Bob Barker Interview
(Animal Rights Activist)
While most people may recognize Bob Barker’s name from his days of hosting “The Price Is Right”, Bob Barker is also a major force in the Animal Rights Movement.
In November (2011) Bob Barker went to Washington, D.C. to push for fundamental changes in the use of animals in circuses.
We spoke to Bob Barker about that proposed legislation and his television career.
But, first up is the all important and very serious subject of our times – Animal Rights.
Q – Mr. Barker, you were recently in Washington, D.C. for a press conference with PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) and ADI.
A – ADI – Animal Defenders International and PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society).
Q – What fundamental changes are being put forth in the use of animals in circuses and should there really be circuses today that use animals?
A – I can answer the two questions more or less together. First of all I went back there for this press conference to introduce a bill called ‘The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act’. It was submitted by Congressman Jim Moran, a Democrat. We have as a co-sponsor Bill Young, Congressman Bill Young and he’s a Republican. So, we have Bi-partisan support which as you know is rather difficult to get in Washington these days. Both of these congressmen believe they’re going to be able to get their colleagues, in the case of Moran, the Democrat and in the case of Young, the Republican to go along with them and the Bill is called, ‘The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act’. It will amend the Animal Welfare Act to the extent that traveling shows will not be allowed to use exotic animals. The traveling shows are absolutely destructive so far as the exotic animals are concerned. They cannot be healthy or approach being happy in the traveling shows. I am happy to say that 20 countries have already passed legislation of this type and more than half a dozen countries are on the verge of passing it. So, it is obvious that the countries of the world are becoming aware of the fact that the animals suffering has to be ended in traveling shows. It’s time for the United States to join this parade of nations, and that’s what we are working to do with this bill.
Q – Can you name some of the countries that have passed this bill banning exotic animals from traveling circuses?
A – Well, some of them will surprise you. You might expect it of Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, The Czech Republic, Bolivia and Peru in South America, Columbia in South America, Greece, the United Kingdom. Those are some of ‘em.
Q – When would this Bill get passed?
A – Well, they think it’s gonna take some time. Congressman Moran believes that it’s gonna happen. He says he just thinks the world is ready for it. Other countries are doing it and the United States wants to be among one of the progressive countries and do what is best for animals. They suffer terribly.
Q – I know they do.
A – They never know a pleasant day. Just take the elephants in the wild, in their natural habitat will stay with their mothers for years, maybe as much as 10 years. If they’re going to be used in circuses, they are snatched from their mothers virtually at birth, when they’re only a few months old. It’s a terrible psychological experience for the baby and it’s a terrible psychological experience for the mother. Now, this baby is snatched from the mother when it’s hardly on its feet and immediately they begin teaching it these ridiculous tricks that they must do in the circus. Now, how do they do that? They beat them! They have to absolutely torture them in order to get them to do these tricks. They beat them with clubs, fists, blackjacks, ax handles, golf clubs, baseball bats, anything that’s around that they can beat them with. They actually deprive them of food, even water. They shock them with stun guns and other electrical devices. They hook them with bull hooks. It is a terrible experience and unfortunately Gary, it never ends. They learn the tricks but then they must perform day after day after day, week after week after week, for years. The elephants are in chains up to 75% to 80% of the time. The exotic cats, tigers and lions are held in cages that are hardly big enough for them to be in. They’re held there for hours, their lifetime. This is their life. They do this for elephants, say they might live 20, 30, some even 40 years, never knowing a pleasant day. They finally die and the day they die is probably the best day of their lives because they escape this torture. We’re trying to make people aware of this and get the United States to join those other nations of the world and put an end to it.
Q – There’s a traveling carnival that comes to the New York Stated Fair each year called the James E. Strates Shows. There are animal acts associated with that carnival, whether it’s directly affiliated or operated by independent contractors, I don’t know. But, that would have to end if that Bill is passed wouldn’t it?
A – It would. Any traveling circus or any traveling show would be prohibited from using exotic animals – elephants, lions, tigers, chimpanzees, they’d be protected.
Q – Let’s talk about this recent event in Zanesville, Ohio where a guy had exotic animals, and let them all loose, only to have the public kill them. How does a private citizen get an exotic animal into the United States? How does a traveling circus get an exotic animal into the United States?
A – Well, this fella in Ohio is what is called a private collector. Unfortunately there are 25 states in the United States that have no law against that at all. Among the 25 they have very inadequate laws or none at all. Ohio is one of the worst offenders in the United States. The four worst are Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri and Nevada. But, there are 21 other very bad ones. And, these people get these animals one way or the other. In fact, right now PAWS, one of the organizations that is working on this Bill that I just described, is doing a thorough check-up on where he ever got some of the animals he had because they’re very difficult to secure. And, did he buy those from a zoo? Some zoos sell things under-handed, undercover. Did he get it from some fella who brought them into the country without authorities being aware of it? Where did they come from? They’re gonna really check that out. These private collectors are a terrible problem. There’s a lot of animals suffering. These animals were all thin. They were living in their own feces some of them. They were inadequately housed to the extent that there’d been several times they’d gotten loose, different animals had gotten loose and scared the people in the area. It was a tragic thing, but, if it’s brought attention all over the country to this problem, we can hope that laws will be passed and enforced.
Q – When the animals got loose where was PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)? And where was ADI? Why did the police have to go out there and shoot all these exotic animals and kill them?
A – Well, PETA and Animal Defenders International, they could not possibly get there and do something about it. Those animals were released and they were all over the community.
Q – No branch offices?
A – They have small branch offices around the country but, they’re not capable of handling wild animals. That’s not a skill that they’d have in an office in Ohio. PETA probably has animal experts who could help them in a situation like that and PAWS certainly do. I know them. I know their head steward is an expert on countless types of animals and an authority on elephants known world-wide. But, they couldn’t get back there in time to do anything about that. Those animals were capable of doing not only damage to property, they were capable of killing one person after another. It was a tragedy.
Q – I’m just wondering if the police in Zanesville, Ohio have tranquilizer guns. Why couldn’t they have used that? Why kill all the animals?
A – Well, they tried to. In fact they hit at some of the animals with them and they just kept right on going.
Q – How can that be?
A – They don’t always work apparently.
Q – You have your own Animal Rights Foundation – DJ and T Foundation?
A – No. It is not an Animal Rights Organization. It’s a foundation that subsidizes Spay Neuters for dogs all over the United States. It subsidizes spay neuters through local organizations all over the United States and I’m happy to say it’s described as the Best one in the country. We spayed and neutered thousands of dogs.
Q – You coined this phrase, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed and neutered”.
A – I closed ‘The Price Is Right’ with it for years and I’m delighted to say that Drew Carey when he and I met for the first time he said, ‘Bob, I want you to know that I’m gonna do the spay neuter plug for as long as I’m the host of The Price Is Right. And I thanked him profusely because it’s really made a difference.
Q – It’s the right advice, but to go to a vet and have your pet spayed or neutered, it is expensive even with a certificate.
A – Well, it’s more expensive in some areas than it is in others. But, yes it can be very expensive. Fortunately, there are low cost spay neuter organizations, clinics, all over the country.
Q – The cost of having your animal spayed or neutered is why I believe we don’t see more animals spayed or neutered. People just don’t have the money.
A – Well, you’re right. The cost is a Big factor and then it’s just absolutely total lack of knowledge and awareness. Then, there are a lot of men and it’s a macho thing they don’t want their dog neutered. Then there are hunters. Hunters are a big problem. But, the dog can be a good hunting dog even though it is spayed or neutered.
Q – Speaking of hunting and hunters, are you familiar with a guy by the name of Ted Nugent?
A – I’ve heard of him, yeah.
Q – He was a big rock star of the 1970’s. Doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drugs which is commendable. Now, he actively promotes bow-hunting. He goes on shows like Glen Beck. He was in Syracuse at the New York State Fair a few years back and was interviewed backstage by News channel 9’s Dan Cummings. He promotes hunting as a healthy lifestyle. No one ever challenges him on that subject matter. Instead they sit back and smile and grin and laugh. They treat it as a big joke. Now, what does that say about Ted Nugent and what does that say about the guys interviewing him who think it’s a big laugh?
A – Well, of course I oppose hunting and particularly bow-hunting, because frequently they wound an animal and it suffers before it dies. But, I’m opposed to all hunting as are more and more Americans. I understand that it’s now become a thing that if your granddad didn’t hunt you probably won’t ever hunt either. They pass it on from grandfather to son to grandchildren. In some parts of the country, I’m happy to say that here in California there’s very little hunting for the number of people living in the state. And, it is a dying thing but, Ted Nugent hasn’t caught up with it yet.
Q – You are a vegetarian.
A – I became a vegetarian out of concern for animals, but, I can certainly understand why people do it out of concern for health. I worked ‘Price’ until I was 83. I don’t think I would’ve ever done that had I not been a vegetarian.
Q – You became a vegetarian when you were in your 50’s didn’t you?
A – Yeah, that’s right.
Q – Is it true your wife was a vegetarian and an Animal Rights activist and that’s how you got interested in it?
A – Well, my wife was a vegetarian long before I was, that’s true. But, as far as Animal Rights was concerned, she never was active as an Animal Rights Activist, but, she did things that impressed me and caused to become interested and gradually I became an Animal Rights activist. She had some furs and she stopped wearing them. She had some leather jackets and she stopped wearing them, without ever saying anything to me about it. Her lifestyle impressed me and I did the same thing.
Q – Lucky for the world you did.
A – Well, lucky for some animals.
Q – But see, you’re pro-active. You’re influential. You’re causing people to think.
A – It needs awareness. That’s the magic word. Americans love animals. 70% of the homes in the United States have at least one pet and they love their animals and they love all animals probably, but, they just aren’t aware, I know I wasn’t. I had no idea what goes on in movies. I even had the American Humane Association in my will! I found out that they’re right in the pocket of the movie industry. The animals are being beaten in the production of movies. I of course changed my will. Entertainment is rife with animal abuse.
Q – I didn’t know that about the Humane Association.
A – Their Hollywood office is paid for by the movie industry. I don’t think they’ve ever filed a lawsuit against an animal trainer that I know of. I know there was a movie years ago called ‘Project X’ and I was right in the thick of that. We proved that the animal trainers had beaten these chimpanzees in the production of this movie unmercifully. Eyewitnesses testified to it. American Humane wouldn’t do a thing. In fact they defended the animal trainers. They said it didn’t happen. But, we finally got the city into it and the City Animal Control investigated and they wanted to file charges against seven animal trainers of animal cruelty. But, the statute of limitations had lapsed so it didn’t happen. It certainly brought a lot of attention to animal cruelty in the production of movies. It’s still going on too.
Q – And to think I always thought the Humane Association was a good organization.
A – Well, they may do some good work but the animals are still being beaten in the production of movies.
Q – Let me change the direction of the interview and ask you about your career in Show business. I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but you have something in common with many other celebrities. When you lose a parent at an early age it affects a person. Many people in Show business have had that happen to them. When you’re a young boy and you lose a parent what does that do to you?
A – Well, you mourn. I was only 6 years old and to think my father was never going to be with me again was terrible! But, it was a situation that was even worse probably than for many youngsters who lose a mother and father in that my father died in July of 1929 and we all know what 1929 was. It was the beginning of the Great Depression. My mother had been a school teacher before she was married and so she had to try and find a job as a school teacher which was not an easy thing to do. He died in Missouri. We were living at my grandmother’s at the time. He died ay my grandmother’s in Springfield, Missouri and she couldn’t find anything to do. His brother lived in a little town in South Dakota called Mission and he helped my mother get a job teaching high school out there, Biology in high school. We moved to South Dakota so I grew up from the time I was in the second grade to the eighth grade I lived on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which was a great place to live. It was a boyhood that I wouldn’t trade for anybody’s boyhood. But, I certainly missed my father. My mother was actually very successful. She went up there as a teacher and became the Principal of the high school and eventually became the County Superintendent of all of the schools in Todd County and wrote a book for the 6th grade up there that was used for so many years. I used to do the Miss USA and the Miss Universe Pageant. I had Miss South Dakota from the Miss USA Pageant, who had come to me and told me they studied my mother’s history in 6th grade. (Laughs). Mom was very bright and had the courage of a lion and we got through it. But, it was not easy.
Q – She saw you go on to success in Show business?
A – Oh, yeah. She was here with me when I did the pageants. But, I started with ‘Truth or Consequences’. That was my first national show. Mom was on that a few times. She was also here when I was doing ‘Price Is Right’. She lived to see what I was gonna do for a living.
Q – As a game show host, how many people do you think you’ve inspired to get into show business?
A – (Laughs). I have no idea.
Q – Has anyone ever came up to you and said “Because of you I decided to go into broadcasting”?
A – Oh, yes. I’ve had young fellas write me from all over the country and tell me they were going to college and study communications and wanted to do the type of thing I do. It’s tough to do these days because when I was starting out I got my first job in a little radio station in Springfield. I had an opportunity to do everything. I started out writing local news and sports. I did sports casts and news casts. I did disc jockey shows. In this little station they originated some of their own programming. I had the opportunity to do the first audience participation show, that is working with people out of an audience, and un-rehearsed contestants. The first one I ever did in my life. My wife and I had been talking about doing something on a national level. I knew I had to specialize. I couldn’t do sports and disc jockeys and news staff announcing. I had to choose. We were talking about what I should do and she heard my first audience participation show. When I came home she said, ‘Barker, that’s what you should do’. She said, ‘You did that better than you’ve ever done anything else’. She didn’t say I was good. (Laughs). She said I did it better than anything else. So, she and I set out from that day on to get me a national show. In those days radio stations did all sorts of things. It’s not true now. So, how do you start? Kids all want to be in Hollywood and doing a national show. You’re not going to be able to do a national show until you’ve had some experience. So, when they ask me for advice I always tell them first of all get an education. Try to go to a college when they have a station and work on that station. Get a job if you possibly can in a commercial station. Get some background and then when you’re able to do a show, get a tape or two and then you might head west or go to New York or something like that. You can’t come out here to Hollywood and get a job as a host. The best hosts in the world are out here.
Q – Radio shows are doing away with local hosts. They’re bringing in syndicated shows.
A – That’s exactly what I’m saying. Art Linkletter started out when he was in college. Ralph Edwards, he started out when he was in college. I started out when I was in college. Bill Cosby started out when he was in college. They don’t come better than those three.
Q – Johnny Carson.
A – Johnny Carson started out in college.
Q – It was a much different world back then.
A – It was a different world.
Q – Your “big break” came when Ralph Edwards hired you for KNX Radio in Los Angeles.
A – That’s right. I was doing my own show. My wife was producing it on KNX. Audience participation. He had sold ‘Truth or Consequences’ as a national daytime television show and he was auditioning hosts in New York and Hollywood. But, he hadn’t found just the one he wanted. He heard me doing my radio show, just by chance, turned it on, and he liked my work. He called me in for a series of auditions and on December 21st 1956 at 5 minutes past 12 noon he called me and told me I was to be the host of ‘Truth or Consequences’. That was the most important phone call of my professional life. Nothing ever happened to me before that or after that that compare to that. It changed my whole life. All the wonderful things that have happened to me in my life started with that phone call. Every December 21st after that, Ralph and I would have lunch. We became great friends. At 5 minutes past 12 noon we’d drink a toast to our long, enduring friendship.
Q – And every December 21st you must look at the clock.
A – That’s right. Every December 21st I still have a little toast to Ralph. In my little office at home I have two pictures. One is a picture of Dorothy Jo and me, my wife and the other picture is of Ralph Edwards and me, handing me the microphone to take over the show.
Q – It must have been a very exciting moment for you.
A – I don’t have the words to describe what that meant to me. It changed everything from that day forward. I’ll talk to someone and I’ll say that phone call and the fact that he turned on his radio and heard me, it was just a blessing. People say, ‘Oh, Bob, somebody else would’ve called’. That’s true. Somebody else may have called and I may have been doing local radio for the rest of my life.
Q – See, that’s the thing about Show business. It’s such a fickle business. You can work as hard as you want. You can audition all you want, but, it was just fate that Ralph Edwards heard you.
A – Right. But, I’ll tell you one thing though, I’m glad you brought this up. I spoke at my alma mater’s graduation and I told the graduating class ‘ I don’t care what you go into to earn a living, whatever you do, do it to the very best of your ability everyday, because you never know who’s gonna see it or who’s gonna read it or who’s gonna hear it or who’s gonna be told about it’. I told them I had that personal experience. Early on I had determined to always try to get everything I could. Audiences are different. Some are great. You couldn’t have a bad show if you tried to. But, others are tough and you have to work with them to get something out of them. I learned early on to give it my best shot everyday. If I hadn’t been at the top of my game the day he turned that radio on, he wouldn’t have been impressed and I might never have got that phone call. So, that’s my advice to young men, not just in this business, the business I was in, but, any business. Do it your best, particularly if you’re a brain surgeon. (Laughs).
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