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Earl Holliman
Actors & Others’ Head Honcho Has A Huge Heart for Animals

By Nora Fraser

Earl Holliman, star of stage, screen, and animal fund-raisers has been president of Actors and Others for Animals for over 25 years. When the organization first began in the early seventies, their annual fund-raiser was a big Fair held at the old Colombia Ranch in Burbank. The fair was not only for a great cause (spaying and neutering), it was also a wonderful family outing with a chance to mingle with celebrities and buy their paraphernalia. My sister and I would comb the fairgrounds looking for stars.  Yes, we loved animals and wanted to help them but damn, there’s Earl Holliman!!

Hooking up with Holliman for this interview proved slightly more difficult than stalking him at the fair.  His schedule, busy with this year’s Actors and Others Celebrity Fashion Show and Luncheon on November 16th, precluded us from getting together for a while.   It was worth the wait.

Holliman signed on with Actors and Others for Animals when his veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Freedman invited him to the fair to sign autographs.  He did so and agreed to head up the organization shortly after that. Waffling is evidently not Earl’s thing.

The next year Holliman started Police Woman, a network series in which he costarred with Angie Dickinson from 1974 - 1978.  “That gave me a lot of visibility,” said Earl, “which was very helpful, since it IS called Actors & Others.”

Holliman has costarred in the classic films Bridges at Toko Ri, The Rainmaker, Forbidden Planet, Giant, and Summer and Smoke, to name a few.  He played Katharine Hepburn’s brother, Anthony Quinn’s son, and he was brother to John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder. He doesn’t seem to take much of it seriously.

“When you look at it,” Holliman muses, “and think of John Wayne who was 65 or so at the time, and Dean Martin and me and Michael Anderson Jr. looked about 16, all playing brothers, you said to yourself, ‘What kind of woman was this Katie Elder?”

Holliman is definitely more impressed with certain costars that have bitten him and thumped him on the head.  Like the dog in the western series, Hotel Du Paree, whose job he saved.  “The edict came down that the dog was too cute.  I said, if the dog goes I go.”

The actor was also fond of the gorilla named Tuck he got to know while shooting a documentary with Dian Fossey in Rwanda.   During filming, the gorilla thumped him on the back and later on the head when he blocked her view of herself in the camera lens. Holliman is positively jubilant when describing the episode.  “When she went by she took her knuckles and gave me a big thump right on top of the head! It was like ‘so there, too!’  They were so humanistic, I fell in love with them.”

When asked what made him devote the last 27 years of his life to animal welfare, Earl explained, “I was adopted when I was a week old… and fortunate enough to be raised by people who loved animals and taught me to love animals. As a kid I had everything.  I always had dogs and cats.  And I had a goat named Napoleon.  And a pig named Alexander.” 

He also had chickens for pets. “I raised a little baby named ‘Bill’ which was a nest egg, but he wandered off and the town sheriff caught him and ate him.”

Since childhood, Holliman’s interesting array of pets has ranged from the unfortunate edible ‘Bill’ to ‘Poacher,’ a dog caught in a trap outside Dian Fossey’s Gorilla Camp in Rwanda. The dog was rescued and rehabilitated by Fossey herself.  It seems that Poacher took to chasing the local antelope, which did not go over well in the camp, so Earl took the playful pup from Africa to Studio City where she lived with him for her last 7 years.  Fossey wrote about the dog and Holliman in her book, Gorillas in the Mist.

“There’s a page and a half devoted to Poacher, my dog and my visit there. We spent 10 days with Dian up on the Karasoake.  It was the most exciting time of my life.”

Earl has always taken his position as president of Actors & Others seriously.  “It’s a volunteer job but it’s always been a hands-on job for me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. When somebody comes up to me and says Actors & Others didn’t help him, I take great umbrage because I feel a responsibility for the character of the organization.  We get anywhere from 100 to 300 calls a day for help in the office and sometimes they expect more than we can do.  We’re really out there for the infirmed, the elderly, the low income, fixed income people.  The homeless.  Aids patients.  For many of these people, the only warm body they curl up next to is a dog or cat.  And often they can’t afford to feed them properly and certainly not pay for vet bills. We even have a food supply for them.”

Actors and Others has been the leading spay and neuter organization in California for many years. “Everybody, including you and me, would like to get everything we can for free,” explains Earl.  “But people who can afford to pay their pet’s expenses don’t realize that if they call up and expect all that money, then we may not be able to help the people who really need it.  If you do call us for financial help, the first question you’ll be asked is what can you afford? We try to help those people in the direst need.”

One particularly annoying example of this was when Earl got a phone call from an actor  “who shall remain nameless but who’s very big in the animal movement. He said he had rescued this dog and I think the vet bill was about $1600.  This is an actor that is very well off and he said he’d gotten Betty White to contribute to half of it and he wanted us to pay the rest.  I asked him, “How much are you paying of this?”  And he said “not a nickel.”  He went back to Betty White and got the rest.  I resent people when they do that.  He could have contributed because this is somebody that makes a big todo about being an animal person and yet the money doesn’t come from there.”

Earl learned early on that “animal people can be a difficult lot. When I first joined Actors and Others, I thought, I’m going to get all these people together.  Let’s get the heads of all the organizations and let’s all work together and form a big group. Well my god, it was like asking the Muslims and the Baptists and the Catholics and the Methodists to work together!  I feel like we’re all trying to get to heaven and we’re all doing it in a different, holier than thou way.”

“Actors & Others discovered that sometimes even the best intentions can lead to untenable situations for the very animals we’re trying to help. We used to take animals and put them in a shelter in Chatsworth.  We had a deal out there.  We were paying a gentleman only $1 a day per animal.  When I joined, we had 70 dogs.  We’d alleviate an emergency - then move on to the next emergency - and the next thing you know these animals had been there a long time.  We stopped doing that because we’re not good at placements. When somebody calls up and says “I have a dog and she has 6 puppies and what do you people do if you won’t (take them)?”... that’s not what we do.  What we excel in is spay and neuter, the hot lines, the information, and the medicals.”  (For more about how A&O helps with large veterinary bills, see the sidebar at the end of this article.)

Over the years, Actors and Others has evolved to fit the needs of the community.  Anyone who has visited a city shelter recently knows that the “dumped dog du jour” is the pit bull.  Mistreated, maligned and over bred by backyard breeders, the shelters are brimming with them. “About three years ago,” says Earl, “we initiated a program where we will spay or neuter any pit bull or mixed pit bull for ANYONE, rich or poor.  No questions asked - we pay for the whole thing. I don’t know the exact numbers we’ve helped, but it’s over 3000.”

Earl even has a pit bull of his own.  “One showed up at my gate.  She’s a mixed pit.  I took her to the vet and he said, ‘Oh, you have a pit.’ And I said she’s mixed with something and he said, ‘Yeah, she’s mixed with another pit.’”

“Her name is Ivy.  She runs like an antelope and sounds like an elephant. She has made dog trails all over my lawn.  She barks at everything that goes by.  Everyone thinks this animal is ferocious. And yet if a dog came in the yard, her little tail would be wagging like hell.  She’s not vicious at all.  She’s very sweet and loves my cats.  My male cat Grizzly adores her and will rub his head against her head.  It’s really terrific to watch.”

So what has Earl learned about people since working for animals?  “I’ve learned that you can always count on animals.  You can’t always depend on people.”

As to what he would like to emphasize about the human-animal connection, he replies, “the importance of spaying and neutering. Too many people think of animals as something disposable - or property.  I wish we could all wake up one morning and realize this is another living creature.  This isn’t my property.  This is something I’m going to take care of. It would also be nice if we could get people to stop eating animals”

On November 16th, Actors and Others will hold it’s All Celebrity Fashion Show and Luncheon at the Universal Hilton and Towers Ballroom.  Tickets are $125 - $300. “This is our major fundraiser,” says Earl. “It was originally set for last April, but after 9/11, as we approached the date, we felt we weren’t really ready for it yet.  Everyone was a little tremulous about what to do because of the economy and the raw emotions we were still feeling. The money raised from this event goes to all of our programs. The more we have, the more our budget can afford to help others.”

The events today are as much fun as they were in the 70’s with a No Host bar and a gigantic Silent Auction at 11:00am, a Gourmet Vegetarian Luncheon at 12:30pm, followed at 1:30pm with an All-Star Celebrity Fashion Show. Mary Tyler Moore is this year’s Honorary Chairperson, and celebrities scheduled to appear include Allison Janney, Mike Burger, Linda Blair, Loni Anderson, Charlotte Ross, Jean Smart, David Leisure, Greg Louganis, Wendie Malick, James Hyde, Dan Butler and Paula Poundstone.

As for himself Earl says, “I’m a lucky guy. I’ve made a great living doing what I’ve always dreamed about doing and what I love doing.”  You can catch many of Earl’s classic films (“the good movies I did”) in the near future on AMC and Turner Network Television.

(Nora Fraser is an Emmy-award winning producer and mother of 3 humans, 2 furballs, one fleabag, and an old gray mare.)

What Kind of Financial Aid Can You Expect When Calling Actors & Others for Animals?

According to Susan Taylor, Executive Director of Actors & Others, “our help can vary from partial to full payment. We also refer the caller to Pet Assistance and Mercy Crusade for help. With our emergency medical subsidy program the course of care needed, and the ability of the pet guardian to provide follow-up care are key elements.” 

“Our medical helpline counselor answers an average of 30 calls per day for financial assistance for veterinary bills.  Because veterinary costs are higher (and going even higher), we also refer callers to United Animal Nations, Animal Guardians, Foundation for Indigent Animals and Ruff. In addition, there is a website, IMOM.org, where a person can fill out an application for assistance and receive an answer within 24 hours.  All of these other organizations help when they have funds -- which vary from month to month.  And except for United Animal Nations and IMOM, only in certain geographic areas.”

Help from all of these other organizations is not always available.  It all depends on whether they have funds that day or month and sometimes they decide on a case by case basis.

United Animal Nations                    (916) 429-2457
Animal Guardian Society                 (310) 652-6469
Foundation for Indigent  Animals      (619) 466-0426
Ruff                                             (949) 458-9663

October, 2002

 

 

 

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