OK, this may be hard to believe: Just as networks are ready to unload their zillion-dollar fall shows, one of the best things on TV is ... well, a documentary about a duck-stamp contest. Really. "The Million Dollar Duck" (9:01 and 10:33 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, on Animal Planet) has warmth, charm, humor and a tad of suspense. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
The world has enough
people who want to be rock stars, too many who want to be president.
It needs something
more important – people who want to win the Federal Duck Stamp
The contest –
featured in a fascinating cable documentary Wednesday – has been
around since 1934. Like many 82-year-olds, it's slowed down.
“In the early
'80s, there were just under 2,100 entries,” Rob McBroom said. “Last
year, it was 157.”
He's one of them ...
and one of the people profiled in “The Million Dollar Duck.”
The title comes from
the contest's peak years. There's no prize money, but some winners
reported topping $1 million for prints and licensing rights and such.
“It's still worth
a substantial amount of money, but not that much,” Adam Grimm said.
“I wish it were.”
Back in 1999, he
became (at 21) the youngest winner ever. That didn't make him rich,
but it did propel his dreams. A few years later, he says, he
“uprooted my whole family from Ohio – my wife and I and our
(1-year-old) daughter. We moved away from all of our family and
friends, to the remote regions of South Dakota, because I wanted to
be in the central flyway.”
Others in the film
are newer to this. They include:
-- Dee Dee Murry,
who was sometimes less successful than her blind dog. Murry did
serious painting; the dog (holding a brush via teeth) did abstracts.
“She raised over $35,000 (and) we donated it all to dog rescue,”
-- Rebekah Nastav,
who loved painting, but needed a career nudge. She's now 25 and
married, but when filming began (in 2013), she was living with her
parents and working as a mail-carrier in rural Missouri. “I really
didn't start painting ducks until after I started entering the Duck
-- Tim Taylor, 54, a
commercial painter in New Jersey. “A lot of the year, I paint
things like Santa Claus and store windows and Easter bunnies and
stuff like that,” he said. “So I'm happy to go back to ducks.”
-- And McBroom, 42,
McBroom makes his living as the office manager of a small record
company and as a part-time art-galley security guard. But his real
passion involves painting flashy abstracts.
As the only abstract
painter in the contest, he drew amusement (“they called me 'the
sequin guy') and scorn. When Taylor wrote scathing reviews, McBroom
“He started making
copies of my paintings and putting in pictures of myself and my
ex-wife and all kinds of stuff,” Taylor said. “Every Facebook
picture I put up, it was in the breast of the bird.”
McBroom prefers to
call these “parodies”; he says Taylor was not amused. “He went
That much, Taylor
agrees on. “I was spitting mad, I'll tell you.” He soon bought
all the Website names with “Rob McBroom” in them, just to
frustrate his nemesis.
That's a quirky
sideline to a contest usually built around good intentions and
The stamps –
originally $1, now $25 – are required for duck hunters, but are
also bought by collectors. So far, $800 million has been raised and
5.7 million wetland acres have been preserved.
animal (relies) heavily on wetland habitat .... It benefits all
wildlife,” Grimm said.
So he lives in the
central flyway, where he can study and photograph the ducks. “I'll
spend several months out of the year, just doing nothing but working
on this painting.”
Taylor does the
same. “I devote about two months of the year to my painting,” he
said. He sometimes moves from New Jersey to South Dakota. There, he
lives with the Grimm family and becomes Uncle Tim to the three girls
... one of them now a Junior Duck Stamp champion.
At times, Grimm
said, life has a strong focus: “I never get tired of painting
-- “The Million
Dollar Duck,” 9:01 p.m. Wednesday, Animal Planet; reruns at 10:33.