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Gretchen Wyler, a veteran Broadway actress who enjoyed a second career in films and television and went on to become a leading animal-rights activist, has died. She was 75.
Wyler died Sunday at her home in Camarillo, Calif., of complications from breast cancer, the Humane Society of the United States said.
Wyler’s theatrical career spanned 50 years, including parts on Broadway in the original “Guys and Dolls,” “Silk Stockings,” “Damn Yankees,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Sly Fox” with George C. Scott.
She was a regular on the CBS television series “On Our Own,” spent a season on “Dallas” and made guest appearances on such shows as “Friends,” “Judging Amy” and “Providence.”
Wyler made her film debut with “The Devil’s Brigade” in 1968 as a Lady of Joy and went on to play Goldie Hawn’s aunt in “Private Benjamin.” She toured extensively with her own nightclub act, in concerts and with her one-woman show “Broadway Greats and the Songs That Made Them Famous.”
She appeared in Rick McKay’s 2004 award-winning feature documentary, “Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There,” which ran on PBS.
“The humane movement has lost one of its brightest stars,” Humane Society president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said. “Gretchen Wyler devoted 40 intense years to protecting animals, and the cause gained so much ground during that time because of her extraordinary achievements and advocacy — in the media, in law-making and in raising public consciousness.”
Wyler found her new purpose in the late 1960s after visiting a dog pound near her home in Warwick, N.Y. Appalled by the conditions there, she quit eating meat, gave away her fur coats and opened an animal shelter. Wyler managed the shelter for 10 years and in 1970 became the first woman member of the board of directors of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In 1975, Wyler filed a lawsuit against her fellow board members, charging them with corporate waste and indifference to animal suffering; she then became the first person ever to be dropped from the board.
Wyler shared her later life with such victims as a 20-year-old partially blind, white Appaloosa horse, Kate, rescued one day before she was bound for a Texas slaughterhouse; a 19-year-old Anglo-Arab horse named Zephyr, who needed a good home and who was also saved from auction; four rescued cats; and a poodle mix named Mocha, who was adopted from a shelter when she was 7 years old.
Wyler formed the Ark Trust in 1991 and ran the organization until it joined forces with the Humane Society in 2002.
In 1986 she created the Genesis Awards, which honors members of the media and entertainment industry for shining a spotlight on animal cruelty. This year, the first Gretchen Wyler Award was bestowed on Paul McCartney for a lifetime of activism for animals.
One of Wyler’s last crusades was on behalf of Ruby, the Los Angeles Zoo’s female African elephant. Wyler was an outspoken critic of the zoo’s decision four years ago to move Ruby to Knoxville, Tenn. She was one of the first voices in the city to claim that Ruby’s move was inhumane because female elephants are social creatures in the wild and the move would sever Ruby’s longtime connection with one of the zoo’s other female elephants.
Tony Geiske and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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