LOS ANGELES — Pat Derby could coax Willie the bear with a handful of jelly beans, make Christopher the cougar twitch his tail on command and even kissed Rijo the tiger.
But when it came to Walt Disney, she had less patience. Derby, a Hollywood animal trainer turned animal rights activist, once walked out on him in the middle of filming for “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color" after he subjected her bear cub to two hours of retakes under the hot studio lights.
She always got along better with animals than people, anyway, she often said. “I am not a natural at public relations," she once wrote.
Derby, who later devoted her life to protecting and rescuing exotic and performing animals, died Friday after a long battle with throat cancer, said her longtime partner, Ed Stewart.
She was 70 and died at their home in San Andreas, southeast of Sacramento and the site of a sprawling, 2,300-acre animal sanctuary they established in 2000.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Derby was known in Hollywood circles as a trainer of anteaters, tigers and grizzly bears. She worked on the TV shows “Flipper," “Lassie" and “Gunsmoke" but later quit to become one of the most vocal critics of the abuse of animals in show business.
Her 1976 book, “The Lady and Her Tiger," was a stinging exposť of the industry’s practices and angered much of the Hollywood elite. Her organization, the Performing Animals Welfare Society, or PAWS, became a leading voice calling attention to the plight of animals in captivity and operated one of the first sanctuaries for former wild animal pets and performers in the United States.
“She was a giant of the animal rights movement," said TV game-show host Bob Barker, a friend of nearly 30 years and a fellow activist whose donations helped send a number of animals to the sanctuary, including Ruby, an elephant from the Los Angeles Zoo. “There was just no limit to what she could do. She had this great energy."