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    Animals Rule … or Should!

    By Jan Wahl–

    Before Betty White, Doris Day, PETA, Actors and Others for Animals, American Humane, and many organizations and individuals that try and protect animals on Hollywood sets and off, there were no laws safeguarding our furred and feathered friends.

    I watched a Netflix movie on director Michael Curtiz and his shooting of Casablanca. It is titled Curtiz and I recommend it. But though he is portrayed as a deeply troubled and very creepy guy, they do not mention his treatment of animals. This fine director (Mildred Pierce, King Creole, Adventures of Robin Hood, White Christmas, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Casablanca)—whose visual style included fluid movement, high camera angles mixed with intimate dialogue closeups—could handle any genre from comedy to melodrama.  

    When my colleague Bruce Vilanch reminded me of Curtiz’s treatment of horses on movies like The Charge of the Light Brigade, I immediately remembered David Niven’s second autobiography Bring on the Empty Horses as being a quote from Hungarian Curtiz during the making of that movie. I also recalled some terrible details of that film and others when horses were killed or maimed and never reported to anyone.

    Gratefully, this has changed. Both humans and animals now benefit from unions and regulations, forcing everyone to be responsible, or at least we can hope.

    Enter with a grand flourish Jo Anne Worley. Those of us who were devotees of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, Hollywood Squares, and 1991’s Beauty and the Beast also remember she was the understudy for Carol Channing in Hello Dolly … but, of course, our Carol never missed a performance! I have always been a fan of Jo Anne’s extravagant style and exuberant voice.  My kind of dame. Jo Anne is the President of Actors and Others for Animals. When we chatted the other day, she told me when and how the organization began.

    “Actor Richard Basehart and his wife were on the way to a studio and saw a dog thrown out of a car window,” Jo Anne told me for the San Francisco Bay Times. “The couple rescued the dog. They told others on set what happened and everyone from technicians to craftspeople to actors wanted to give money to help. The dog recovered. So, an idea was formed and in 1971 Doris Day, Betty White, Jackie Joseph, and others formed the organization that today does so much good. We help with vet information, spaying and neutering, so many other services.”

    Then Jo Anne and I dished for at least a half hour, from her favorite Laugh In moments to her fabulous costumes.  

    “During Laugh In, John Wayne was a guest,” she said. “He lifted me down from a ladder as if it was a stagecoach from the olden days of westerns, hands around my waist. Great moment. Bob Hope gave great presents like engraved watches when you worked with him. Aaron Spelling gave cut glass decanters. We were paid scale on Hollywood Squares; they let us pick out some cool stuff.”

    She continued: “I gave my good friend Ruta Lee a yellow, full-length coat from a show. Have you read her terrific autobiography yet? It’s called Consider Your Ass Kissed.”

    In terms of her famously colorful garb, Jo Anne told me, “I have a wardrobe house in my backyard, costumes from Gypsy, Mame, Same Time Next Year, Annie. I often wore my own stuff, especially Rudi Gernreich double-knit pantsuits. I wore a powder blue one on a Tom Jones show.”

    “This loud voice began early,” she said. “I was raised on a farm, so no reason to use an inside voice. I was great at, ‘Here, pig, pig, pig.’ I would make kids and even the mean teacher laugh at our two-room schoolhouse. I learned to trust in the timing. As a lowly freshman I was voted Best Comedienne, but got thrown out of the Glee Club for being too gleeful.” 

    When asked about coming from rural America to LBGTQ cast members like Alan Sues or Lily Tomlin on Laugh In, Jo Anne explained she never thought about this. “Jane, Lily’s longtime partner and now wife, was always around and I thought it romantic. Alan didn’t know how to pull his punches, would land on top of me, and I would be hurt a bit; he was kind of a klutz.  But that just an actor’s thing. No, never thought about it and I never saw anybody care.”

    “The only time anything really made me ferklempt,” she shared, “was when I met my childhood idols Roy and Dale Rogers … and when Rosalind Russell and I were somehow going through a doorway and she told me I was going to be a star. Wow!” 

    I love it when people stay enthusiastic about life and their memories. I also love it when people raise money for important causes.  Go to the Actors and Others for Animals website ( https://www.actorsandothers.com/ ). Or visit www.bettywhitechallenge.com 

    Animals make us better humans. Always.                           

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at www.janwahl.com

    Published on January 27, 2021