Updated on May 31, 2024

What do wildlife conservation and insurance have in common? Protection. V.J. Skutt, former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Mutual of Omaha, realized this common link thus beginning a 60-year history of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Developing Wild Kingdom

In 1962, Marlin Perkins was in Omaha for a speaking engagement when he encountered Skutt, leading to a conversation about a new televised animal series. Mutual of Omaha had formerly sponsored the television series, Zoo Parade, hosted by Perkins. Whereas Zoo Parade was filmed primarily at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Skutt believed the new series should take a broader look at the animal world.

Skutt realized the common theme of protection — insurance protects people against life’s unforeseen events and conservation protects wildlife from unnatural extinction. He thought this new series could expand from just showing animals to highlighting the importance of conservation.

marlin perkins and jim fowler

It was Perkins who coined the term “wild kingdom,” desiring a series that showed the public a realistic approach to wildlife conservation. After connecting with NBC, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was born. The first episode premiered on Jan. 6, 1963.

“The thing that made it so popular at the time, we didn’t have many animal shows, and here was something new,” said Bill Gordon, director of research and administration for Mutual of Omaha and Wild Kingdom from 1956-1988.

The early days of Wild Kingdom

It was rarely a dull day working for Mutual of Omaha during the early days of Wild Kingdom.

“I got involved in meeting personalities that came to Mutual of Omaha,” Gordon said. “I had a very fortunate job, meeting people like Fred Astaire, Bob Hope, Henry Fonda and Irene Dunne.”

Along with the stars of the silver screen, the stars of Wild Kingdom would visit the Mutual of Omaha home office too.

“Jim Fowler would come with Marlin Perkins and go and have a meeting with V.J. Skutt,” Gordon said. “Then they’d entertain people in the auditorium, and a lot of times they’d bring some sort of animal of course.”

Gordon recalls Fowler coming into the home office wearing a jacket and inside his large pocket would be an animal.

“I can remember one time he brought in a live African tarantula and presented it to the front receptionist. Well, she almost fainted, and I don’t think she spoke to me for the next two weeks,” Gordon said.

While it was a running joke started by friend of the show, Johnny Carson, that Fowler was the one getting himself into sticky situations in the field, both hosts spent a lot of time on location with animals and Perkins was very involved until his last episodes in 1983. Perkins even got tangled up with a large snake in Giants of Dadanawa (season 6, episode 2).

Both hosts were knowledgeable men who were “marvelous” to work with Gordon said.

“Jim Fowler is the one I knew more. I always felt that he was a real, genuine person. Somebody you could really work with and really feel comfortable with.”

Perkins and Fowler made Wild Kingdom a hit, Gordon said, with the show appealing to the whole family.

“Wild Kingdom was all about connecting back to the company and protecting your family,” Gordon said.


family on a farm with two goats

Help protect your kingdom with Mutual of Omaha

“Just as the mother lion protects her cubs, Mutual of Omaha can protect your family.”

This famous line became ubiquitous with Wild Kingdom, with the hosts saying it before segueing to a commercial break for the sponsor, Mutual of Omaha.

Mutual of Omaha started in 1909, issuing health and accident insurance in Nebraska. Over the past century, the company has expanded beyond its original footprint. Today, it provides Medicare solutions, life insurance and financial services to help protect your kingdom.

To learn more about how to protect your own kingdom, visit

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From the Wild Kingdom to Your Kingdom

Protection is in our DNA. From your family to your health and finances, Mutual of Omaha can help you protect what matters most.