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Zoobilee Zoo

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 I played "Bill der Beaver" on the award winning children’s television show Hallmark’s Zoobilee Zoo. We shot sixty five episodes back in 1986, more in 1995 and some of us toured the country - performing a live version of the show - for almost 15 years. And while some people, those who have never seen or heard of the show, might find it funny that I played a large, semi aquatic rodent (I understand) those who HAVE seen the show seem to generally be much more appreciative of my efforts - thanking me either as parents, or now grown up members of our original audience. 


To both groups I proclaim proudly - I loved playing Bill der Beaver!!!


Some of our cast were already parents themselves, many had worked with children extensively in the past and all of us were committed to presenting something of real quality and substance. Back in 1986 when we shot the original 65 episodes, we would start each week sitting around a large table with the director and representatives from Hallmark. We would go over every scene we were scheduled to shoot that week, removing anything that was even remotely racist, sexist, or condescending. We replaced slapstick violence with real talk, insults with understanding. We staged each show as if playing to equals, never speaking down, or ridiculously slow. And we made sure the material was entertaining and funny to us, not even pretending we knew what might please a child. I think our efforts paid off. Our youngest audiences enjoyed the colors and the music, older children understood the message and relationships, and teens and parents have told us how much they appreciated the humor obviously aimed toward them.


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Once, while we were visiting children in an intensive care ward, a mother walked outside of a private room, crying and obviously very much afraid. She waved me over to her and asked if I could talk to her daughter, who was dying. I went into the room. The little girl was attached to every sort of machine. The doctors shrugged at me, as if to say that it didn't really matter what I did at that point, that they had already done all they could. I leaned over, close to the little girl's ear. Her eyes were closed and I didn't even know if she could hear me, but as Bill I began to speak. I told her how very much her mother loved her, how proud everyone was at how brave and strong she was, that her body just wasn't helping her at all any more, and that if she wanted to, she could leave this sick body and go get herself a brand new one. She opened her eyes. I remember they were very foggy and unfocused. Her body and face seemed to relax, and it looked to me as if she smiled. Then she exhaled and, even though I've never been able to fully explain it, at the time I knew I was watching her strong, brave, young soul leave her sick, weak body. I had never seen anyone die before, and the sensation of a spirit leaving, as opposed to just ending, was overpowering. Her mother, who had walked in behind me and had watched the whole thing, moaned. I told her how very sorry I was. She came over, thanked me, we hugged as she cried on my shoulder. After we let each other go, I left. There was nothing more anyone could say. I caught up with the rest of our group, but it wasn't until later, much later, that I could talk about that little girl.


I would like to think that even if I was not dressed as Bill, I would have done the same thing, but I really don't know. Bill came from such a place of purity, of gentleness, of selflessness. Either he brought out the very best in me, or I willingly put my very best into him.

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