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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > WESTSIDER CLEVELAND AMORY
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Author, radio humorist, and president of the Fund for Animals


It's impossible to mistake the voice if you've heard it once — the tone of mock annoyance, the twangy, almost whiny drawl that rings musically in the ear. It could easily belong to a cartoon character or a top TV pitchman, but it doesn't. It belongs to Cleveland Amory, an affable and rugged individualist who has been a celebrated writer for more than half of his 61 years. Amory is also a highly regarded lecturer and radio essayist: his one-minute humor spot, Curmudgeon at Large, is heard daily from Maine to California. His latest novel, nearing completion, is due to be published next fall.

TV Guide perhaps brought Amory his widest fame. He was the magazine's star columnist from 1963 to 1976, when he gave it up in order to devote his time to other projects, especially the Fund for Animals, a non-profit humane organization that he founded in 1967. He has served as the group's president since the beginning; now it has 150,000 members across the United States. Amory receives no pay for his involvement with the organization.

The national headquarters of the Fund for Animals is a suite of rooms in an apartment building near Carnegie Hall. The central room is lined with bookshelves, and everywhere on the 25-foot walls are pictures and statues of animals. Amory enters the room looking utterly exhausted. He is a tall, powerful-looking man with a shock of greyish brown hair that springs from his head like sparks from an electrode. As we sit back to talk and his two pet cats walk about the office, his energy seems to recharge itself.

Amory's quest to protect animals from needless cruelty began several decades ago when, as a young reporter in Arizona, he wandered across the border into Mexico and witnessed a bullfight. Shocked that people could applaud the death agony of "a fellow creature of this earth," he began to join various humane societies. Today he is probably the best known animal expert in America. His 1974 best-seller, Man Kind? Our Incredible War On Wildlife, was one of only three books in recent years to be the subject of an editorial in the New York Times — the others being Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed.

"A lot of people ask me, 'Why not do something about children, or old people, or minorities?'" he begins, lighting a cigarette and propping one foot on the desk. "My feeling is that there's enough misery out there for anybody to work at whatever he wants to. I think the mark of a civilized person is how you treat what's beneath you. Most people do care about animals. But you have to translate their feelings into action. … We're fighting a lot of things — the clubbing of the baby seals, the killing of dolphins by the tuna fishermen, the poisoning of animals. The leghold trap is illegal in 14 countries of the world, but only in five states in the U.S.

"The reason this fight is so hard is that man has an incredible ability to rationalize his cruelty. When they kill the seals, they say it's a humane way of doing it. But I don't see anything humane about clubbing a baby seal to death while his mother is watching, helpless.

"One of our biggest fights right now is to make the wolf our national mammal. There's only about 400 of them left in the continental United States. The wolf is a very brave animal. It's monogamous, and it has great sensitivity."

One of his chief reasons for dropping his TV Guide column, says Amory, was because "after 15 years of trying to decide whether the Fonz is a threat to Shakespeare, I wanted to write about things that are more important than that." His latest novel, a satirical work that he considers the finest piece of writing he has ever done, "is basically a satire of club life in America. … I sent it down to a typist here, and it came back with a note from the typist saying, 'I love it!' In all my years of writing, I don't think I've ever had a compliment like that. So I sent the note to my editor along with the manuscript."

An expert chess player, he was long ranked number one at Manhattan's Harvard Club until his recent dethronement at the hands of a young woman. "I play Russians whenever I get a chance," he confides. "I always love to beat Russians. I want to beat them all." Once he played against Viktor Korchnoi, the defected Soviet who narrowly lost to world champion Anatoly Karpov this fall.

"I think he threw that final game," says Amory of Korchnoi's loss. "He didn't make a single threatening move. I think he was offered a deal to get the kid and wife out. It was all set up from the beginning. I hate facts, so I don't want any facts to interfere with my thesis."

Born outside of Boston, he showed his writing talent early, becoming the youngest editor ever at the Saturday Evening Post. His first book, The Proper Bostonians, was published in 1947. "Then I moved to New York," he muses, "because whenever I write about a place, I have to leave it." Nineteen years ago, he took on as his assistant a remarkable woman named Marian Probst, who has worked with him ever since. Says Amory: "She knows more about every project I've been involved with than I know myself."

A longtime Westsider, he enjoys dining at the Russian Tea Room (150 W. 57th St.).

There are so many facets to Cleveland Amory's career and character that he defies classification. In large doses, he can be extremely persuasive. In smaller doses, he comes across as a sort of boon companion for everyman, who provides an escape from the woes of modern society through his devastating humor. For example, his off-the-cuff remark about President Carter:

"Here we have a fellow who doesn't know any more than you or I about how to run the country. I'm surprised he did so well in the peanut business."

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