Cleveland Amory (1917–1998) was an author, humorist, social critic, and leading animal advocate renowned for his three best-selling books based on his cherished white cat, Polar Bear. He followed his 1987 work, The Cat Who Came for Christmas with The Cat and the Curmudgeon, and The Best Cat Ever. Amory also founded the animal-rights group Fund for Animals. "If animals had a say in who should speak for them, someone like Cleveland Amory might well be a popular choice. Especially among cats," the British newspaper Economist wrote in 1998, after Amory died of an abdominal aneurysm at 81.
Raised as a Bost on Brahmin
Amory was born on September 2, 1917, in Nahant, Massachusetts, along Boston's North Shore. Family and friends called him Clippie or Clip. Amory enjoyed playing chess, which he considered social, not competitive. His father was a textile manufacturer descended from generations of wealthy merchants. His parents, Robert and Leonore Cobb Amory, were connected with Boston Brahmin high society. "His affluent and well-connected upbringing left him with a self-assured demeanor and independent spirit," Joe Monzigo wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Amory attended Milton Academy and Harvard College, and as a senior, was president, or editor, of the Harvard Crimson campus newspaper his senior year. "If you have ever been editor of the Harvard Crimson … there is very little, in afterlife, for you," he once said, according to Monzigo. After graduating in 1939, Amory reported variously for such newspapers as the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire, the Arizona Star in Tucson, and was briefly the managing editor of the Prescott Evening Courier, also in Arizona. He then moved back east to become an editor of the Saturday Evening Post and youngest person to hold that title.
World War II intervened, and Amory served in Army intelligence from 1941 to 1943. For about 15 years after that, he wrote books that satirized upper-class people. Amory over the years decried what he felt was a moral decline in Boston society. "Proper Bostonians never talk about money," he once groused, according to the Economist. His early books included The Proper Bostonians and Home Town in 1947 and 1950, respectively. In the latter, he took aim at the book publishing business. The Last Resorts (1952) examined vacation getaways of the well-to-do, and Who Killed Society? explored the rise and decline of the affluent.
Amory, meanwhile, remained a journalist, giving social commentary on NBC-TV's "Today" show from 1952 to 1963; he was also a critic for TV Guide from 1963 to 1976. His Saturday Review column ran for 20 years, through 1972, and was a senior contributing editor for Parade magazine from 1980 until his death. In addition, he presented a daily radio essay, "Curmudgeon at Large."
Bullfight Triggered Animal Love
Amory's passion for animals had its roots in a bullfight he was assigned to cover in Arizona. He "was so sickened … that when the animal's ears were cut off as a trophy, he picked up a cushion and threw it at the matador," People Weekly wrote. Amory joined many animal-rights groups. "His angle was to always fight against any kind of cruelty," Marian Probst, his assistant for 37 years, told People Weekly. "He was the kind of guy who always swam upstream."
The writer turned animal-rights activist enjoyed his reputation as a curmudgeon, or contrarian. "A commanding presence, tall (six-foot-four), usually rumpled and with hair that looked as though it had been styled with an eggbeater, he explained that Boston was a fertile breeding ground for curmudgeons," Enid Nemy wrote in the New York Times. According to Nemy, he once told the Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, that he became one because "it suddenly dawned on me one day, when I was reading in the paper about a woman wrestler, that being a curmudgeon, that a curmudgeon was the last thing in the world that a man can be that a woman cannot be. Women can be irritating—after all, they are women—but they cannot be curmudgeons."
In 1967, Amory founded the Fund for Animals, a New York-based organization and served as its president without pay. It sought to curb wildlife exploitation and domestic-animal abuse. "He often said that if everyone thought about what it would be like to be in an animal's place, there might be more compassion in the world," Nemy wrote.
The fund had 81,000 members when Amory died in 1998. One of its most publicized actions involved the protest against the clubbing of baby harp seals in the Magdalene Islands, in Canada's Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fund workers converted a trawler to an icebreaker and cut through ice for five days. They painted the seals with a red organic dye when they reached them, rendering their coats worthless while not harming the animals. The clubbing of seals stopped in 1983.
Amory engineered the fund's 1979 purchase of Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, about 90 miles southeast of Dallas. The nearly 1,200-acre ranch harbors abused and unwanted domestic and exotic animals from circuses and zoos. They include, mounted police and racetrack horses, cats, dogs, ostriches, iguanas, and llamas. In addition, the organization, using a Berlin-style airlift, rescued about 575 burros from Grand Canyon National Park officials, who had planned to eliminate them on grounds that they were destroying the flora. Amory even debated the virtues of animals with a Roman Catholic priest, who had insisted that animals had no souls. "I told the good Father that if he and I were going in the future to some wonderful Elysian Field and the animals were not going to go anywhere, that was all the more reason to give them a little better shake in the one life they did have," Amory told the priest, according to Nemy.
Rescue of Cat Spawned Trilogy
Amory rescued a cat on Christmas Eve 1978, and thus began a series of books, based on the relationship with his find, which he named Polar Bear. It began with The Cat Who Came for Christmas, a 1988 work in which he chronicles how he rescued the white stray in New York and preserved it in the face of a strident woman who wanted the feline as a holiday gift for her daughter. The Cat and the Curmudgeon and The Best Cat Ever followed in 1990 and 1993, respectively. The Cat and the Curmudgeon sold 1.5 million copies alone; the sequels were both best-sellers. The Best Cat Ever was published one year after Polar Bear's death. The Economist editorialized: "A book he wrote about a cat called Polar Bear that turned up on his doorstep on Christmas Eve, hungry and bedraggled, wrung the hearts of millions of Americans."
All three expanded on the nuances between owner and cat. "Sternly I told him that he might as well understand now and for once and for all something else. That bachelors have a reputation for being—and I emphasized this strongly—Very Set In Their Ways," Amory wrote in The Cat Who Came for Christmas. "This time the answer, together with the tail rat-tat, came instantly. So, he was replying, with exactly the same emphasis, Are Cats. The conflict was begun—and the issue joined."
In his final chapter of The Cat and the Curmudgeon, Amory cited the bond between him and Polar Bear. "The bald truth is that, frankly, it would take two curmudgeons working together even to begin to cope with all these things. And doing this in tandem has over the years brought us even closer together. I also believe that in these last years I have detected unmistakable signs that in certain ways Polar Bear has made a real effort to emulate me."
He ended The Best Cat Ever with a eulogy to his departed pet: "Certainly in just knowing Polar Bear, let alone being owned by him, I feel I owed him more than I could ever repay, let alone say. To me he was, and always will be, as I said at the beginning of this book, the best cat ever. I called him that, as I also said, in the special moments we had together, and I will always think of him as that."
Critic David Greanville wrote in The Animals' Agenda: "Trying to match his 1987 best-seller The Cat Who Came for Christmas must have surely proven a daunting challenge even for as robust an ego as Amory's…. Well, we needn't have worried. Amory, easily this nation's top raconteur and most underrated social commentator, is also a master of the satirical narrative. But with a twist. And that is that Amory's humor never stoops to meanness or bitterness…. Instead, gentleman that he is, he usually prefers to direct the barbs at himself."
Advocacy Group Widened Scope
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Amory's Fund for Animals took aim at hunters. Using the courts, it halted a special hunting season on wolves in Minnesota and curbed black-bear hunting for one year in California, prompting Amory to say, according to the Los Angeles Times, "This is [a] victory for the 98.5% of Californians who don't hunt and a victory for 100% of the bears." It also convinced Montana officials to prohibit the hunting of bison that meandered outside the confines of Yellowstone National Park. The group also fought against cockfighting, bear wrestling, and other forms of hunting contests. In 1985, Amory was able to convince Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, with whom he attended Harvard, to let him save thousands of goats that military personnel were shooting on the Navy-owned San Clemente Island off San Diego County in California. Celebrities such as actresses Mary Tyler Moore and Angie Dickinson joined Amory in taking on the fur industry. Amory appeared in television commercials that said "real people wear fake fur."
Amory's last book, Ranch of Dreams, about Black Beauty Ranch, was published about nine months before he died. He worked a full day before dying in his sleep of the aneurysm that night. "He liked to step back and cause people to think about what they were doing," animal activist and longtime friend Wayne Pacelle told the Los Angeles Times. "But he did it with humor instead of moral outrage."
The author was buried at Black Beauty, next to Polar Bear, whose tombstone reads: "'Til we meet again." Amory was survived by his sister, Leonore Sawyers; a stepdaughter, Gaea Leinhardt; and a step-granddaughter. "He was a great writer too," Sawyers told People Weekly. "But animals were always his greatest concern." Leinhardt added in the same article: "He had a grumpy, crusty side, but it was a crust easily pierced."
Cleveland Amory's Compleat Cat, Black, Dog & Leventhal (New York, NY), 1995.
Animals' Agenda, December, 1990.
Economist (US), October 24, 1998.
Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1998.
New York Times, October 16, 1998.
People Weekly, November 2, 1998.
Biography Resource Center, Cleveland Amory biography, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (December 16, 2005).
Amory, Cleveland (1917 – 1998) American Activist and Writer
Cleveland Amory (1917 – 1998)
American Activist and writer
Amory is known both for his series of classic social history books and his work with the Fund for Animals . Born in Nahant, Massachusetts, to an old Boston family, Amory attended Harvard University, where he became editor of The Harvard Crimson. This prompted his well-known remark, "If you have been editor of The Harvard Crimson in your senior year at Harvard, there is very little, in after life, for you."
Amory was hired by The Saturday Evening Post after graduation, becoming the youngest editor ever to join that publication. He worked as an intelligence officer in the United States Army during World War II, and in the years after the war, wrote a trilogy of social commentary books, now considered to be classics. The Proper Bostonians was published to critical acclaim in 1947, followed by The Last Resorts (1948), and Who Killed Society? (1960), all of which became best sellers.
Beginning in 1952, Amory served for 11 years as social commentator on NBC's "The Today Show." The network fired him after he spoke out against cruelty to animals used in biomedical research. From 1963 to 1976, Amory served as a senior editor and columnist for Saturday Review magazine, while doing a daily radio commentary, entitled "Curmudgeon-at-Large." He was also chief television critic for TV Guide, where his biting attacks on sport hunting angered hunters and generated bitter but unsuccessful campaigns to have him fired.
In 1967, Amory founded The Fund for Animals "to speak for those who can't," and served as its unpaid president. Animal protection became his passion and his life's work, and he was considered one of the most outspoken and provocative advocates of animal welfare. Under his leadership, the Fund became a highly activist and controversial group, engaging in such activities as confronting hunters of whales and seals , and rescuing wild horses, burros, and goats. The Fund, and Amory in particular, are well known for their campaigns against sport hunting and trapping , the fur industry, abusive research on animals, and other activities and industries that engage in or encourage what they consider cruel treatment of animals.
In 1975, Amory published ManKind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife, using humor, sarcasm, and graphic rhetoric to attack hunters, trappers, and other exploiters of wild animals. The book was praised by The New York Times in a rare editorial. His next book, AniMail, (1976) discussed animal issues in a question-and-answer format. In 1987, he wrote The Cat Who Came for Christmas, a book about a stray cat he rescued from the streets of New York, which became a national best seller. This was followed in 1990 by its sequel, also a best seller, The Cat and the Curmudgeon. Amory had been a senior contributing editor of Parade magazine since 1980, where he often profiled famous personalities.
Amory died of an aneurysm at the age of 81 on October 14, 1998. He remained active right up until the end, spending the day in his office at the Fund for Animals and then passing away in his sleep later that evening. Staffers at both the Fund for Animals have vowed that Amory's work will continue, "just the way Cleveland would have wanted it."
[Lewis G. Regenstein ]
Amory, C. The Cat and the Curmudgeon. New York: G. K. Hall, 1991.
——. The Cat Who Came for Christmas. New York: Little Brown, 1987.
Pantridge, M. "The Improper Bostonian." Boston Magazine 83 (June 1991): 68–72.