Call Me Stormy

Finding righteous currents in turbulent times

Before There Was PETA

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was founded in 1980 in Virginia, but not too surprisingly, the radical animal rights movement first became a fad in California. Perhaps none of the activists to the cause was more eccentric than Lewis Beach Marvin III, wealthy heir to the S & H Green Stamp fortune, as his late father had served as the chairman of Sperry & Hutchinson Co. In the 1960s, Marvin established a 60-acre compound near Topanga Canyon above Malibu, where, emulating Noah, he gathered together and sheltered scores of animals of many different species, allowing them to roam freely. At his mountaintop retreat, he also built the Moonfire Temple, site of orgies, Acid Tests and pagan rituals involving countercultural figures ranging from The Doors to members of the Charles Manson Family.

What specifically did Marvin believe? We can get a sense of his hardcore dogma from this 1966 clip when he appeared in “the beef box” on The Joe Pyne Show to assail the slaughter of any animal for any purpose whatsoever.

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Notice the distinctive skull and crossbones hat he’s wearing? He let Jim Morrison wear the same hat on the night of March 1, 1969 when The Doors performed in concert at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida — the infamous concert in which a highly intoxicated Morrison fondled himself on stage, leading to his arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious behavior in public after allegedly exposing his genitals.  Did Morrison really whip it out? No known photographs prove that, but stills show the singer arriving on stage carrying a lamb — one of the creatures from Marvin’s menagerie. Watch this compilation (extreme language alert)  to get a sense of what transpired that night.

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The Doors had hooked up with Marvin in 1966 when they agreed to perform a benefit concert at Will Rogers State Park in California to raise money for Marvin’s campaign to ban weapons-related toys during the height of the Vietnam War. Marvin continued to press his activism, helping to establish the Animal Freedom Fighters in Venice, California, and addressing the throngs at Woodstock with an anti-meat message, again carrying a lamb on stage, and telling the masses, “The killing of animals causes the killing of men.” He died in 2005 at a monkey refuge in Panama.

Why bring up Marvin now? For starters, he plays a prominent role in Mondo Hollywood, today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, containing two extended interludes devoted to him. In the first segment, starting at 12:34, we meet the multi-millionaire shacking up with his pet monkey, Mr. President, in a rented garage for $10 a month while he builds the Moonfire Temple, having already dropped a bundle on acquiring his mountaintop. He resurfaces much later in the film, at 1:08:47, cavorting in the temple as he delivers a sermon that evolves into a full-blown rant: “The universalist, the pacifist, the vegetarian and the compassionate are smothered, are overwhelmed and driven to the place of death. Each of us must become a Christ. Each of us must die before we would take the life of another.”

Exploring Marvin’s life and his connection with The Doors brought to mind all of the recent celebrities going nude to publicize PETA’s militant broadsides against its latest targets. These celebrities actually aren’t as daring or shocking as they might think. In retrospect, they are simply upholding a tradition that’s now a half-century old, with roots tied to a pagan temple in California and a quixotic, early animal rights activist. Kinda figures.

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2 thoughts on “Before There Was PETA

  1. East End Guy on said:

    My friend, my brother, and I spent a summer with Lewie B. Marvin III around 1972 in Hampton Bays, NY working on the 75 ft. Moonfire boat which had sunk at the dock in Southampton. His 20 year old girlfriend Dennie was there also. The boat was originally named Aphrodite, and has been completely rebuilt at the Brooklin Boat Yard

    Lewie was a rip. His girlfriend kept us all interested. We were 14, she was 20 at the time. We cleaned up the boat all summer, lugging the giant batteries out, and lowering the new ones in. It leaked through the decks, but once the bilge pumps were back in order, it could stay afloat. At summer’s end, we finally got to go on a cruise. Lewie cleaned his Cadillac interior with a high pressure hose from the boatyard, and did other bizarre things. I still have his buttons somewhere that say “Cows Kill More People Than War” and “Don’t Embalm Me, Don’t Cremate Me, Just Bury Me”. One day we saw Lewie and Dennie on the news. They had gone into NY with a live chicken to a public event to get some media coverage for his animal cause. Moonfire later sat at the dock at Jackson’s Marina for many years after Lewie left town.

    We had fun that summer. That’s for sure!

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