Bio

Bill Dyer

A writer’s fight for animals
By Robin Dorman

 

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. Can I believe it? Can I believe it’s true? Rumors fly so I thought I better go and see it for myself. I saw this little girl in tears. I said can you tell me darling what could possibly be so bad. She said all the animals they look so sad. Why do they look sad? Why? But someone told me it’s all so wonderful at the zoo. Can I believe it? Can I believe it’s true? The monkeys stopped their swinging, the giraffes can’t reach the trees, and the chimpanzees have lost their sense of fun. The kangaroos have quit their jumping, hyenas laugh no more, and the pink flamingoes have nowhere to fly. The lions ceased their mighty roar, and the snow leopards they got no snow, the elephants are dreaming, they’re always dreaming of someplace to run.”

(Special lyrics by Bill Dyer, based on Paul Simon’s “At the Zoo.”)

As a writer and lyricist—who was a part of the magic of Broadway’s past—Bill Dyer’s musical and verbal dexterity has made him a natural in the art of political verse with a theatrical gauntlet thrown down, suggesting all the anguish and cruelty animals suffer daily. YouTube is rich with such Bill Dyer videos as his “They Don’t Wanna Be In Show Business,” “Billy,” “Be A Guardian,” and “At the Zoo.” With his overlapping identities as artist-activist, Bill, with his outsized passion for animals, has come to occupy a category of his own.

 

In the pantheon of Los Angeles animal activism, he is legendary. A ubiquitous presence staging protests outside departments stores, pet stores, universities, zoos, circuses—across the vast sweep of the entire benighted system of animal use and abuse, a devastating indictment of a society accustomed to the mistreatment of other species—Bill’s unremitting audacity and commitment to perseverance has thrust him into a very prominent role, a foremost innovator of provocation about our own capacity for empathy. Drawing upon the already rich culture of resistance in animal rights, he was swept into action in the early 1980s by Chris DeRose, of the newly formed Last Chance for Animals, of which Bill was a founding member, whose first project was to help end pound seizure in Los Angeles, the selling of animals from shelters to research laboratories, a momentous victory. At the time, Bill was involved in investigating three Class B animal dealers—USDA-licensed agents allowed to purchase and collect animals from such sources as shelters, pounds, individuals, and sell them to laboratories, institutions, and other dealers for research—who were sent to jail for operating under false premises. “

 

“Chris DeRose pulled away the curtains on the realities of animal abuse and focused my attention on corruption and injustice. He opened my eyes.”

 

When Chris took Bill to his first vegetarian restaurant that only served sun-dried food, Bill asked Chris, “Do we have to give up stoves, too?” But, fortunately, stoves are still necessary and Bill became a vegan because of animals. “Once you become an activist, it is inconceivable to eat them. As Kafka famously said: ‘Now I Can Look At You In Peace; I Don’t Eat You Anymore.’”

 

In 1996, at the electrifying occasion of the second March for Animals, in Washington, D.C., Bill met Dr. Elliot Katz, celebrated founder and then-president of In Defense of Animals, who, in a great capacity of spirit, asked Bill to take his place and speak on the steps of the Capitol, a moment he still cherishes. “Elliot gave a portion of his time over to me, which was very kind, very moving, and I spoke in front of thousands and focused on the young people who were there from all over the world and how much I admired their expression of vegan power, our hope for the future.”

 

Asked to join IDA as Southern California Regional Director, Bill threw himself into the day-to-day trenches of animal activism, taking aim at institutionalized animal cruelty—trying to widen the space for questions of morality and ethics—and became a magnet for other Los Angeles advocates with a responsibility to agitate. There are the battles over fur, including what has become one of IDA’s most symbolic and visible annual rituals of solidarity, Fur Free Friday, which it now leads in many cities across the world. In Los Angeles, Bill marches his protesters down the opulent streets of Rodeo Drive to Wilshire Boulevard, stretching along the sidewalks, stopping in front of Nieman Marcus and Saks, all the stores that dare to still sell fur. There are the fights against puppy mills, animal research, the human consumption of dogs and cats in Korea, Canadian seals, dolphins, zoos and circuses, elephants, guardianship, rodeos, foie gras, bison.

 

“As I’ve said many times, there isn’t an animal on this earth who we’ve not tortured, eaten, experimented upon, worked to death, exploited, used in some way.”

 

 

How often custom and the tyranny of habit impose cruel and stunningly barbaric lives upon other species. Most striking for Bill was the relocation of hundreds of bison and goats from Santa Catalina Island to safe havens on the mainland to prevent their demise as “non-native” species. These moments are his faith, his stations. This past July, he organized a demonstration on the opening night of the Ringling Brothers Circus, with its grim legacy of exploitation, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which turned out to be the largest circus protest in L.A.’s history with over 500 animated activists. At this stage, Bill has the knowing, melancholy, yet determined air of a veteran of many protests, that particular pleasure of being part of a crowd of spirited demonstrators—always optimism in his despair, he is an almost convivial spirit.

Bill was born in San Diego and acted and sang in school and in community theatre. After graduation, he arrived in Hollywood with school chum and roommate, the late Dennis Hopper. While Dennis was doing movies (Rebel Without a Cause and Giant), Bill was singing in local clubs that led to singing jobs in Las Vegas (“Ken Murray’s Blackouts” and “The Orson Welles Show.”)  After Vegas, Bill moved to New York— where he was destined to be. Soon drafted into the US Army, Bill spent his service in Frankfurt, Germany.

After the Army, Bill returned to New York and did singing engagements that landed him on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” twice, which, at that time, operated out of New York. With Los Angeles beckoning, Bill returned to the West Coast and began writing special material, scripts, lyrics, organizing programs, writing routine musical material—“to routine the song, handle musical moments, and suggest songs”—for the television specials and concerts of Diana Ross, Mitzi Gaynor, Melissa Manchester, Ben Vereen, as well as television series and movies of the week. Bill received three Emmy nominations for “The Big Event: An Evening with Diana Ross,” and Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women. He wrote the book and lyrics for the musical, The Fellowship, and produced the Broadway play, The Suicide, featuring the debut of the excellent English actor, Sir Derek Jacobi. as well as Get Happy: The Music of Harold Arlen. He also wrote and produced two musical plays, in Los Angeles and Off-Broadway—The Fellowship and Trolls

There’s No Business Like Show Business. And yet for Bill Dyer, working on behalf of animals illuminated the possibilities for making a difference, the promising crescendo of real change. He’s carved out the freedom to pay attention to animals and to extract meaning in his life from the experience. As Bill says, “Animal rights became my cause and it took over my life.” His stance and way of life is his most important art, his song and lyrics. What’s unendurable is not to act.

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