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.