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All About Carmichael, aka Mischka, Jack Bennys Polar Bear

by Peggy Adler

Pallenberg Bears

Paramount Contract

Carmichael was first written into Jack Benny's radio show in February 1939 and became one of his program's most beloved, running gags. Given to him as a birthday gift, Carmichael lived in the basement of his Beverly Hills home and was in twenty episodes.  In 1940, Benny fans finally saw Carmichael, in the feature film, Buck Benny Rides Again.  There, he was portrayed by a female bear named Mischka, who was powdered for the part to make her look like a polar bear.

The district passenger representative for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Los Angeles graphically described how the head of the property department at Paramount Pictures had him arrange to transport Mischka from Clinton, Connecticut to Los Angeles, California, "right side up".  "Jack Benny's polar bear, 'Carmichael', with attendants, started from Clinton on the New Haven Road and was delivered to our road at New York.  We carried it to St. Louis on the National Limited and Rock Island-Southern Pacific handled to California."


After completing her scenes in the movie, Mishka returned to her Connecticut home and shortly thereafter, Paramount discovered she would be needed back in Los Angeles for retakes. Her owner and trainer, Emil Pallenberg, objected, saying that she was hibernating. Studio Executives, after checking with their research department, told Pallenberg, "polar bears do not hibernate" and wired him to that effect -- to which Pallenberg promptly replied, '"Maybe your research department knows more than Carmichael – but I'll give odds they can't wake her up long enough to convince her."

Mischka's owner and trainer, Emil Pallenberg (1888-1963), is considered to have been the greatest bear trainer of his time and he originated most of the tricks performed by bears to this day. He was the first person to teach a bear to ride a bicycle and a motorcycle. He also taught his bears to roller skate, dance, walk on stilts, play musical instruments and walk the tight rope.  At no time did The Pallenberg Wonder Bears, as they came to be known, perform in a cage.  They performed on a leash attached to a muzzle -- on a platform or in a ring.  The Pallenbergs' bears appeared in three major, motion pictures,  including Buck Benny Rides Again -- and one was on Broadway for over a year in the 1932 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein Musical, Music in the Air.


Emil Pallenberg and his companion (and later, wife), Catharina Wouts Suverein (aka Cato), came to the United States through Ellis Island in 1914, with three trained, acrobatic bears to perform in Vaudeville for six months -- and   became headliners in Ringling Brothers owned circuses for more than two decades. Emil met Catharina in 1913 while performing with his bears in Holland -- and she ran away with him and his bruins to perform in Russia, leaving behind her innkeeper husband and two year old son. 

Emil Pallenberg and his Wonder Bears were with Ringling owned circuses from 1915 to at least 1939 – and when they were not performing, lived in our small, shoreline town of Clinton, Connecticut.  Pallenberg Wonder Bears- From the Beginning, by Emil Pallenberg's granddaughter, Dibirma Jean Burnham and me, is over 200 pages and was published by BearManor Media on October 22, 2022.   I did the investigative research, found all the legal documentation and wrote the text -- while my collaborator supplied the family's archival photos; vaudeville, circus, stage and motion picture contracts; and her grandfather's eleven page handwritten memoir, which he wrote in retirement. Here now is a short video that I made of Rochester and Mischka, aka Carmichael, in Buck Benny Rides Again.

About Peggy Adler

Peggy Adler

Peggy Adler Book

Previous to my 2022 biography, "Pallenberg Wonder Bears - From the Beginning" (BearManor Media), I authored a pictorial history titled, "Images of America CLINTON" (Arcadia Publishing, 2019); five titles for New York City publishers (The John Day Company & Franklin Watts); illustrated two dozen and provided art for the Bronx Zoo; the Humane Society of the United States; Little, Brown & Company; the Journal of Theoretical Biology; the Journal of Algebra; the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; and World Scientific Publishing. Additionally, I coordinated the 1969 world premiere of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" for 20th Century Fox; worked as a consultant for the U.S. House of Representatives' "October Surprise Task Force", where according to their Deputy Majority Counsel, Michael Zeldin, my work "met and exceeded every expectation"; and organized and hosted the 2015 Edgar Rice Burroughs Bibliophile Convention (aka Dum Dum), which ran for four days in Clinton, Connecticut and was attended by members of the Burroughs' family and the staff of ERB, Inc, along with authors and illustrators of Burroughs related books and almost 100 bibliophiles, who came from all over North America to celebrate his genius.

Back CoverAn active member of every community in which I've ever lived, I spent eight years as a Clinton, CT Police Commissioner (2005-2013); served on Clinton's Design Review Board (2000-2007); Historic District Commission (2001-2006; 2017- present); and Charter Revision Commission (1997-98 & 2003-04). For Clinton's Department of Parks & Recreation I coached 1st, 2nd & 3rd grade girls softball (2008-2014) and for seven years did the publicity for the Clinton Rotary's annual Cancer Relief Fund Drive Walk-a-thon. Previously I served on the Board of The Arts Council of Greater New Haven; Planned Parenthood of Greater New Haven; Shoreline Youth Theater; the Madison Arts & Science Council -- and additionally, spent eight years as the program coordinator for the New England Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, serving simultaneously on their Board of Directors and three of those years as its Board's Chairman.

In September 2019, my book "Images of America Clinton" won a Literary Award Competition sponsored by the Connecticut Society of Genealogists as Best Research Publication and two years earlier, Marquis Who's Who presented me with their Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous honors include the 2001 General Richard G. Stilwell Award, bestowed upon me in Washington D.C. by the Association of Former Intelligence Officers for my work with their New England Chapter; and Duck Island Yacht Club's 1998 Corinthian Award.

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Really looking forward to reading this....looks like fun, Peggy!

Dani McGrath

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