Marlin Perkins was born in Carthage, Missouri, on March 28, 1905. He was interested in animals throughout his life. At the age of seven, he was creating his own zoo: a collection of mostly snakes, mice, earthworms and toads on his Aunt Laura's farm where he lived for nine years following the death of his mother, Mynta Mae (Miller) Perkins. Later Marlin moved back home to Carthage with his father, Jasper County lawyer and judge, Joseph Dudley Perkins.
Marlin's interest in animals continued to grow, and he enrolled in zoology at the University of Missouri -- Columbia. At the age of 21, he quit school to apply for work at the Saint Louis Zoo. He was hired on the spot as a member of the grounds crew, $3.75 a week.
From the very beginning of his job, Marlin made his love of snakes known to Zoo Director George Vierheller. Two weeks later Vierheller placed Marlin in charge of six reptiles -- the Zoo's entire collection. Marlin developed the collection and designed cages for a reptile exhibit which, contrary to the Zoo's Board of Directors' expectations, drew large crowds. A permanent exhibition was approved. Within two years of his employment at the Zoo, Marlin was named Curator of Reptiles. During the following 11 years, Marlin added to the collection to a total of 500 animals.
From 1938 to 1944 Marlin was director of the New York Zoological Gardens in Buffalo. In 1944 he was hired by the Lincoln Park Zoo as director. It was in Chicago in 1945 that Marlin's career moved into television. He became a national figure with a live show called "Zoo Parade," a program featuring animals from Lincoln Park Zoo. With this program, Marlin utilized the theatrics of animal behavior by displaying an animal live on the air and accompanying it with a monologue on the animal's habitat, behavior and genetic history. In 1949, the program went national and was carried coast to coast until its end in 1955.
In 1962 Marlin returned to the Saint Louis Zoo as its second full-time director and began working on "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," which earned four Emmys. In his programs, Marlin followed migrating reindeer in Lapland, hog-tied alligators in the marshes of the Florida Everglades, and dived into the water off Australia's Great Barrier Reef looking for sea serpents. He televised travels through the world's jungles, velds and deserts -- places few of his viewers had ever seen.
He became recognized as a strong voice in favor of ecology long before the cause came into fashion, and he had an ability to express love and respect for animals on his show as well as warn viewers that extinction is forever. He also worked to enlighten people about animals that are feared or killed because of superstitions. During its run on television, the program was shown on 200 stations in North America and in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Marlin was also the zoologist for Sir Edmund Hillary's expedition in 1960 to climb Mount Everest in the Himalayas. His job was to investigate the Abominable Snowman. He found that the footprints were those of smaller animals such as foxes. These were melted together from the heat of the sun making them look larger and subsequently identified as the foot tracks of the Snowman.
Marlin received an American Education Award in 1974 and was granted honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Missouri -- Columbia; Northland College in Ashland, WI.; Rockhurst College in Kansas City, MO.; MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL.; and College of St. Mary in Omaha, NE. He retired as director of the Saint Louis Zoo in 1970 but remained active in community and conservation projects up to the time of his death. He died on June 14, 1986, of cancer at his home in Clayton, MO. In 1991 the Saint Louis Zoo founded the Marlin Perkins Society, to carry on his dream for conserving endangered species and nurturing their existence.