Dog-lovers, movie buffs, photography enthusiasts, lovers of great style, and coffee table book aficionados will want to the add Hollywood Dogs to their collections – it’s a visual feast – 168 pages of striking, elegant and often amusing photographs of the actors and actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age and their canine co-stars or much beloved pets.
Hollywood Dogs provides a unique window into the studio system, which dominated Hollywood from pre-1920s to the 1950s. Studios controlled their stars’ public images and decided how they should be marketed, and often there was no better way to promote the stars than having them photographed with “man’s best friend”. Unless, of course, the star was the dog and it was photographed with its “human” co-stars.
The photographs also show the reader the trends in breeds of dog ownership over the years. The German Shepherd, so well known today as a “working dog” in areas such as Police and Rescue operations, was only registered as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1914.
So when silent film heart-throb Rudolph Valentino was photographed with his German Shepherd named Sheik (after his famous film, The Sheik), the public saw this as wildly exotic. German Shepherds soon become famous in their own right through the film Rin Tin Tin. Hollywood rumour has it that for one of the first ever Academy Awards, Rin Tin Tin (the dog) received more votes that any other man for the Best Actor award, but for obvious reasons he could not win!
In the 1930s, the time of the Great American Depression, Hollywood stars provided an escape from the grim reality of the times, such as the image of screen goddess, Jean Harlow, swathed in a figure-enhancing Adrian designer dress, large picture book hat, and accessorised by two Old English Sheepdogs. Wise-cracking, five-foot-two platinum blonde, Mae West, strikes a stunning pose in a palatial garden accompanied by two Borzois.
In stark contrast is the 1937 stunning but austere portrait of the beautiful and intellectual actress, Frances Farmer. Frances is dressed in a plain black dress with a simple hair style, and her short unmanicured hands are petting her Bull Terrier, Karl Marx. Frances was one star who rebelled against the studio’s control and resisted every attempt they made to glamourise her private life. After her contract at Paramount ended in 1942, Frances’ life spiralled downwards with extensive stays in psychiatric wards.
In 1941 the American Cocker Spaniel was voted the most popular dog in America. Although the breed did not feature in many films, the Cocker Spaniel was the favourite of many stars including: Norma Shearer, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Esther Williams, Lauren Bacall, and Constance Bennett. Male stars such as Victor Mature, were photographed with Boxers to promote their virile image.
There are many unforgettable “dog” stars in films – Terry, the wire-haired Cain Terrier worked with Shirley Temple before getting his big break as Toto in The Wizard of Oz – but the most enduring canine star is Lassie.
Lassie was introduced in 1943 with the release of Lassie Come Home and began a successful series of films for a Collie, named Pal, who played the title character in all seven films between 1943 and 1951. Pal started at a better pay rate than the actors – Pal earned a salary of $250 per week, compared with that of his young co-star Elizabeth Taylor who received $100 per week.
Hollywood Dogs shows images of stars who are well-known for their love of dogs, such as Audrey Hepburn cycling around the studio with Mr Famous, her Yorkshire Terrier propped up in her bicycle basket, but also to those less known for their love dogs, such as Gregory Peck who rushed home from filming The Gun Fighter to be with his white German Shepherd, Slip, when she gave birth to 13 puppies – no wonder he was so revered as an actor!
The cover image is of Clark Cable, matinee idol looking suitably handsome and roguish, bending forward as if to invite you take a ride in his convertible with his English Spaniel – saying “Come on, you won’t be disappointed,” and, you won’t be if you look through the book.
Nota Bene: I purchased my copy of the book from Peter Baker Finch (a local homewares store) – if you are interested, try other good book shops or order on-line.
Forward favourite photos of you and your poochette – we’ll make you both stars of The Hipsterette.