Depending on the state of our family finances,” author-curmudgeon-crusader Cleveland Amory recalls of his childhood in Milton, Mass., “the house was either filled with servants or with boarders.” Amory’s father was a prosperous textile manufacturer and the family dwelling was a New England country estate with formal landscaped gardens, separate servants’ quarters—even a private bowling alley. But when the textile business suffered a major setback in 1927, the Amorys were forced to take in paying guests.
Today the servants and boarders have been replaced by students. The place where Amory, now 59, spent his first 18 years has become Curry College, and 500 liberal arts undergraduates live on the grounds. So it was a nostalgic occasion when, 41 years after he left, Amory returned home to give this year’s commencement address and pick up an honorary degree.
“My favorite childhood memory,” says Amory, looking as if he spent the night on tumble-dry, “is plotting with my older brother, Robert, to get our governess, Miss Quince. We’d communicate by Morse code, thinking of ways to trip her up.” Robert eventually became deputy director of the CIA under President Eisenhower.
Amory, whose first name came from his grandmother’s favorite President (the 22nd and 24th one), was educated at Milton Academy and Harvard, where he edited the college newspaper. As a critic of Boston’s Back Bay society (“A good family is one that used to be better”), Amory first gained national recognition with The Proper Bostonians, a 1947 best-seller. This was followed by The Last Resorts and Who Killed Society? “I got so damned fed up,” he exclaims in a nasal Yankee accent. “All those boring snobs who can only talk about what their grandfathers did.”
In 1963 Amory became TV Guide’s resident critic. “Everybody thinks you’re rich just because you’ve got a column like that,” he says, “but it ain’t so.” Once, while visiting the spectacular Palm Springs home of TV Guide’s publisher, multimillionaire Walter Annenberg, a woman glanced around at the Gauguins and Van Goghs, then gasped, “How can you afford all this?” Amory piped up, “By starving his writers.” Annenberg, Amory recalls, “was not amused.”
Amory resigned from TV Guide last year to write a syndicated gossip column—”God, I hate that word gossip!” He also does a daily radio essay and a question-and-answer newspaper feature on animals. Despite his years of writing about society, Amory is best known today as founder of the Fund for Animals, which has a membership of 100,000. His first encounter with cruelty to animals was his own. When he was 10, Amory shot a bird with a BB gun. “My father came out and looked at me in disgust as this little bird flopped around on our porch. He said: ‘You shot it, you kill it.’ I had to stomp on that bird until it was dead.”
Based in Manhattan, Amory now spends half his time spreading the be-kind-to-animals gospel on the road. “I am not a nut or a fanatic,” he insists. He will eat fowl and fish but not meat because “the methods of slaughter are not humane.” The tireless Amory also finds time for chess—he is an expert player—and tennis. He is divorced from his second wife and lives alone.
Recently Amory latched onto yet another cause: Israel. Why is a devout Episcopalian urging a tough pro-Israel stand? “We New Englanders are always for the underdog,” he explains. “During the presidential campaign last summer, I told Jimmy Carter I only wanted to know his stand on two issues: Israel and dolphins. The question, which Carter handled well, may have seemed strange to anybody else. It made perfect sense to me.”