As I was slowly morphing into a full-fledged anti-vivisectionist, Kevin Krasny and I were becoming close friends. He was caring, hardworking and considerate, everything a woman could want in a man. I wished he weren’t so much younger than I and that he and I could have a future together. One time we went to a Rams game with his father and stepmother and it felt very strange. For years, Alan and I had gone to Rams games with Paul, and, now, here I was with Paul’s son, Kevin, who I had met when he was a teenager. I tried to explain to Paul, “This isn’t what it seems...I know it must feel strange me being with...” I hemmed and hawed. Paul just laughed and said, “Go for it! Doesn’t bother me a bit!” Yes, it would have been nice to actually be with someone who wasn’t cruel, didn’t have psychological issues, didn’t do drugs or drink and treated me well, but we both knew he had a lot of living to do before he settled down with anyone and he was just too young for me. He had found a house to rent up in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the whole world and allowed Erika and I to keep living in his house. The only person I had met in my age range as nice as Kevin was Tony Eldridge, and he was always married when I wasn’t and vice versa. Tony finally met someone who became his best friend, fell in love and married her. A part of me wanted to meet and marry my soul mate as Tony had done, but another part of me just wanted to become successful on my own and depend on no one but myself.
It took weeks for Debbie and me to recover from what we had seen in the documentary. Seeing it had been that traumatic. But we both began reading Hans Ruesch’s Slaughter of the Innocent which tells the history of vivisection from its inception and explains why it has no relation to human beings; the book has even more horrific descriptions of vivisection than the documentary. We read the book a few pages at a time and persevered until we made it through. Then Debbie insisted we go to the UCLA medical library and read the protocols of animal experiments; I reluctantly agreed. We were not surprised when we read that after every experiment the vivisectors would write, “Of course these are only experiments on cats (or dogs, mice, rats, goats, etc.), so we have no idea of what the result will be in human beings.” Every single protocol we read had that same disclaimer. Why do them is the logical question? By then Debbie and I knew the answer to that; money.
Alena came back from wherever she had been, which turned out to be Virginia, the Philippines, Arizona, and Del Mar. She didn’t say much about what had happened but I vaguely remember being told she had married a Navy Seal and now it was over. Her agent, Kevin Casselman, was still enthralled with her and vowed again to make her a big star. He just needed Alena to stay in town long enough to make that happen. But she was a free spirit who couldn’t stay in one place for very long.
Paul Krasny was directing a television show that was to shoot in San Francisco, and I was called in to audition. Being as Paul was one of my dearest friends, I was cast and flew up to San Francisco for the shoot. My big scene was opposite veteran character actor, Jack Warden. I thought I was underplaying the part of a grieving widow perfectly when Jack complained to Paul in front of the whole cast and crew, “I’m not getting anything from her!” I was so horrified and hurt by his criticism I immediately threw out the last vestiges of Charles Conrad and upped my grieving several notches.
Debbie and I prepared our three-ring binders with all of our anti-vivisection material and decided to start changing the world at Venice Beach. We assumed that once people understood that vivisection is a fraud we could end vivisection in five years. We didn’t understand why animal rights groups were not jumping on the bandwagon with Last Chance for Animals and a few other organizations attacking vivisection with the scientific argument and instead kept fighting a losing battle talking to the public only about cruelty, morality and philosophy. After writing and calling the large, well-funded animal groups and encouraging them to change their hopeless tactics that had failed for over a hundred years, and getting stone-walled, we gave up on them and decided to do what needed to be done ourselves.
We set up a table on Venice Beach with our sign ANIMAL RESEARCH SCIENTIFIC FRAUD hung up in the front of the table, started handing out our leaflets and waited for people to thank us for educating them. We didn’t have to wait long for reactions; “You stupid b---ches, how do think they’ll find cures?!” “I hope your mother gets cancer and dies!” “People are more important than animals!” “You’re both full of crap!” and so it went. We actually heard much worse. Every once in awhile, someone would glance at our handouts and ask questions and seem interested in what we had to say, but that was very unusual. Debbie had no fear of taking on the worst verbal offenders; some guy could yell at her, “Your mother is scum for ever letting you be born you piece of sh-t!” and Debbie would smile and follow him and respond, “Okay, why don’t we talk about that? You don’t have to leave. Let’s have a friendly conversation here. You could learn something helpful.” And somehow, she managed to convince some of those maniacs to talk to her. As for me? If they came at me with foul language and insulted my heritage I told them where they could shove their two-digit IQ that they undoubtedly inherited from their idiot parents who were probably first cousins, or words to that effect. How we managed not to come to blows, ever, was a miracle.
Eventually I calmed down and learned to take the abuse almost as well as Debbie, and we became better at talking to people and convincing them we cared about people as well as animals and hurting one was not going to help the other. This was in the 1980s and the scientific argument against vivisection was new. We had to take the brunt of the attacks from both the public and animal groups who wanted nothing to do with standing up to the scientific community using science, preferring instead to fight vivisection with guilt, philosopher’s quotes and animal rights arguments. Unfortunately, animals do not have the rights of humans; they can’t go to court, they can’t sue those that do them harm, and how many times have you seen yellow police tape surrounding the body of a raccoon who has been hit and killed by a car? Animals only have the rights that people like us demand that they have, and those rights usually involve animals in entertainment or animal testing of cosmetics or household products, but if it comes to a choice between letting beloved Fifi the poodle go to a vivisection lab or letting Aunt Martha die of cancer, nine times out of ten, Fifi’s owner will say, “Well if experimenting on Fifi means Aunt Martha will live, then go ahead and take my precious Fifi.” It is our job as anti-vivisectionists to make it clear that cutting up Fifi will not save Aunt Martha.
After a short time, Debbie and I were forced to admit that changing the world might take a little longer than a couple of years, but we both knew that however long it took, we would stay the course. Educating people was the key to making them demand changes. Besides taking abuse at tables at Venice and outside the zoo, we went to protests and now knew that we were capable of being interviewed by the press, even though we rarely had the chance to talk to them. But we did our part, yelling and chanting outside vivisection labs at UCLA, USC, Loma Linda and other places. We came to know Sandra Bell, who was the attractive lady who had been one of the leaders of the demo at USC. She was co-director of another group and I envied her knowledge and ability to debate vivisectors. Vivisectors were perfectly willing to debate animal rights people regarding cruelty (humans are more important than animals) but were increasingly wary of debating anti-vivisectionist who would say, “The moral issue is self-evident. Let’s talk about science.” For them, that debate was lost before they began. Vivisectors know better than anyone that what they do is useless.
In the midst of my new-found passion and anti-vivisection activity, I still ached from the bottom of my soul to work as an actress, and fought depression every day, afraid that would never happen again and that I would end up a miserable failure. At Hollywood Presbyterian Church, there was a small group of professional actors, all members of one or more of the acting unions, who met once a week in the missions building and practiced cold readings, shared “praise reports” on good things happening for them in the business, and supported and prayed for each other. I decided that this was a group I would love to join. David Schall was the founder and leader of The Actors Co-op. He was a kind, jovial white-haired man who welcomed me and made me feel like I had found a real home with other actors. He had visions of us founding a theater on the church campus and producing plays and musicals that would be recognized in Hollywood as worthwhile of recognition and reviewed in the trades. We all dreamed of the day that would happen, while David made plans to bring it to reality.
While I was concentrating on Erika, work and acting, Debbie and Sandra had become close friends and decided to form a new group to make sure that dedicated activists would have an organization that not only would continue the work of Hans Ruesch and keep fighting vivisection on scientific grounds, but would connect the dots between vivisection, our failing health and the destruction of the environment. They didn’t have a name for the organization so I spent a few hours with my legal pad and came up with the name People for Reason in Science and Medicine.
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