Cleveland Amory and the Dawn of Pop Culture

There was Andy Warhol. And there was Marshall McLuhan. But, also leading the way at the dawn of contemporary pop culture, there was Cleveland Amory. This post is going to be personal. It’s going to be one that I highlight and refer back to and I hope might inspire you. Amory’s was a remarkable life. He was gifted with something any blogger would appreciate: a way with words. He was such a keen observer of his times and what lay ahead. When I was describing my blog to a friend awhile ago, I mentioned Amory. It made sense in that instance although I’m not sure my friend caught the significance. It felt like an epiphany to me: I hadn’t thought of Amory in years, and now, it was clear that I should look back to what I knew about him and learn more. I think, as I recall, my friend nodded, as we continued our conversation. For all I know, he had just nodded, did not actually know who Cleveland Amory was! And there lies the purpose of this post. I want you to know, or rediscover, Cleveland Amory and see why he’s such a big deal.

In the beginning,  and that would be at the end of World War II and with the rise of American prosperity, there was pop culture and it was good–but it had a ways to go in defining itself. Cleveland Amory arrived at the party just as it started. Fresh out of college, Harvard no less, Amory wrote his first bestseller, “The Proper Bostonians,” in 1947, which chronicled the world of old families and their old money. Amory was describing a world that held to the highest esteem those that fit into what was then known to be “high society.” Amory, an honest social observer, was not hesitant about questioning the importance or relevance of the “blue bloods.” He was one of them. He was also quick to note their decline and the emergence of a new order, celebrity culture. And with each new bit of insight, Amory took it all with a grain of salt. He was not enamoured by any of it. He was amused by it which makes him such a healthy role model for those who keep up with and write about pop culture. The man had his priorities straight. In the end, what he really found compelling was the rights of animals. He founded The Fund For Animals, which would go on to merge with The Humane Society. Instead of only focusing on social commentary, he was able to parlay his formidable connections and skills to help animals in a variety of ways from harm by hunters, questionable practices in laboratories, exploitation and slaughter.

A book that opened my eyes to the multi-faceted Mr. Amory is the impressive biography written by Marilyn Greenwald, Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader. That book has gotten me to thinking about spreading the word about Cleveland Amory. The comic strip below is a taste of what I’m working on. Here is a moment of truth for Amory. He is enjoying one of his peaks of popularity as a regular commentator on “The Today Show.” He is already on the board of directors of The Humane Society and his animal activism is growing. With his platform to say whatever he wished, with no prior approval needed on his commentary, it was just a matter of time before Mr. Amory rocked the medium he was so much a part of on behalf of animals…

Suffice it to say, there are no more annual “Bunny Bops.” It was also the end of Amory’s free rein at “The Today Show.” His scripts would be tightly supervised from then on. His days at NBC were no longer so golden. But that’s when a new door opened at “TV Guide.” My interest in Cleveland Amory goes back to childhood when I read his reviews in “TV Guide” towards the end of his time there as chief critic. I’m just old enough to remember finding him to be a really cool dude in an upper crust sort of way. He was clearly someone of refined sensibilities who had taken upon himself the burden of making sense of the new untested mass medium. He wrote his “TV Guide” columns from the 1960s to 1970s, just as TV was coming into its own. It’s no mistake that “YouTube” takes its logo directly from “TV Guide.” Television and “TV Guide” used to go hand in hand, both leading each other into uncharted waters. Even “Entertainment Weekly,” today’s influential media weekly, can not truly compare with the impact of “TV Guide” in its heyday, with its analysis and support of television. I was just a little kid back then but I was already hip to what “TV Guide” was doing and the one person who most personified the effort to make sense of television was Cleveland Amory. Thankfully, Amory did far more than make sense out of television. He helped us all make more sense of how to live a worthwhile life.

9 Comments

Filed under Cleveland Amory, Commentary, Culture, pop culture

9 responses to “Cleveland Amory and the Dawn of Pop Culture

  1. Sharon E. Scharff

    I’m sorry. I don’t know what a blog is and don’t want to pay for it. Thank you for talking so nicely about Mr. Amory. I met him once at an animal rights meeting in Kansas City, MO. I was a volunteer newspaper clipper for Fund for Animals for 18 months in early 1970s. I don’t know if you believe in spirit communication. He still helps animals. He’s somewhat of a spirit guide now. Apparently, people who love animals and work toward making their lives better take care of the animals lifetime after lifetime and in between lifetimes.

    • Sharon,
      It’s very nice to read your comments. I am totally inspired by Mr. Amory. If you ever feel like sharing more recollections, feel free to e-mail me. The e-mail is comicsgrinder@gmail.com.

      On another note, a basic blog is free. It’s just a nice way to share thoughts and such. It can get more complicated but it can stay simple and free too.

      Mr. Amory does come across as a grand force for good and I too can see him continuing to do good work, as you say.

      Warm regards,
      Henry

  2. Kevin R. Bowdler

    I remember Mr. Amory’s tv show reviews so well in TV Guide when I was growing up. I would wait anxiously for the newest issue to arrive in the mail and I would read his column first. I really wish there were a book that collected all of his TV Guide reviews into one volume. I would definitely buy one!
    Kevin

    • Sharon E. Scharff

      I would love that book, too! I don’t know who to bug to get them to gather and publish it. I didn’t buy TV Guide. If I liked a show I watched it. If I didn’t, I didn’t watch it. I didn’t know who Mr. Amory was then. I only knew who he was by the time I was a housewife reading his column in the Independence Examiner, You learn a lot about a person through their writing, and my favorite people had great humor.

  3. Sharon E. Scharff

    Where is everybody? I can only come to the library to use the Internet briefly once or twice a week. If you want more books from Cleveland Amory material, I think one source of information would be the Boston Public Library, the Cleveland Amory Collection. If you want someone willing and able to compile and publish the info, you need a published author because publishing companies are willing to publish their manuscripts over an unknown author. My suggestions are someone who knew him the best at Fund for Animals, Inc. Then there are his biographers: Julie Hoffman Marshall who wrote Making Burros Fly and Marilyn Greenwald who wrote Cleveland Amory, Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader. Whoever compiles Mr. Amory’s materials for book publication hopefully could make sure some of the money raised would be plowed back into Fund for Animals and its various animal sancuaries.

    Well, what do you think?

    Sharon

  4. Sharon E. Scharff

    It’s me again–Sharon. It looks like the person most likely to compile a book of Mr. Amory’s TV Guide reviews is a man named Steven Thompson. I just came across this info a few minutes ago. See: bookstevchannel.blogspot.com/ . . . /Cleveland Amory on Ellery queen–1975. All you have to do is type in Cleveland Amory. This will be listed on page 4.

  5. Sharon E. Scharff

    It doesn’t look like anyone is paying attention anymore–no feedback!

    • Hi Sharon,
      I’m still here. I appreciate your directing me to Steve Thompson. I like what he’s doing. I enjoyed that his post of Mr. Amory’s review of “Ellery Queen,” especially with its references to comics. Those reviews packed a lot of info. And I dug deeper on his site and came up with all sorts of TV shows I’d never heard of but am intigued about like, “The Governor and J.J.”

      I am working on my own book on pop culture, among other projects. If I could do it, I’d love to put together a Best of Cleveland Amory TV Guide Reviews. The place to go, of course, to figure that out would be…TV Guide!

      • Sharon E. Scharff

        Thank you, Henry. I like to hear about new books and love to read about people. When I was in high school, my mother asked me why I always read about dead people, her term for biographies. I remember reading several biographies of Enrico Caruso. Over the years I wondered what happened to his daughter, Gloria. About a month ago I was watching Antique Road Show, and there was Caruso’s grandson! I always wondered what drove famous people to accomplish what they did–write, sing, compose music. Now I’ve enrolled in an on-line writing course through my local community college. I have about 85 credit hours of college, mostly in literature. When I had to retire early from Federal Civil Service, I was an assistant editor at one of the directorates at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. I filled in for the GS-9 editor during her frequent absences to make sure the author officers’ deadlines for their publications were met. As I was turning 50 with 22 years of service (1995), the colonel there told me it was cheaper to get rid of us civilians with over 20 years and replace us with high school kids. I took one of the officer English aptitude tests when I was 30 years old (1979). The colonel at the Combined Arms Research Library came over and told me I passed the test with a higher score than his. I’ll never forget how nice he was to tell me that. Now I’m a cashier at Wal-Mart, and I’ve often been treated like I have no marketable job skills. People treat you differently when you’re in your sixties, even worse than when I was turning 50! So I’ll see if I can write for a little extra income or in case I lose the job I got now.

        Sincerely,

        Sharon

Leave a Reply to Sharon E. Scharff Cancel reply