ARCADIA, Calif. — Biologist Forrest Galante was 14 when he and his family were evicted from their home at gun point. His family had lived in Zimbabwe for six generations and ran a safari business and small farm when he was a kid.

But that was all to end abruptly. “With the (Robert) Mugabe regime and the political uprising, guns in the mouth, guns in the back of the head, kicked off our land kind of thing. Then we fled the country to the United States,” says Galante.

“My father was estranged, so it was just my mother, my sister and I,” he says. “We left a 16,000 square-foot home and 200 acres, and a very successful business. The currency was blacklisted, so we had three suitcases of clothes and $400 to our name. So we went from this very different African lifestyle to the three of us crammed into a one-bedroom government housing project in Oakland, California. Big upheaval,” he sighs.

While that might have defeated some, it simply stiffened the family’s resolve. “Mom scrimped and saved,” he says.

“We came as political refugees and that was short-lived. And my mom, who used to run a 200-person farm and a multiple-thousand (dollar) safari business became a waitress. Quite a jump.

“We slowly climbed our way back up. And my sister and I both went to school on scholarships and moved to Cayucos, California, a small town about four hours north of here, a surfer town,” he says.

Galante had been fascinated by animals ever since he was a boy. “My entire time I wasn’t in school, I was in the bush,” he says. “I remember the first time putting on shoes. I was pretty close to feral. At one time I had 14 vivariums in my bedroom filled with venomous reptiles. I loved my animals and wildlife as a kid, was running around catching, fishing, chasing everything I could.”

He still is. Only now he’s trekking animals that are supposed to be extinct. His quests are featured on Animal Planet’s series “Extinct or Alive,” where Galante and his intrepid team prowl the most obscure and remote areas of the world seeking illusive creatures.

His untamed childhood may have prepared him for the dangers of his mission, but Galante is hard put to choose the worst. “I’ve been in two plane crashes, walked away from both miraculously, been stung by a man-of-war jellyfish, bitten by two different sharks, bitten by a venomous adder, mauled by a lion, chased by a hippo, bitten by a crocodile — it’s hard to pick one,” he shrugs.

“I broke my back in Thailand, was paralyzed from the neck down, thought forever. But my feeling came back.”

He says he incurred the injury by jumping off a waterfall “like an idiot.” He was drowning because he was paralyzed and was saved by his zoologist wife, Jessica, who dove in the river and pulled him to safety.

“A lot of people think I’m crazy,” says the 31-year-old. “But to me the juice is worth the squeeze — not just on an individual species level — just being able to show that habitat on television to millions of people, for them to be inspired to care about it and want to conserve it,” he says.

“And the most rewarding part of my job is the hundreds of messages I get per day from people saying, ‘I want to grow up and be a conservationist, I want to preserve and protect habitats.’ That makes the shark bite worth it, and the 400 bee strings that I got in Borneo worth it, and the leech bite that is literally probably still bleeding through my sock because they never seem to go away, worth it.”

Whether it was in the jungles of Madagascar or the barren lava flow of the Galapagos Islands, Galante has been relentless in his quest and says he’s never frightened of the wild. “Wildlife isn’t scary,” he says. “They don’t want to have anything to do with you. It’s people that are scary.

“We were in a World War II DC-3 cargo plane flying into a cocaine dealer’s airstrip in the middle of the Columbian Amazon (trying) to hide from the rebels. We were looking for the Rio Apaporis caiman (a crocodile). Caimans don’t scare me, the malaria doesn’t scare me, the anacondas that we caught there don’t scare me. What scares me is the rebels that deal in human trafficking and cocaine and have the ability to kill us and hide us in the Amazon at any time.”

Galante and his wife are taking a short break as they just became parents of a baby boy, and Galante estimates they have about 91 animals on their property in Santa Barbara, Calif. “We rescue pretty much anything that needs a home,” he says.

SPOTTING STARS BEFORE FAME

Sometimes it’s a kick to view favorite stars in roles before they became famous. Viewers will have that chance starting Thursday when Cozi TV begins its marathon of guest stars, all of whom appeared on some of the earlier TV series like “The Nanny” and “Will & Grace.” It’s a kick spotting Ed Harris on “The Rockford Files,” and Richard Gere’s early appearance on “Kojak.” Madonna visited “Will & Grace” and Elton John graced “The Nanny.”

Ray Romano, who was so great on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” showed up on “The Nanny” and later on “The Office” while both Frank Sinatra and Carol Burnett landed on the original (and better) “Magnum, P.I.” Kevin Bacon — before “City on a Hill” and “The Following” — guested on “Will & Grace.”

Bacon, who originally was known as a film actor, says he avoided television like the bubonic plague. “When I started out the last thing I wanted to do was be on a television series,” he says.

“There was a real difference between being a television actor and being a movie and stage actor. I did the soaps and then I was, like, done. I had no interest in television. I would NEVER audition for a television show,” he says.

“They did a television show of ‘Diner’ and of ‘Animal House’ both of which I got offered, and both of which I turned down even though I didn’t have a pot to piss in. It wasn’t like I had some other great gig. I was probably a waiter when they did the show of ‘Animal House’ for television. But I was a real snob about it.”

But after he saw his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, star in the amazing series “The Closer,” he began to change his mind. “Seeing how I was consuming television and the fact that so many of my friends would get together and that’s what we were talking about — was television shows.

“And I looked at someone like the great James Gandolfini and said, ‘Wow, that’s such an amazing character that he got a chance to explore and continue to explore.’ So hand-in-hand with that, I started to see a real shift in the movie business with studios making many less films. And many of the budgets of the films — while some of them are skyrocketing, many of them are plummeting to $500,000 to $1 million — so many little tiny movies and opportunities I was looking at were not really all that satisfying. So even though I was slightly reluctant to do this, I threw my hat into the television ring.”

‘BLUE BOOK’ SCHEDULES NEW SEASON

The History Channel has ratified a second season of its “Project Blue Book,” a semibiographical chronicle of early secret investigations into the UFO puzzle. The series, returning Jan. 21, is based on the real experiences of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a college professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to head the investigation into thousands of reports of UFO activity as well as incidents at Area 51 and Roswell.

Each episode stems from real case files comingling UFO theories with authentic historical events.

The Irish-born Aidan Gillen portrays the dogged Hynek. “I like pretending to be other people, like being in make-believe situations, he says.

“I used to be a lot shyer than I am, so I used to be quite inarticulate and shy and not able to talk to people. So I started acting at a very young age when I was about 13, 14. I went into a youth theater group in Dublin and I became really attracted to this idea where the situations were artificial.

“The dialogue was written by somebody else, but you’re put into these intense situations with people that you don’t really know, but you get to know each other really fast and all the work is done for you. But you still get the emotional payoff. And as crazy as that sounds, that was the thing. So I knew that’s what I wanted to do at that age by the time I left school when I’d just gone 17. I went straight into the profession and got cast in a play.”

DISNEY LAUNCHES TALENT SEARCH

If you think your little darling is just bursting with talent, Disney is offering you the chance to prove it with its new digital talent search. Now through Dec. 31, parents may submit a video of their talented offspring to the Disney Channel at www.Disney.com/disneychannelcasting. It’s a way to plunge into that broad pool of talent that might otherwise go unnoticed, says Judy Taylor, senior VP of casting and talent at the Disney Channel. Hopefuls must be able to play ages 8 to 16 and contestants may go to the site for tips on creating and submitting their video.

And for would-be talent of all ages, “America’s Got Talent” is currently holding auditions for next season’s series. Interested acts can visit www.AGTAuditions.com to register for an upcoming audition city or to submit a video online.

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(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)

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©2019 Luaine Lee

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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