The youthful years of Cleveland Amory (1917–1998) were charmed. Born into a good Bostonian family (“a good family is one that used to be better,” he wrote in his first book), he took a familiar route through Milton Academy and Harvard (’39, president of The Crimson). Then he became the youngest editor at the starchy Saturday Evening Post, thanks in part to a letter of recommendation from Katharine Hepburn’s mother, a family friend. At twenty-nine, he wrote his first book, The Proper Bostonians, a witty look at the Brahmin culture that John P. Marquand had fictionalized in The Late George Apley. It sold well, as did two more books on the upper crust. So far, so good—but then things stopped going so well, for a specific reason. Although he found work as a columnist at Saturday Review and TV Guide (hence “media curmudgeon”), Amory soon made it clear that what lay closest to his heart was his revulsion, born of a childhood reading of Black Beauty, at the ill-treatment of animals, domestic and wild. Before too many years had passed, Amory the social historian and critic-at-large gave way to the animal-rights advocate. In this guise he was outstandingly visible, not only because he could state his case with verve, but because he could call on a wide circle of celebrity acquaintances for support. His outspokenness made him less than universally beloved—the Today program fired him for ridiculing a Southern rabbit slaughter—and he finally came to be regarded as something of a monomaniac. Amory founded the Fund for Animals, took part in daring animal-rescue missions, and founded a ranch in east Texas for refugee animals. His last three books were memoirs revolving around a stray cat that Amory had adopted—or vice-versa. Marilyn Greenwald, who earlier wrote an acute biography of the New York Times society reporter and editor Charlotte Curtis, seems a little baffled as to what to make of her subject’s long and twisting road. Her solution, in the end, is to ignore his literary and journalistic career in favor of his life as a friend of animals.

 

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James Boylan is CJR’s founding editor.