A partial view of the Boston crowd greeting Knowles on his return to civilization.© Naked in the Woods
Long before Tiny Tim, Knowles exploited his white-hot fame by getting married on stage, though in both cases the nuptials were short-lived. His whiskers were shorn and his bearskin shed for a fashionable suit before a crowd at the famous Filene"s. All was well until November 30, when Hearst’s Boston American, smarting at the Post’s circulation increase and kicking itself over the fact that it had earlier turned Knowles story down, published a blistering exposé.
According to the American‘s Bert Ford, Knowles actually spent most of his time in a comfortable cabin complete with regular supply drops, a typewriter for Michael McKeogh (the Nature Man’s ghostwriter), and comfortable blankets from Bangor. His celebrated bear was actually shot by a trapper, who sold the skin (complete with four bullet holes) to Allie Deming, one of Knowles" minions, for $12 ($7 more than its market value). The pit that Knowles supposedly used to catch the bear was so shallow that "a cat could have hopped out of it with ease."
There was a lot more, including the fact that the weekly dispatches to the Post, supposedly written on hacked-off birch bark in charcoal from Knowles" fires, had apparently been cut with a sharp blade and displayed distinct graphite traces from pencil lead.
Knowles" story proves that bad publicity can be nearly as much of an elixir as good. Like Paris Hilton, our man of the woods used lurid headlines to his advantage. In fact, far from slinking away in defeat, he repeated his stunt in the wilderness two more times to continued dramatic effect, once in the mountains of Oregon (1914, an expedition interrupted by the outbreak of World War I) and once in the Adirondacks (1916). The sponsor for these expeditions, having evidently buried the hatchet, was the same Hearst chain that had exposed Knowles in 1913.
On the third voyage Knowles had company. He was the naked Dawn Man to the also nude Dawn Woman of Elaine Hammerstein, a noted theater and silent film star of her day (44 comedies and melodramas, some of them lost). Hammerstein, plucked from among three-dozen contenders for the Dawn Woman title, was the beautiful daughter of Broadway producer Arthur Hammerstein (son
of theatrical entrepreneur Oscar Hammerstein and uncle of legendary composer Oscar Hammerstein II).
By this point there was something distinctly comic about the whole affair, and if sex didn’t play a huge role in the first two Knowles adventures, it certainly took center stage for the third. The press downplayed Elaine Hammerstein as serious nature pioneer and instead cast her as a trembling unclad maiden, at risk from wild creatures of the forest. It was just as well, because the urbane Hammerstein was no frontier woman. Despite training in woods lore by Knowles himself, and despite looking fetching in grass skirts, she proved hopelessly incapable. She quit after a week, but not before Hearst’s New York Journal had gotten a lot of mileage out of her.
Knowles completed a tour on the vaudeville circuit (where she possible encountered Hammerstein’s uncle Willie). When it was all over, Knowles retired to a crooked cabin made of driftwood on the shores of the Pacific. Home became Ilwaco, Washington, the end point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and about as far from Maine as he could get. It’s peaceful here," he told a reporter from the Portland Oregonian who looked him up in 1933. Knowles painted on commission and cemented a reputation as a local character. He lived with three women, one of whom was actually his wife. He had only a few regrets. "I"m still sorry I didn’t manage to catch a bear cub, up there in Maine," he said to a reporter from the American Mercury in 1936 (six years before he died). "It would have been a knockout—parading out of that timber a-leading a bear like a Scottie."
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