TRAINER OF FILM ANIMALS DIES AT 46
Daily News of Los Angeles (CA) - Monday, December 30, 1985
Author: DAVID RUTHERFORD, Daily News Staff Writer
Ronald Oxley , who trained the black bear with the title role in "Gentle Ben" and dozens of other four-legged movie and television stars, has died of a heart attack. He was 46.
Oxley died in his sleep Dec. 22 at the Acton ranch where he had trained animals for their screen roles for more than 20 years, said Carol Riggins of Canyon Country, who took care of the lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, bears and wolves while he was away. "Ron's animals were really special," Riggins said. "You don't put animals like these in anyone's hands. He had some of the best-trained bears around and will be missed dearly," she said. Oxley specialized in training wild cats for filming.
His most prized animals, Riggins said, were Neil, the lion seen in the Dreyfus television commercials who died last year; and Bruno, the original Gentle Ben, who died four or five years ago, she added. His animals starred in television and motion pictures alike, including ''Cat People," "Ladyhawke," "Continental Divide," "Escape to Witch Mountain" and "Adventures of the Wilderness Family." In 1983, his lion Neil was the recipient of a Patsy award from the American Humane Society. The award is symbolic of outstanding performances by wild animals in film. The lion also was inducted into the society's Hall of Fame.
At the time of his death, there were about 15 animals at Oxley 's ranch as he worked on a new 20th Century-Fox movie called "Project X," which starred chimpanzees. Riggins said she would continue to care for the animals at the ranch. No arrangements for new homes for them had been made.
Oxley was born July 22, 1939, in Colorado. He was raised in Burbank and attended California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, where he studied behavioral sciences and played on the football team. His career with animals began after a two-year apprenticeship with a film editor, during which time he bottle-fed a Bengal tiger. In the early 1960s, Oxley combined his film-editing talents with his love for animals in the television series "Daktari." Much of his film work with animals required extensive travel, and his last film location work came in Italy as a coordinator for animal performances in the movie "Ladyhawke."
Oxley was single and "his only children were his animals," Riggins said. ''They meant everything to him." He leaves his parents, Lowell and Helen Oxley of Canoga Park, and two sisters, Sherry Bloom of Sun Valley and Jane Shafer of Irvine. Services for Oxley are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today at Eternal Valley Cemetery in Newhall.