A is for Alan Abel

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 24 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Alan AbelOf the many people I write about, the ones who brighten up a dull world are the pranksters and there is probably none greater than serial hoaxer Alan Abel.

Abel was born in 1924 in Zanesville, Ohio, but grew up in nearby Coshocton where his father kept the local general store, teaching his son the value of hucksterism at an early age.

“He’d put ‘Limit — Two to a Customer’ in front of the things that wouldn’t sell and they’d be gone in a minute,” Abel told The New Yorker in 1990.

Abel was a natural performer and after graduating from Ohio State University he attempted a career as a stand-up comedian but found that it simply didn’t pay and so he worked at more conventional jobs, including once as a liquid fertiliser salesman.

But his sense of fun didn’t leave him and in 1958 he embarked on one of his most elaborate hoaxes by creating the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA). Its mission was to clothe naked animals throughout the world under the slogan ‘a nude horse is a rude horse’.

Henry and a 'properly dressed' fawn

Henry and a ‘properly dressed’ fawn

SINA was fronted by the actor Buck Henry when he posed as its president in an interview on NBC’s Today Show in 1959. (Henry was later nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay of The Graduate) Thousands of letters of support poured in to SINA’s headquarters as a result of his appearance and the hoax was well and truly laid.

What started as a satire of media censorship took on a life of its own over several years of tv and radio interviews generating unsolicited financial contributions to the cause (always returned) and citizen summonses that concerned members of the public could issue against their fellows for walking naked dogs.

SINA chapters sprang up across America and their activities were faithfully reported by the media until the hoax was finally exposed by Time Magazine in 1963.

Abel continued his career as a professional prankster throughout his life once explaining that his primary intent was “to give people a kick in the intellect.”

Vote for YettaHe invented the Jewish grandmother Yetta Bronstein to run in the 1964 presidential election under the slogan “Vote for Yetta and things will get betta” on a platform that included holding national Bingo tournaments, putting truth serum in congressional drinking fountains as well as installing a mental detector along with the metal detector in the Senate.

Yetta never appeared in public and was voiced by Abel’s wife in a series of radio interviews that attracted many actual supporters.

Abel’s many pranks continued into the new millennium until his death last year at the age of ninety-four and his career was covered in the 2005 documentary ‘Abel Raises Cain’ – see the trailer below.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 9th January 2019

    Reminds me of a current US person, though AA’s less crass.

  • ABC Wednesday 9th January 2019

    As you probably might have guessed already , I have never heard of him before 😉 Maybe due to the fact that I don’t like pranksters? 😉

    Every time I am here I always get surprised by yet another person who has made a difference in one way or another and I admire your work for making it very interesting every week to introduce someone to us.

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)

  • Jackie 9th January 2019

    An interesting person I’ve never heard of.

  • Mama Pajama 9th January 2019

    that’s hysterical. I love this kind of fun!

  • Su-sieee! Mac 9th January 2019

    I wonder what he would’ve thought of pets wearing clothes and the guy who sits today in the White House.


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