Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Tribute to Cloris Leachman For Speaking Out Against Animal Abuse

I love Cloris Leachman, and among my friends in the blogosphere, I know I am not alone.

It might be easy to dismiss the 85-year-old  Leachman as a comic self-parody, one of a number of aging performers who have re-invented themselves as adorable, slapstick jokesters.  A contemporary of Betty White, some may even write Leachman off as a pale imitation.

This would be unfair to both performers, who have had long careers as funny women.  Leachman's appearances for Mel Brooks (especialy Frau Blucher---n-e-e-e-e-i-i-i-gh-gh-gh!) and her recurring role as Phyllis on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"  have endeared her to millions over the decades. 

Leachman, however, will always have my respect, love, and gratitude, for creating one unforgettable screen character in particular.. 

Anyone who has seen "The Last Picture Show" will never forget Leachman's portrayal of Ruth Popper, the desperately lonely wife of a Texas high-school coach in 1951. During her agonizing final scene with Timothy Bottoms, audiences watched stunned, sympathetic and taken aback by the explosive power her character unleashed on the boy who stirred her long-buried passions, and then betrayed her; and felt her her self-resignation, and healing forgiveness, at the final dissolve.

Leachman elevates the film to even higher realms of art in these moments.  Even if she had not received a well-deserved Oscar for it in 1971, this performance would be burned into my memory.

And now, I love and respect Leachman even more for her recent piece in The Huffington Post (Don't Cover Up Animal Cruelty, April 27) in which she speaks out against a heinous law being considered in Iowa, which actually just passed in the Iowa House.  The law basically forbids anyone from photographing farm animals without permission from the owner.

Legislators have introduced this bill to protect factory farms from being exposed as hell-holes for innocent cows, pigs, and chickens raied for food.  Organizations like PETA and Mercy for Animals have effected successful prosecutions of dairy and other farmers for heinous treatment, based on the evidence of undercover videos taken on these farms.

It is a sorry day when lawmakers spend valuable time providing statutory protections for animal cruelty.

Leachman tells us what the consequences of the bill would mean to crusaders who act out of sympathy for these suffering creatures:

If HF 589 becomes law, whistle-blowers who try to expose cruelty to animals in the meat, dairy or egg industries could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, face criminal prosecution and be ordered to pay heavy fines or even serve jail time. That's a harsher punishment than the actual perpetrators of animal abuse receive, in many cases.
Stories like this one from Iowa send me toward the edge of despair.  What helps bring me back for a while are the actions of those like Cloris Leachman who use their celebrity and good-will to champion for the unfortunate, those without a voice, the animals among us who live for our sake, and don't deserve a miserable existence.

And so I thank you, Cloris Leachman.  I would not presume that she would want to read my words here....but if any of you happen to know her, feel free to forward this tribute to her.

And, for those of you who may only know of Cloris from her appearance on "Dancing With the Stars", I am embedding the famous scene from "The Last Picture Show". So if you have not seen the film, this could be a spoiler...and I would urge you to find it, and give it a look.


  1. It embarrasses me to say it's so LONG since I've seen this but I remember too things, if somewhat vaguely. One, I think I was more impressed with Burstyn though the entire cast is excellent and I remember thinking that Leachman reminded me a bit of Toni Collette.

  2. What a great tribute to a fabulous actress, Tom. Her performance in Last Picture Show is stunning, and it's also great to learn that so is a fabulously kind human being.

  3. Great article Tom.

    That's an appalling law being put through in Iowa that seems to exist, as you say, purely to protect big business.

    Do we know what their justification for it was? I'm guessing they didn't just admit to being bullied by the agriculture industry.