Did longtime society columnist, man-about-town, and rake turned curmudgeon and animal advocate Cleveland Amory ever write to the advice columnist Ann Landers?
He did at least once, enlisting her support to end one of the atrocities to animals that most disturbed him.
Their collaboration, in turn, both boosted public support for humane organizations in general and the Humane Society of the U.S. in particular, of which Amory was then a board member.
It also produced a template for future humane successes in abolishing culturally entrenched local animal abuses, involving the paradoxical combination of giving the abuses a high public profile with quiet litigation to undercut the abusers’ determination to maintain their traditions.
Most significantly, Ann Landers appears to have taught HSUS a lesson it has never forgotten about the importance of appearing to represent human interests while advancing issues in favor of animals.
Who was Cleveland Amory?
First, more about Cleveland Amory, 1917-1998. Just a year older than Eppie Lederer, the second and best-known incarnation of Ann Landers, Amory became a nationally known journalist nearly 15 years earlier.
Born in Nahants, Massachusetts, and remembered in obituaries as “scion of a long line of Boston merchants,” Amory “had a great affection for his aunt Lucy ‘Lu’ Creshore, who took in many stray animals and was instrumental in helping Amory get his first puppy as a child,” according to Wikipedia, which “Amory remembered seventy years later as the most memorable moment of his childhood.”
Amory edited the Harvard Crimson in 1939, was briefly a reporter for the Nashua Telegraph and the Arizona Daily Star, and then at age 22 became youngest member of The Saturday Evening Post editorial staff.
Life magazine, the Post‘s chief rival for circulation and advertising, was then turning sharply away from previous editorial opposition to vivisection. Amory produced frequent features calculated to appeal to animal lovers, helping win over enough former Life readers that Life responded in kind. Competition for animal-loving readers, mostly female, continued until a male audience more coveted by big-bucks advertisers such as auto makers returned from fighting World War II.
Amory left the Post early in the war to join his elder brother Robert Amory Jr. in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, but continued to have an influence: witnessing a so-called “bunny bop” in 1946, sponsored by the American Legion at Harmony, North Carolina, he ensured that the event became subject of a Post photo feature, and of a national furor, as the Post for a few weeks reportedly received more letters about the rabbit killing than about the killing in Europe and the Pacific theatre.
That did not stop the “bunny bop,” but Amory did not forget about it, and eventually enlisted Effie Lederer to help him in the long campaign––two years longer than U.S. involvement in World War II––that did finally stop it.
Also circa 1945, Amory witnessed and was outraged by his first bullfight.
Robert Amory Jr., an attorney before World War II, ended the war as a colonel, returned to law for six years in Washington D.C., then from 1952 until 1962 fought foreign subversives as deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Cleveland Amory meanwhile became one of the most subversive elements ever to mock the status quo from a social position securely inside the establishment. He struck first through radio commentary, while writing a trilogy of popular sociological studies intertwined with satire. His first book, The Proper Bostonians (1947) went through 29 printings during his lifetime. The Last Resorts followed in 1952, and then Who Killed Society? in 1960.
Amory also wrote two novels, Home Town and The Trouble With Nowadays. From 1954 until 1963, Amory served as social commentator for the NBC Today show. That ended abruptly after he aired an expose titled “Science is needlessly cruel to animals.”
Chief critic for TV Guide from 1963 to 1976, Amory later wrote a column called Animail for The New York Post, wrote a column for Saturday Review from 1952 to 1972, and had a long association with Parade.
Lady Astor & her horse
Late in life, Amory produced three consecutive best-sellers about a white cat named Polar Bear, whom he adopted as a stray off the street in New York City on Christmas Eve 1977: The Cat Who Came For Christmas (1987), The Cat And The Curmudgeon (1990), and The Best Cat Ever, written after Polar Bear’s death in 1992.
Amory’s final book, Ranch of Dreams, about the Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary he founded near Tyler, Texas in 1979, named in honor of the 1877 novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, appeared in late 1997.
Popular writing earned Amory independent wealth and a host of influential contacts. But he wanted to do more for animals. “I started out writing about Lady Astor and her horse,” he often said, “and became more interested in the horse.”
Amory & HSUS
That led Amory into twenty years of involvement with the Humane Society of the United States.
Town & County writer Dan Rottenberg in 1981 credited Amory with enlisting into the animal protection cause during his HSUS years the actor Henry Fonda, singer Andy Williams, and the late Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco––along with Ark Trust founder Gretchen Wyler, then more prominent as an actress.
HSUS in 2002 absorbed the Ark Trust and the Genesis Awards program for animal-friendly media work that Wyler had begun 17 years earlier. Wyler died in 2007 at age 74.
But HSUS, though much more aggressive under Fred Myers than the American Humane Association had been, was also too conservative for Amory almost from the outset. When Helen Jones formed the National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare in 1959, Amory served as honorary vice president.
Formed the Fund for Animals
But Jones focused on animal use in biomedical research. Amory wanted to go after hunting. In 1967, therefore, Amory formed the Fund for Animals, winning early endorsements from the actresses Mary Tyler Moore and Angie Dickinson.
The action that established The Fund on the national horizon was the 1979 helicopter-assisted rescue of 557 burros targeted for slaughter at the Grand Canyon by the National Park Service, as non-native species who allegedly jeopardized rare plants. The job cost $500,000–and left Amory with hundreds of animals in urgent need of homes. Purchasing the Black Beauty Ranch to house them, Amory later opened three more sanctuaries, all now operated by HSUS.
Helped Sea Shepherds & PETA
At about the same time Amory helped Paul Watson to form the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society by granting him the funds to buy his first ship, with which Watson rammed the pirate whaler Sierra off the Azores in June 1979. In gratitude, Watson named the ship he used during his 1985 campaign against dragnetting off Atlantic Canada The Cleveland Amory.
A crew member aboard the June 1979 Sea Shepherd mission, who disembarked just before the actual ramming, was Alex Pacheco, then age 19. Amory remembered him as a volunteer “who practically grew up in our Cincinnati office.“
Amory encouraged Pacheco and Ingrid Newkirk when in 1981 they founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but split with Pacheco over Pacheco’s subsequent management of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. Amory would likely have been even more disgusted by Pacheco’s conduct as founder of an organization called 600 Million Dogs Need You, which––as exposed by ANIMALS 24-7––has raised more than $1 million since 2009 in the name of developing “spay/neuter cookies” which do not exist, and without actually employing any scientists or laboratories to develop them.
Current HSUS leaders debuted under Amory
Both HSUS president Wayne Pacelle and Mike Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, were national directors of the Fund for Animals under Amory before moving to HSUS, as was HSUS senior director of campaigns Heidi Prescott.
Identifying any HSUS program or policy which was not either directly or indirectly influenced by Amory’s legacy would be difficult.
Who was Ann Landers?
Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer and her identical twin sister Pauline Esther, according to Wikipedia, “were daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants,” who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and attended Morningside College there together in 1936-1939, writing a gossip column for the college newspaper.
Chicago nurse Ruth Crowley wrote an advice column as “Ann Landers” for the Chicago Sun in 1943-1948 as a sideline to another column she wrote on baby care. After a three-year break, 1948-1951, Crowley put the column into syndication in 1951. It became an immediate hit, but Crowley died at age 48 in 1955.
Having majored in journalism and psychology, Eppie Lederer won a contest to become the new “Ann Landers” by incorporating the advice of outside experts in her responses to readers’ questions. The staff of the Humane Society of the U.S. were soon among the experts Lederer most often consulted––and were consulted too by her twin sister, who soon started a successful rival column, “Dear Abby.”
Most of the animal-related problems Eppie Lederer and her sister dealt with were mundane matters involving pet care, including whether dogs should sleep on beds with humans, how to handle chronic barking, when to euthanize ailing pets, and defecation issues. Most of the Lederer sisters’ animal-related advice reflected the conventional wisdom of their time.
But both Lederers promoted dog and cat sterilization long before even most humane societies did, and were well ahead of their time in recognizing the corrosive effects of rationalizing cruelty to animals on human behavior toward fellow humans.
Both wore fur, though less often later in life, but reassured readers that properly balanced vegetarian diets are healthy, including for children. Eppie Lederer’s most popular column ever was a meat loaf recipe, which she invited readers to test on their dogs. Both sisters just barely tolerated sport hunting, acceding to public opinion with evident distaste for the whole idea.
Stopping the “Bunny Bop”
In 1967 Eppie Lederer joined Cleveland Amory in amplifying a national information campaign against the “Bunny Bop” in Harmony, North Carolina, which had outraged Amory from inception, and which American Humane Association president Rutherford T. Phillips had tried to have banned in 1960.
Responding to Phillips that they would not be dissuaded by outsiders and “do-gooders,” the “Bunny Bop” organizers instead just banned the use of firearms, restricting participants to using stones, clubs, and dogs.
Enrollment soared. The “Bunny Bop” became much bigger and much more violent than ever before.
Amory put his Today show career on the line with a 1961 segment about the “Bunny Bop,” in which Amory “proposed, on air and during viewers’ breakfast hour, the formation of a hunt club where human hunters would be tracked down and killed for sport, arguing that killing hunters in cold blood would be humane and kind due to their overpopulation,” Wikipedia summarizes. “Viewer response was overwhelmingly negative and Amory was quickly reprimanded by NBC President Julian Goodman,” who fired him over “Science is needlessly cruel to animals” two years later.
Lederer added her voice to the campaign with a March 13, 1967 column opening, “Have you ever heard of ‘Bop the Bunny’?”
Explained a probably fictitious letter writer identified as “Charleston, S.C.,” “Some local people decided there should be more ‘togetherness’ between fathers and sons, so they organized a hunt game. Since most of the boys were too young for guns (under 10 years of age) the hunters decided to use rocks and sticks as weapons. The idea of the game is to make a human chain across the field and let the dogs loose to flush out the rabbits. As the rabbits run out of the brush to escape the dogs, the fathers and sons hit the defenseless creatures with sticks and rocks. My first reaction was ‘Those poor rabbits!’, but then I began to think ‘Those poor children!’ What a tragedy to be brought up to believe it is fun to beat helpless animals to death.”
Eppie Lederer in her Ann Landers persona then gave a brief history of the efforts to stop the “Bunny Bop,” conceded that “rabbits can pose a threat to a rural economy just as rats can be a problem to urban society,” advised that “When this occurs, the rabbits should be exterminated in a humane manner,” and concluded that “To make a game of beating rabbits to death and to call it ‘fun’ is indefensible.”
The 200 members of the American Legion post in Harmony voted to carry on regardless, but noting how Lederer had succeeded by emphasizing the potential harm to children as well as the cruelty to rabbits, Amory and other humane opponents changed tactics. Instead of engaging in confrontational campaigning, they let a few sympathetic lawyers attack the “Bunny Bop” as a liability risk.
Against the threat of losing the community insurance policy because of the obvious dangers presented by flying stones to the children who participated, the organizers banned the use of stones.
That apparently made the killing too difficult to attract most of the sadists, and all but eliminated participation by children.
Only 20 hunters enrolled for the “Bunny Bop” in April 1967, killing just nine rabbits.
Financial losses quietly ended the “Bunny Bop” a few months later.
Belatedly aware of the bad image that the “Bunny Bop” had created, Harmony civic leaders in 1975 wrote to national media (including Lederer as “Ann Landers”) to emphasize that it was history.
Ironically, Eppie Lederer as “Ann Landers” may be most remembered by animal advocates for her mid-1980s-to-mid-1990s columns in defense of animal experimentation, which at one point caused demonstrators to surround the Chicago Sun-Times building.
But Lederer’s position, which included pointing out the limitations of the non-animal research methods as they existed at the time, was substantially identical to the positions then offered by the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American SPCA.
Eppie Lederer was dismissive of latter-day eugenicists who “suggested that animal experimentation be halted and prisoners, the elderly and mentally retarded be used instead.”
She also vehemently denounced raids on laboratories by entities calling themselves the “Animal Liberation Front” and tactics meant to intimidate researches.
But she supported stricter legislation to ensure good care of animals in laboratories, and the development of humane alternatives to animal use in product safety testing.
On one topic, pit bulls, Eppie Lederer reinforced the then-position of every major national humane association that they are inappropriate choices as pets. She pointed out the inordinately high numbers of deaths and disfigurements resulting from pit bull attacks at least five times between 1987 and her death in 2002.
Only five years after Eppie Lederer died, at age 84, did HSUS reverse course and begin promoting pit bull adoptions and opposing breed-specific legislation.
(See Pit bulls, Ann Landers, & Dr. Laura, by Barbara Kay.)