When Marlin Perkins got involved in his first television show about animals, there were only 300 TV sets in the city of Chicago. That show was an early forerunner of ''Wild Kingdom'' - one of TV's longest-running programs - which has won four Emmy Awards and currently airs on some 220 stations throughout the United States and Canada.
In this charming autobiography, Perkins takes us from his snake-catching boyhood in Missouri through his TV globe-trotting long past ''retirement'' age. Like the TV series, the book is low-key, entertaining, and meticulous on details.
Perkins has some memorable stories to tell: how he inadvertently short-circuited a radio station with an electric eel; his search for the Abominable Snowman with Sir Edmund Hillary; how he learned to force-feed a 19 -foot python.
''Most people have trouble recognizing personalities in snakes,'' Perkins writes. He has no such problem with any animal; he reveals more about Heinie the Chimp than about his own family.
My one serious complaint concerns the photographs, which are cheaply reproduced in black and white. Perkins's colorful life deserves better.