Four years ago an obscure Oregon film company spent a rock-bottom $405,000 to produce The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, the Disney-esque saga of a father and mother and their two children from L.A. who abandon the city to homestead in the wild Northwest. What has occurred since is Hollywood financial, if not esthetic, history. Wilderness Family earned over $62 million and now ranks second in revenues only to The Sound of Music among G-rated films.
Further, it has spawned a sequence of innocents-in-the-wild box-office triumphs, including Across the Great Divide, The Sea Gypsies and the current Wilderness Family Part 2. All four movies share spectacular outdoor photography, simplistic plots, heart-stopping action, lots of animals—and the same ruggedly handsome star, Robert F. Logan, 37.
Logan has established himself as a kind of plaid-shirted Natty Bumppo of low-budget cinema. A Hemingwayesque writer and actor, Logan variously describes himself as an itinerant surfer, pilot, stunt man, folksinger, sailor, ladies’ man, producer and all-round adventurer. He defends his films against carping that “the actors serve mainly to support the scenery.” As Logan sees it, “Parents can take their kids to see these films and not have them psychologically bludgeoned. These films aren’t racy or tipped with bank robberies or rapes.”
There is no question Logan has his fans, even in Europe and Japan. Few seem to object that the plots are more than a little contrived. In the last half of Wilderness Part 2, for example, the mother catches pneumonia, two children weather a blizzard, Dad is buried by an avalanche and a pet raccoon topples a kerosene lamp, setting the family’s cabin ablaze—just as a pack of wolves arrives at the door.
Logan’s own life has all the makings of a tall tale. Born in Brooklyn’s Flat-bush section as the eldest of eight children in an Irish-Catholic family, he moved to racially mixed southwest L.A. and became a three-sport high school athlete. (He also boasts an IQ of 149.) At 19 he dropped out of Arizona State and drifted into acting when a casting agent approached him in a restaurant. His first break came when he replaced Edd “Kookie” Byrnes as the carhop on ABC’s 77 Sunset Strip. Next he became a regular on NBC’s Daniel Boone with Fess Parker. But after a script dispute, he dropped out of show business.
Logan then embarked on a series of Jack London-like adventures. He crewed on a record-setting sail from L.A. to Tahiti. After a stint as a yacht broker (and a divorce from his wife of three years, model Susan Henning) he set off for Europe and happened into a part in David Wolper’s The Bridge at Remagen, then shooting in Czechoslovakia. He was nearly fired for ruining a battle scene by smuggling a girlfriend into the middle of the combat. When the movie crew was evacuated because of the 1968 Soviet invasion, Logan stayed behind to film a documentary, The Prague Spring, for which he was detained and then expelled.
Over the next few years Logan produced an unsuccessful documentary on American drug smugglers jailed in Spain and lived for a while on a houseboat on the Seine with actor Sterling Hayden. Logan returned to the U.S. in 1973 to start a screenwriting career. After meeting the writer of the original Wilderness Family, he says he became an actor again by chance. “They tested 30 men for the part and just ran out, so they decided on me.”
Logan and the Wilderness Family producers have since split (though Part 3 is already in the can). With the help of manager Bill McEuen, who also handles Steve Martin, Logan has signed for three made-for-NBC movies. He also has a million-dollar contract to write and star in two features for Universal, including Peter and the Wolf “using live wolves and real kids.” (He did his own stunt work on the Wilderness series and carries a 22-stitch scar on his neck inflicted by an irate cougar.)
Logan now lives a comfortable bachelor’s life in a $200,000 home six miles outside of Aspen. He works on screenplays in the mornings. Afternoons are for jogging, riding or skiing. His most important woman at the moment is his 12-year-old daughter, Courtney, whom he phones regularly at her mother’s home in northern California. Logan sticks by his macho ethic but admits to an occasional regret.
“Sometimes I’ve been in the Arctic or Europe and I’ve said, ‘By God, I wish I could share this moment with somebody special,’ ” he says. “Usually, though, there is nobody special. The fulfillment of life is the voyage,” he philosophizes. “It’s not being there that’s important, but getting there.”