Orleans in 1949. He started as a sportscaster and hosted the wrestling matches shown on television held at the Coliseum in New Orleans. Later he hosted the Wild Cargo show which I assume were produced at WDSU. Mel Leavitt died on August 8, 1997 at 70 years old.

    Arthur Jones had a snake and aligator farm on Hwy. 90 next to the famous White Kitchen before I-10 was built. Hwy. 90 runs from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. The farm was about five miles from the Mississippi border on the West Pearl River.

  7. The name of his Slidell business was The Reptile Jungle. I enjoyed many trips there as a child.

    1. I went to school in Slidell with some kids whose dad regularly sent them to school with wild animals, a sloth who clung to the boy all day and once a jaguarundi. He, the dad showed us one of his shows in a private viewing at the local theater. It showed an African native being swallowed by a crocodile (we couldn’t believe they kept filming). Later the croc was cut open and the man’s foot appeared. In another scene a large cat was caught by falling into a deep pit the crew dig.
      This was in 1962 or 1963. Could this have been “Wild Cargo”?

  8. Just been reading through some old correspondence written by my father, an employee of Arthur’s, in the early 60’s. Mention of several movies that Arthur was making around the time of Wild Cargo; “Voodoo Swamp,” “The Sinner and the Slave Girl,” and ” Savage.” Voodoo Swamp is the only one I can find any mention of elsewhere. Appears that it saw a release as a second feature on a DVD in 2002.

  9. I remember an episode of Wild Cargo when the mighty white hunter took down a male African elephant with a 44 mag handgun. It was almost like a exhibition shot for Smith & Wesson. I was a kid at the time, probably 14 – 15 years old. Today it seems like such a waste. Don’t much go in for hunting anymore but will defend others rights to do so. As long as it sensible, humane and not just for trophy!

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