|"A Genesis Award honors the goodness of the soul," says Gretchen Wyler, founder and president of The Ark Trust, Inc., which presents the annual Genesis Awards, a star-studded gala honoring members of the major news and entertainment media who have helped raise public consciousness about the vast spectrum of animal issues. Since 1986, the annual event has become the nation's premier "consciousness-raiser" on animal issues.
The event, which occupies much of Wyler's time, is a natural outgrowth of her unwavering enthusiasm and award-winning history as a performer. Her distinguished theatrical career spans 50 years and encompasses eight Broadway shows, including the original "Guys and Dolls," "Silk Stockings," "Damn Yankees," "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Sly Fox" with George C. Scott; starring as "Sweet Charity" in London's West End for a year; a regular on the CBS television series "On Our Own," a season on "Dallas" and many television guest-starring roles, including "Friends," "Judging Amy," "Providence" and "Stark Raving Mad"; featured roles in such films as "Private Benjamin" and "The Marrying Man"; and a dazzling array of club and concert appearances, from headlining at the Copacabana in New York City in the 1960s to singing at Carnegie Hall in June of 1991 as part of Cole Porter's 100th Birthday Party, recreating the songs she introduced as the singing-dancing lead in his "Silk Stockings."
In the fall of 1993, Wyler traveled to such cities as Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago, starring in a tour of the hit musical "42nd Street," in which she reprised her lead role as "Dorothy Brock," garnering rave reviews. In April of 1994, she co-starred as "Vera" to the late Juliet Prowse's "Mame" in a production of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee favorite in Los Angeles and San Diego.
In 1995, she starred as "Pistache" in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of "Can-Can." In August of 1997, she announced her retirement from the stage at the end of her week-long run at the St. Louis Muny Opera -- where she began her career in 1950 as a member of its corps de ballet -- starring as Dolly Levi in the classic musical "Hello Dolly" before sold-out audiences of 12,000 each night.
Gretchen co-starred with 84 other actors who appeared on Broadway in the 50s and 60s in a two-hour movie called Broadway: The Golden Age and the Legends Who Were There. For more information, please visit the web site: broadwaythemovie.com. The DVD can be purchased at Amazon.com.
Of equal significance to Wyler's theatrical career were her nearly 4 decades of tireless devotion to animal-rights issues. She began her crusade in 1966 in Warwick, N.Y., during a visit to the local dog shelter. Upon discovering a horrific facility -- dark, dank and in disrepair -- she immediately vowed to "do something." And, on Oct. 13, 1968, the new Warwick Animal Shelter opened its cages to its first influx of homeless inhabitants! She managed the shelter for 10 years, while concurrently pursuing her acting career.
In 1971, she joined a coalition in New York City that was created to lobby for reforms within the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). One year later, in a political move designed to quiet the coalition's efforts, she was invited to sit on the ASPCA's Board of Directors, the first woman to serve on the board in the organization's 106-year history. In 1975, Wyler filed a lawsuit against her fellow board members, charging them with corporate waste and indifference to animal suffering; as a result, she was the first person ever to be dropped from the board!
The lawsuit, which lasted more than a year and a half, was eventually settled out of court in her favor. Subsequently, the organization instituted many reforms. Also in 1971, Wyler was invited by The Fund for Animals' president, the late Cleveland Amory, to join its board of directors, upon which she served as vice chairperson until 1991.
Wyler's role in the California-bound, Broadway show "Sly Fox" led her to move to Los Angeles in 1978, where she became immersed in West Coast animal issues. In 1979, she initiated work on a Resolution of Animal Rights that was authored by State Sen. David Roberti and passed the same year, making California the first state in the nation to adopt such a resolution.
In Los Angeles in 1981 she successfully led the fight to repeal "pound seizure" -- the selling of shelter cats and dogs for medical research. A host of distinguished animal-protection activities and honors soon followed. In fact, whereas some actresses are proud to display their Tonys, Emmys and Oscars, Wyler receives greater satisfaction from her Order of Nature (International League for Animal Rights), St. Francis of Assisi (city of Los Angeles), Minnie (Actors and Others for Animals), Golden Paw (Warwick Valley Humane Society, Inc.), Lifetime Achievement (American Humane Association), James Herriot (The Humane Society of the United States), Paloma (Los Angeles SPCA), Guardian Lifetime Achievement (In Defense of Animals) awards, Animal Rights 2005 Hall of Fame, and in 2006, the Free Spirit Award (California Wildlife Center).
Throughout her animal-advocacy career, Wyler served as a board member of more than 13 animal organizations. In 1991, however, she decided to devote all of her animal-rights energies to just one organization which she founded, The Ark Trust, Inc. (after receiving a bequest from the late Dolly Green), presenter of the annual Genesis Awards. The first Genesis Awards was presented in 1986. Prior to 1991, Wyler presented the Genesis Awards under the aegis of The Fund for Animals.
Wyler served as chairwoman of the event and was joined each year by a dazzling array of celebrity presenters and a growing number of attendees, which have increased from 148 individuals in the event's first year to more than 800 attendees currently.
The Genesis Awards ceremony is taped for broadcast as a television Special, airing on The Discovery Channel from 1990 to 1996 and on Animal Planet from 1997 to the present.
In August of 2002, The Ark Trust merged with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and became The Hollywood Office of The HSUS. The Genesis Awards is now presented by The HSUS.
Gretchen retired from her position as vice president of The HSUS in 2006 after her 20th year as chairperson of The Genesis Awards. She died on Sunday, May 27, 2007, from complications of breast cancer at her home in Camarillo, California. She was 75.
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