In A Nutshell
Chances are, you’ve never looked at a horse and been horrified at the fact that it’s naked. Clearly, you’re not nearly as moral a person as one G. Clifford Prout Jr. The president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, Prout lobbied for animal decency guidelines throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s. It wasn’t until more than five years after the campaign began that it was exposed as an elaborate hoax, and even then, some people just didn’t want to give up the cause.
The Whole Bushel
In May 1959, The Today Show featured a story on G. Clifford Prout Jr. Prout was the president for the newly formed Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, carrying on a crusade that had been started by his father, Prout Sr.
The Prouts were concerned by a disturbing trend in America—naked animals. They worried about people who put themselves at risk, distracted by clearly naked animals that were unabashedly out in public, with absolutely no sense of shame about them. And Prout wanted it to stop. The slogans of the organization included, “Decency Today Means Morality Tomorrow,” and “A Nude Horse is a Rude Horse.”
The campaign preached a mission of getting clothes for all these shameful, naked animals, making the world a more decent, wholesome place all around. The target of the campaign was all animals more than 10 centimeters (4 in) tall or 15 centimeters (6 in) long. It was only logical, after all. People couldn’t go out in public with their bits showing, so why could animals?
If that was the entire story, it would just be a footnote in the history of goofy publicity stunts. But the campaign took off.
The organization’s headquarters were given an address, and those responsible for mailing thousands and thousands of letters—of both support and outrage—probably didn’t know that it was actually a broom closet. The Chronicle was suddenly running articles and photos of SINA members modestly dressing a San Francisco Zoo rhino in an effort to preserve its modesty.
People began championing the cause, handing out fliers and dressing their pets—and, according to Prout’s suggestion, they began lecturing those who took their pets out in public without proper clothing. Prout was even offered a $40,000 donation from a California woman, all for the cause.
In 1962, Prout was interviewed by Walter Cronkite on his nightly CBS Evening News. Prout took the opportunity to send a message to the White House: Caroline Kennedy’s pony needed pants. At one point, there was even a picketing demonstration staged outside the White House, imploring the Kennedy family to make their pony respectable in public. The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals also made appearances on The Tonight Show and The Today Show.
It took TIME magazine to expose the hoax, and point out that G. Clifford Prout, Jr. was actually one of CBS’s resident comedians, Buck Henry. (Henry is better known as one of the writers for Saturday Night Live and the creative genius behind classic comedies like Get Smart.) The vice president of SINA was actually a man named Alan Abel, a comedian who counted “professional media hoaxer” among his titles.
But even after the hoax was exposed, the movement continued on for several more years; it even continued after Henry, who had been the face of SINA, made an official statement that the whole thing was just a joke.
Letters and phone calls continued to pour in from people who were either wholly in favor of establishing decency rules for the naked animals they believed were causing accidents, distractions, and problems with the moral fabric of the nation . . . or, alternately, people that thought the whole thing was completely and utterly ridiculous.
One of the goals of the organization had been to point out how absolutely ridiculous the idea of censorship had gotten in the past few years; obviously, it was a message that was lost on countless people.