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Dinosaur Devotee Sows 'Prehistoric Garden'

December 29, 1988|R. DANIEL FOSTER

When Don Glut's Burbank home is dug up by archeologists 1 million years from now, they may find the skull of a tyrannosaurus lying next to four caveman statues.

Glut, all-around dinosaur expert, probably wouldn't mind the scientists digging up his eclectic home as long as they didn't conclude that cavemen lived alongside dinosaurs.

That myth--the reign of man and dinosaurs are separated by 65 million years--is one of many that Glut strives to destroy through his writing.

Glut, 44, began collecting information on dinosaurs from the moment a giant apatosaurus mesmerized him at age 7 3/4 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The result has been a series of books aimed at professional paleontologists and general readers, including the "Dinosaur Dictionary," published in 1972, "The New Dinosaur Dictionary" and "The Dinosaur Scrap Book," all available in general bookstores.

New Work

In the works is "Dinosaurs: An Encyclopedia," a multivolume, more technical work to be supplemented by additional volumes every 5 years. The book, which Glut said a publisher of scientific books is considering, should be in stores in about a year.

Glut collects his data by "reading journals, hanging out with a lot of the pros and asking a lot of questions," he said. Early research was performed in libraries, but the turning point came in the early 1970s when Glut gained access to scientific journals and began consulting with professional paleontologists. Glut's fascination grew as he surrounded himself with depictions of prehistoric creatures in comic books, films and on TV.

With no formal education in paleontology, he has amassed a credibility that Mary Odano, past scientific preparator at the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles, calls "the last and final word" in volumes written on the subject.

Odano has identified and catalogued more than 7,000 bones found in the La Brea tar pits, which are next to the museum. She first met Glut in the late 1960s while he was doing research at the Los Angeles County Museum, where she worked as a volunteer.

Professional Respect

"He's got the ear of professionals all over the country now," said Odano, 65. "Whatever he publishes is authentic. You don't have to have a thousand degrees from institutions to put out really good work.

"Scientific publications are not readily available or meaningful to the general public. Don's work bridges the gap between kids' books and scientific literature--and it's accurate. So much of the stuff on the market is not accurate."

George Callisan, 48, professional paleontologist with the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, said Glut's encyclopedia is his "most professional contribution yet," adding that "dyed-in-the-wool lovers of dinosaurs" would enjoy the work. "It's a much more technical piece than his previous books."

Glut works out of an office in his home, which is packed with movie memorabilia and exhibits from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, including four cavemen statues in the garage and towering black bear statues in the kitchen and guest bedroom. Other corners of the house are filled with hundreds of dinosaurs of varying sizes made from wood, metals, crystal, papier-mache and other materials. Glut collects statues wherever he travels.

The house is gradually being transformed into a type of Universal Studios tour through the La Brea tar pits--all for Glut's enjoyment. Glut is turning his back yard into a "prehistoric garden," which will include a volcano and tyrannosaurus skull replica to complement the giant swamp-green apatosaurus that now stalks the yard. The garage's interior walls will soon be molded into cave-like formations, he said, which will give his caveman statues a more natural habitat. And a separate room in the house contains a model train that weaves its way through elaborate miniature depictions of classic Frankenstein and Godzilla film sets.

Glut obtained more realistic-looking creatures, such as a mastodon, tyrannosaurus, allosaurus and giant ground sloth skulls from Odano, who fashions replicas of the bones in her Canoga Park business, Valley Anatomical Preparations.

Odano casts the skulls and other bones in polyester resin and fiberglass from original bones at museums across the country. She sells the replicas, priced from 20 cents for a trilobite (a prehistoric marine animal) to $30,000 for a giant ground sloth skeleton, to museums throughout the country.

Much of the interior of Glut's home, which also is inhabited by a lizard named "Neecha," and several cats and tortoises, was used as the set for "More Dinosaurs," a half-hour documentary produced for KABC-TV 3 years ago.

"I'm always astonished when I go to Don's house," Callisan said. "It's a real treasure trove.

"Don is one of those individuals that a profession would just love to be associated with. Every profession needs an individual who can convey technical information to the public at large, and that's what Don does. He's becoming more and more known as his work progresses."

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