Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader

Article excerpt

* Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader. Marilyn Greenwald. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2009. 276 pp. $27.95 hbk.

A curmudgeon, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "an avaricious churlish fellow," someone "intentionally boorish or rude in behaviour." Self-identified curmudgeon Cleveland Amory (19171998) parlayed grumpiness and bravado into a journalism career that included serving as The Saturday Evening Post's youngest editor, a television critic for TV Guide, a columnist for the National Review, a cultural critic on the Today show, a radio essayist, and, from 1980 to 1998, a senior editor at Parade magazine.

Marilyn Greenwald's biography contextualizes Amory's journey as journalist, author, and animal activist.

Born into Boston's upper class, Amory wrote from the perspective of insider about the idiosyncrasies of society. Despite writing during times (1950s1980s) in which both journalists and readers believed in and expected objectivity on the part of the media, Amory was never shy about telling people what he thought. Prior to the early 1960s, Amory wrote primarily about American culture. However, in 1963 he witnessed an event so emotionally powerful that exposing it and other morally wrong acts against animals set the trajectory for his life's work for the next forty years: Harmony, North Carolina's "bunny bop."

In 1963, Amory went to Harmony and met the group that sponsored this event in which, in order to combat rabbit overpopulation, townspeople chased and clubbed to death the rabbits they caught. This popular annual event so enraged Amory that he spoke about it on the Today show, bringing national attention to the cruelty (and he was fired by the network for doing so). Amory proposed "Hunt-the-Hunters Hunt Club," in which hunters would similarly be pursued for "sport," which didn't make him popular with hunters or with NBC, but brought national visibility to his causes and to his personality.

By the time of the Today incident, Amory was an internationally recognized reporter, columnist, and cultural critic who used his position to expose human inflicted cruelties on animals. In 1967, Amory, with Marian Probst, founded The Fund for Animals, and used his personal connections with celebrities such as Mary Tyler Moore, Grace Kelly, Dick Cavett, Doris Day, and Jack Paar to bring attention to the plight of animals.

Rather than functioning solely as a tribute to Amory (which the book is) or as a chronology of his journalistic accomplishments (which are many), Greenwald sheds light on the complexities and shadows of Amory's life as well - a failed marriage, the challenges of knowing him (he regularly called people in the middle of the night), his dominating personality and sense of humor that not everyone got. …