Making Burros Fly


About the book

About the author

Media coverage



Author chronicles life of anti-cruelty advocate Amory

By Mary Jean Porter
The Pueblo Chieftain

Nov. 16

Brilliant, sarcastic, passionate, energetic, quirky and certainly not publicity-shy - that's the portrait a new book paints of animal advocate Cleveland Amory.

"Making Burros Fly" was written by Pueblo-born Julie Hoffman Marshall, who now lives in Lafayette, and takes its title from Amory's most outrageous animal action: flying hundreds of condemned burros out of the Grand Canyon by helicopter in the early 1980s.

Marshall, 38, who was working on The Boulder Daily Camera's editorial page when Amory's obituary crossed her desk in 1998, says she saw the list of his accomplishments and a lightbulb went on in her brain: "This would make a book."

She checked with Amory's longtime assistant, Marian Probst, and no such book had been written, so Marshall tackled the man whose life is a biographer's dream.

Born in 1917 in Nahant, Mass., into a wealthy family of Boston textile manufacturers, Amory attended the best schools, including Milton Academy and Harvard. A member of the class of 1939, he was editor of the Harvard Crimson and at age 22 became the youngest editor of the Saturday Evening Post. After taking time out to serve in World War II, as a lieutenant in the Army's military intelligence division, he wrote three social histories about the subject he knew best, the Boston "aristocracy." The first, "The Proper Bostonians," was published in 1947 and remained in print - and yielded royalties - for the rest of his life.

Although he had always loved animals, Amory's passion and life's work crystallized at a bullfight in 1945 in Nogales, Mexico, where he'd gone to cover a story for the Arizona Daily Star, Marshall writes. That day, Amory learned that bullfighting had been grossly romanticized and was, in fact, cruel and "about as honest as All Star Wrestling." After the matador cut the ears off the just-killed bull and held them above his head, Amory showed his outrage and disgust by leaving the stands, marching into the ring and whacking the matador over the head with a heavy, rain-soaked cushion.

"The bullfight changed his life; it lit a spark of compassion and became the turning point for a whole new career," Marshall writes.

He didn't go back to the newspaper; instead, he began writing about animals and their welfare. He would continue to do so in his columns for Saturday Review, and he'd talk about them on his radio and television broadcasts. Amory was a TV Guide critic, contributing editor for Parade magazine and a commentator for NBC's "Today Show." And though he could have relied on his wealth and connections - he had sailed with Princess Grace of Monaco and dined with the likes of Henry Fonda and Cary Grant - he chose, instead, to embrace animal-rights causes, including vivisection or the use of animals for medical or surgical research and experimentation.

In a telephone interview, Marshall said that Amory came onto the scene at a time when lots of barriers had to be broken between the media and an ignorant public on one side and physicians and researchers who didn't want their use of animals challenged on the other. And he seemed to have the perfect attributes for the task: his celebrity status, razor-sharp wit, tireless energy and personal financial resources. His great sense of humor kept him from crossing the line between efficacy and extremism.

"He always thought some people in the animal rights movement take themselves too seriously," Marshall said. "His sense of humor was huge; he used it a lot in his debates with people who were cruel to animals.

"He was so incredibly brilliant. He was probably pretty savvy in how he came across to the public. First and foremost, he was so pure in his passion for life - it was always about helping animals. He never took a dime, he didn't have a salary for The Fund (for Animals, which he started in 1967 with $900 of his own money) - he just lived on royalties from his books."

In her book, Marshall says Amory stood 6 foot 4, weighed 260 pounds, "looked as if he styled his hair with an eggbeater, wore rumpled clothes and a battered sports jacket and usually had food stains on his tie."

Although he and The Fund for Animals helped get animal-protection laws passed, freed animals from cruelty in labs, stopped the notorious "Bunny Bop," and spray-painted baby harp seals to prevent them from being slaughtered, the Grand Canyon burro rescue was his most famous animal adventure, Marshall said.

"It was the first time wildlife was ever airlifted. It was a dramatic situation. The government was being so awful in not telling the public about it and in not considering the cruelty of it. Because of Cleveland, the park biologist said, they do things differently today. They have to do a more thorough job of alerting the public and being more humane."

The National Park Service wanted to shoot the burros in the canyon because they were an "exotic" species, even though they'd lived there for more than a century after being introduced by gold miners. Amory and The Fund for Animals proposed, instead, to airlift the burros out, one by one. It seemed ludicrous, but celebrities such as Princess Grace, Angie Dickinson, Steve Allen, Burgess Meredith and Mary Tyler Moore got behind the cause and the Park Service eventually relented. Amory and his organization had 60 days to prove it could be done. They did.

Some of the 575 burros rescued from the canyon still live at Black Beauty Ranch in northeastern Texas, which the fund purchased as a sanctuary for the burros and other animals.

Marshall said that she was inspired by Amory's life and hopes her book will inspire other animal lovers.

"In Colorado, it's not easy to speak out for animals. There's still a Western mentality of animals are there for our use, though I think it is changing. Some people who do speak out get labeled as 'oddballs' or worse. I'm hoping that to hear about someone who was so fearless will let other people know they can speak out.

"As Amory said, 'How we treat animals is how we choose to define our own humanity.' "

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