Tuesday, January 19, 2010


When people today think of Frasier, they think of Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane in both “Cheers” and in his own sitcom, “Frasier.” But in spite of the fact that I cleared the deck of all distractions when either of those programs were shown in their weekly (and yearly) runs, it is not Frasier Crane that I think of when I hear the word “Frasier.”

You can’t have lived in Orange County, California, without thinking that the real Frasier was the charming, old tongue-lopping lion down in Irvine at Lion County Safari whose hanky-panky was reported all the time in our local newspapers. In case you don’t remember the story, the Lion Country Safari came into being in the early 70s, and if you really wanted to see wild animals, this was the place to go. There were monkeys and hippos and ostriches and giraffes and all kinds of birds – and yes, lots of lions.

Frasier was not what you would call a ferocious lion. He was more like the lion who would plop himself down next to a lamb. He was purchased well used from a circus in Mexico. Enough of his teeth were missing that his tongue always was hanging out the side of his mouth. And his idea of fun was to lie on his back with his feet sticking up, face tipped so his tongue could hang out sideways and go sound asleep in the wonderful fresh ocean air that drifted over the hills and into the Irvine area. How much fear does one have of a lion who simply looks silly whether awake or asleep.

But what was reported on so much by the newspapers was that Frasier was given a harem of lovely lady lions, and in his waning years he decided he might as well get a few good licks in if the ladies were willing. They were. I think in his two years or so of Orange County living he managed to add about 35 little cubs to the park.

Residents of Orange County were consistently being treated to newspaper photos of the little guys, and they were awfully cute, but it was Frasier whom we loved. We cheered the old guy on; more power to him! But he was old to start with when he came to the OC, and after two years of being in the spotlight, he caught pneumonia and died. He was buried on the hill side, a cross posted at the site.

My family and I never felt the need to drive through the park; sometimes things went slightly awry and we didn’t want to be a part of that. We would, however, drive along the old 5 freeway past it and if we were lucky, we could sometimes see giraffe head poking up looking at the cars. It was all very exciting, but we really wanted to keep a little distance between our kids and the animals. The park shut down in 1984. Once Frasier died, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of reason to go down there.

No reflection on Dr. Frasier Crane, but our hero always was, and probably still is, old Frasier – a sex symbol for aging people.

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