Erika Brunson, 86, animal advocate, actress, interior designer and furniture maker


Erika Brunson. (Collage Beth Clifton)

Going from a rocky start in life to philanthropic success

Erika Devore Brunson, 86, animal rights philanthropist and sterilizer, died in Los Angeles, Calif., on May 17, 2022.

Maria Erika Knab, her original name, was born on September 4, 1935, “in the small fishing town of Königsberg in East Prussia”, according to an October 16, 2013 blog post by her much younger friend, the actress Jolene Blalock, whose married name is Rapino.

“As a young girl,” Blalock continued, “all she knew was her little family in this quiet town. She spent her summers running along the seashore as the ocean lapped salt and seaweed off the jagged rocks and the birch trees stretched their long trunks skyward. Seals nodded, dolphins played as dolphins do, and whales seemed to hold court in the ocean.

“It was a postcard setting,” Blalock said, “until the Red Army arrived and violently forced her and her family and friends out of the only world they had ever known. .”

(Collage Beth Clifton)

Nazi Germany

Blalock’s tale, unfortunately, is as fictional as his best-known on-screen role, as co-pilot and Vulcan science officer T’Pol in the sci-fi television series. Star Trek: Enterprise.

The reality is that East Prussia, when Maria Erika Knab was born, was part of Nazi Germany, bordering Poland and Russia.

Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia, today the Russian city of Kalingrad, was then a city of more than 372,000 inhabitants. There were no dolphins, few seals, if any, and the only whales were brought back dead by Nazi whalers.

The Nazi purges of Jews and speakers of Polish as a first language had already begun. Only around 120,000 residents survived the Holocaust and World War II, although the city was quickly repopulated by displaced people.

Orphaned during the war, Maria Erika Knab may have been among the German speakers who were evacuated before the advance of the Red Army in 1945.

Alternatively, Maria Erika Knab could have been among the approximately 60,000 German-speaking civilians who were deported to Russian-occupied East Germany in 1946, or around 24,000 others who were deported to East Germany. Is in 1947, after 75,000 people died of starvation. typhoid fever and other epidemics, and/or died in revenge killings committed by other war survivors.

(Collage Beth Clifton)

Film career led to smuggling Volkswagen

Shortening her name to simply Erika Knab and finding her way to West Berlin, she made her acting debut in 1955 with a small role in the German film Eine Frau genuegt nicht, published in English under the title One woman is not enough.

In total, Erika Knab starred in 21 Berlin films, but mainly earned her living by dubbing the voice of Mickey Mouse in translated versions of American cartoons.

Apparently first married in Germany, possibly to an American citizen, Erika Kanb arrived in Hollywood in 1957 as Erika Peters, while still under contract with the Berolina film studio in Berlin- West.

Erika Peters “kept commuting between West Berlin and Hollywood, bringing in Volkswagens,” said New York Times Hollywood correspondent Charles Whitbeck in 1962. They were new Volkswagens, but because she drove them to the ships taking them to the United States, Erika Peters allegedly reported them to US Customs as used.

Erica Brunson

Erika Brunson for a 1962 television show stuffed herself into the suitcase on which we see her sitting.

The woman with the suitcase

“As Miss Peters had no used car fleet or agency license, she was soon forced to give up the practice,” Whitbeck continued. “With the money from her imported car, Erika got into the coin-operated laundromat business in Los Angeles,” before “getting into real estate, about to build a building on Wilshire Boulevard .”

Whitbeck wrote his mini-biography, however, because Jack Webb True the TV series “needed a lithe actress with a German accent who could fit in a normal-sized suitcase”, for an East Berlin escape episode titled “The Suitcase Man”.

Erika Peters fit the role.

Also playing roles in movies G.I. Blues and heroes die youngand house of the damned (1963), Erika Peters quit acting after her August 1964 marriage to Beverly Hills clothing designer Sy Devore, who at age 55 was 26 years older.

Erica Brunson

Erika Brunson earlier in life.
(Collage Beth Clifton)

Ms. Sy Devore for 23 months

Devore, with stores in Palm Springs, Hollywood, Las Vegas and Sherman Oaks, is a native of Brooklyn, New York, “attended New York University and got his start in the clothing business with a boutique called Leed’s in Manhattan’s Theater District”. his desert sun narrated obituary.

“He came to Southern California in 1946 and opened his first store in Hollywood. His clientele included comedian Jerry Lewis, who reportedly spent $75,000 a year with Devore, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., William Holden, Milton Berle and many other entertainment personalities,” the obituary reads.

Other Devore clients included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and pianist Władziu Valentino Liberace.

Erika Knab, later Peters, became Erika Devore, but Sy Devore died of a heart attack in July 1966. She then fought and won a year-long court battle against Devore’s former wife, Mary Lou Laramore , to retain custody of the 14-year-old Sy. 1-year-old adopted daughter, Lisa Devore, who was heiress to most of the half-million dollar Devore estate.

Lisa Devore reportedly made it clear throughout the case that she had no relationship with Laramore and preferred to live with Erika Devore.

Erica and Robert Brunson

Erika and Robert Brunson.
(Collage Beth Clifton)

Becoming Erika Brunson

Erika Devore, according to gossip columnists, in November 1968 began dating her eventual third husband, Century Fast Foods magnate Robert M. Brunson. Robert M. Brunson had previously been married to actress Cathy Downs (1924-1976) from 1955 until their divorce in 1963.

Erika Devore in mid-1969 was Erika Devore Brunson, or simply Erika Brunson, the name she used for the rest of her life.

His public record in animal advocacy began with his June 1972 appointment to the Los Angeles Board of Animal Regulation by Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty.

As such, Erika Brunson testified in a public hearing in March 1973 that the then practice in Los Angeles of releasing animals for biomedical research after only five days of impoundment was insufficient time to owners pick up their pets. Pressure from Erika Brunson and others eventually led to Los Angeles stopping releasing animals for lab use altogether.

Erika Brunson

Erika Brunson.

Interior designer for the Saudi Royal Family

But his most intensive and influential work on behalf of animals was still far ahead.

First, Erika Brunson founded and grew her two most successful businesses, as an interior designer and furniture maker.

On March 20, 1991, Associated Press Newsfeatures author Barbara Mayer, “Brunson,” who had no formal interior design training, “started as a royal decorator in 1978 by finding and furnishing a home in Los Angeles. for Prince Khalid, a business associate of her husband and a nephew of King Fahd.

Recalls Brunson, “He visited our house, liked the way I had decorated it, and gave me a budget and a year to do the job.”

Mayer resumed, “His next assignment – a 100,000 square foot palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for Prince Khalid’s mother – took him three years and led to more Saudi palace jobs as well as homes for members of the royal family in Houston and Paris.

Erica Brunson

Erica Brunson.
(Last chance for photo animals)

Reproduction of antiques

Preferring to furnish homes with antiques, but finding a shortage of antiques she liked that were still sturdy enough for frequent use, Brunson soon started her own side business making furniture.

“A line of 45 reproductions is now marketed in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego,” Mayer said.

Erika Brunson has invested profits from her two businesses in donations to animal charities, including ANIMALS 24-7as a subscriber since our beginnings in 2014.

(Collage Beth Clifton)

Most importantly, Brunson funded his own Coalition for Pets & Public Safety (COPPS), “an organization that provides free or low-cost neutering and neutering services in Los Angeles,” recalled Ed Boks, director of Los Angeles Animal. Services from 2005 to 2009.

IRS Form 990 filings indicate that the Coalition for Companion Animals and Public Safety has invested as much as $220,000 annually in sterilization services in recent years.

“She also served as commissioner of the Department of Animal Services twice,” Boks wrote. “Whether decorating palaces in Dubai, Riyadh or Versailles, Erika exuded a joyful assertiveness that never stopped pushing the boundaries of the design industry or animal welfare. She was a kind and wonderful human being. I was honored to know her as a friend.


Probably the least serious allegation against former HSUS President Wayne Pacelle involved uninvited salsa dancing.
(Collage Beth Clifton)

Defense of Wayne Pacelle

A longtime board member of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Brunson’s last public act in animal advocacy was a furious final defense of 13-year-old HSUS President Wayne. Pacelle, after Pacelle in early 2018 came under intense public scrutiny for alleged sexual harassment of subordinates and ineffective response to complaints about other senior managers engaging in sexual harassment of their subordinates.

Erica Brunson

Erika Brunson.
(Last chance for photo animals)

Erika Brunson, in various media statements, called the allegations against Pacelle “ridiculous” and “absurd”, even after numerous current and former staffers came forward with similar complaints and testified as witnesses.

Insisting that Pacelle had “done nothing wrong,” Erika Brunson told other HSUS board members that “we didn’t hire him as an altar boy.”

Beth and Merritt Clifton Animals 24-7

Beth & Merritt Clifton

Erika Brunson then asked “What red-blooded man hasn’t sexually harassed someone?” companies if none of them had a business.

Pacelle reportedly survived a board-funded investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him, but resigned less than 24 hours later, effective February 1, 2018.

Erika Brunson resigned from the board of the Humane Society of the US a few hours later.

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