Tag Archives: gimmicks

When dogs ruled the Hollywood shorts

Portraying dogs as humans — a topic we’ve brought up a few times, usually with a sneer — is as ensconced in Hollywood tradition as it has now become on Facebook.

Dogs talking in movies, in fact, is as nearly old as talkies themselves. In the Early Sound Era, trained dogs (aka as cheap labor) were commonly called on to appear in movies, particular movie shorts that were shown before the feature presentation in movie houses.

Of those, one series in the pack stood out: the “All-Barkie” Dogville Comedies, including “Hot Dog” (above).

From 1929 to 1931, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a series of nine short comedy films, sometimes known as the “barkies.”

The actors in these films, directed by Zion Myers and conceived and co-directed by Jules White (who both later gained fame for The Three Stooges comedies), were trained dogs, usually dressed in human attire, whose voices were dubbed by human actors.

Their aim, most often, was laughs. They commonly mocked the often naughty and haughty behavior of the noble class — and spoofed the era’s movies, as well.

But as you’ll see here today, some of them had a pretty dark side.

The series is somewhat controversial today — and was even then — due to suspected methods alleged to have been used to get the dogs to pose and to appear to talk, and they stopped being made after criticism over a scene in the final one, portraying canine cannibalism.

Of course “talking dogs” were nothing new by the 1930s. Talking movies were, though, and dogs pretty much worked for free.

The films were shot with silent film and dubbed over with human speech, often using the voices of White and Myers, as well as other actors.

The Dogville shorts started with 1929’s “College Hounds”, a parody of Buster Keaton’s “College” that features a huge doggie football game. The next film was “Hot Dog,” about a murder in a seedy cabaret after a jealous husband finds out his wife has been cheating on him.

After that came “Who Killed Rover?” and a Broadway parody called “The Dogway Melody.”

Those were followed by “The Big Dog House,” “All’s Canine on the Western Front,” and “Love Tails of Morocco.”

A nationwide theatre owners poll in 1930 rated the Dogvilles as the best short subjects over more legendary comedy and musical series, according to article published last year by Atlas Obscura

Many of the dogs were supplied by renowned Hollywood animal trainer Rennie Renfro, who was present for the making of the films.

To make the canine performers appear as if they were speaking, a director or Renfro himself would stand in front of a dog and wave various lures to focus the canine’s attention. The human would then open his hand repeatedly to entice the dog to open its mouth. Other times, they gave the dogs toffee to make them chomp.

A January 1931 article in Popular Science Monthly says the directors preferred using stray and mixed-breed dogs “because they are not high strung and can get along better in groups than the animal ‘prima donnas’ of breeding.”

Based on trade papers of the time, the Dogville Comedies were well-received and director White would call the series the favorite project of his career.

But not everyone was tickled and charmed by the “Barkies.”

There are some accounts that piano wire was used to help the dogs remain upright — as if they were part dog, part marionette.

The Performing and Captive Animals’ Defense League wrote to the British Board of Film Censors to protest the release of the movies and several films in the series were banned by British censors.

The creators stopped making the Dogville Comedies in 1931 after the controversial “Trader Hound,” a spoof of the movie, “Trader Horn.” The short was banned by U.K. censors for its hints at cannibalism — albeit dogs eating dogs, as opposed to humans eating humans

In retrospect, some see the short films — just as some see The Three Stooges — as having a mean edge. On one hand, they seem aimed at children; on the other, the plots were often mature, featuring adultery and murder.

Throw in the animal welfare concerns, and the fact that humanizing dogs doesn’t do anyone any good, and they can be looked at — by me anyway — as a less than glorious chapter of Hollywood history.

The complete series of Dogville Comedies has been released on DVD by Warner Bros. as part of its Warner Archive Collection.

Don, the talking dog who started it all

screen_shot_2018-04-20_at_45646_pmleashes1

In this era of talking dogs — from the animated creatures in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” to those so easily found “conversing” on the Internet — it might behoove us to remember the first “real” one, the star of a vaudeville act known as Don the Talking Dog.

And since not too many of us were around in 1912 to recall that, we’re fortunate that Smithsonian Magazine writer Greg Daugherty revisited that era and that dog for the magazine recently.

Don the Talking Dog, a setter or pointer from Germany, made his debut in the U.S. in 1912 — during the golden age of vaudeville, the less salty cousin of burlesque, which was traditionally peppered with acts featuring animals doing human things.

There, for a few quarters, you could see rats riding cats around racetracks, dancing elephants, boxing kangaroos, juggling sea lions and monkeys displaying an array of talents.

smithsonianillustrationDon the Talking Dog — proclaimed “the canine phenomenon of the century” — took things a step further. He, or so his name implied, talked.

Only in German, of course. But with a heavy population of German immigrants at the time in New York City, he became a major hit.

He had already garnered attention in Europe by then, with a vocabulary that reached eight words.

His first word was haben (“have” in English), followed by his own name, the word kuchen (cake or biscuit), ja and nein, ruhe (rest) and hunger (which is the same in both languages).

Generally, he didn’t speak in sentences, just one word at a time, and only when prompted by his trainer.

Don arrived in the U.S. in 1912 at the invitation of the vaudeville impresario William Hammerstein.

“Don will sail on the Kronprinz Wilhelm next Wednesday,” the New York Times noted. “A special cabin has been engaged in order to insure his safety.”

When Don’s ship docked, he was greeted by reporters, though they were disappointed not to get any good quotes.

Don stayed in the U.S for the next two years, making appearances in New York and around the country, once performing on the same bill as escape artist Harry Houdini. He then toured the country, performing in Boston, San Francisco, and other cities.

His act consisted of answering a series of questions served up by his regular straight man and interpreter, a vaudeville veteran known as Loney Haskell. Haskell became so attached to Don, according to news reports at that, “that in one-night stands he slept in the dog’s kennel.”

The journal Science, party poopers even back then, didn’t quite buy his act: “The speech of Don is … to be regarded properly as the production of sounds which produce illusions in the hearer.”

screen_shot_2018-04-20_at_45805_pmDespite his dubious skills and limited vocabulary, Don became a pioneering celebrity endorser, for Milk-Bone dog biscuits.

After two years in the U.S., Don retired and returned to his homeland. Haskell once calculated that their stage performances paid Don $92 per word, the equivalent of about $2,300 a word today. He died at home, near Dresden, Germany, in late 1915.

Smithsonian reported, “His last words, if any, seem to have gone unrecorded.”

Other “talking” dogs would follow, including Rolf, a German-born terrier who supposedly communicated by a form of Morse code, and was able to add and subtract, and Queen, who was described as “positively the only dog in the world that speaks the English language.”

Fast forward 100 years and we still have folks making those claims — dog owners, scientists, and entrepreneurs, each group with probably a few hucksters among them, who claim to be on the verge of a device that translates dog to human.

Take them as you would the dogs speaking in this compilation (none of whom can say compilation, by the way) — with a grain of salt.

(Illustrations: Smithsonian Magazine)

It DOES amount to a hill of beans

There are several things I have long wondered about Bush’s canned beans.

Why do they take up nearly a full half aisle of the grocery store?

How do they get Duke, the dog that appears in commercials with spokesman Jay Bush, to talk?

And what, exactly, is the difference between Bush’s Baked Beans and Bush’s Grillin’ Beans?

It’s time for some answers, America, or at least guesses.

For starters, I’m guessing that the Bush folks are paying off the grocery chains, or at least buying managers some lovely gifts, in order to be granted such large and prominent displays at so many stores.

Next, I am guessing that Duke is not speaking via special effects, but is an actual talking dog, on loan from the prestigious Hollywood Talking Dog Academy to play the role.

woof in advertisingAs for question three — and this is the one I have pondered most — I continue to wrack my brain.

At first, I assumed the Baked Beans were beans that had been baked, or were supposed to be baked, and the Grillin’ Beans were beans that had been grilled, or were supposed to be grilled.

But if they are meant for us to grill them, wouldn’t the Grillin’ Beans just be lost — kind of like the final “g” in grilling — as they fell through the grill slots?

(For you know-it-alls, putting a pot of something atop a grill grate is not grilling, and it’s definitely not grillin’; it is heating up.)

grillinbeans

I did some internet research, and visited the Bush’s website, but the only thing I learned is that Grillin’ Beans have a bolder flavor than the Baked Beans. It’s the same old bean, just in a spicier sauce.

I have no problem with bold and spicy. In fact, I think I prefer the bold and spicy version of Jay in the commercial above to the regular, far blander, version of him. As for Duke, to be honest, I prefer him unadorned, and non-speaking. I’m just not big on talkin’ dogs.

Call me a skeptic, but if you have a talking dog in your ad, I’m not going believe any of the other dubious and far-reaching claims you are making about any of your products. Then again, I’m probably not going to believe them anyway.

I am aware of few other products presented in so many variations as Bush’s Beans — hickory, chipotle, brown sugar, maple, honey, homestyle, country style, original, bold and spicy, vegetarian (meaning they haven’t added bacon) and different combinations thereof. And that’s not even including the products Bush makes from different beanages, such as the black, the kidney and the pinto, the red, the white and the garbanzo.

My theory is that those who make and market the beans figure the more selections they offer, the more grocery shelf space they can grab.

This is by no means strictly a bean thing.

Chips, such as your Pringles and your Doritos, also follow this strategy. And pet foods also use this approach (or perhaps, they led the way). A can of Alpo could be from their Prime Cuts, Chop House, Gravy Cravers or Prime Classics styles. Each one of those comes in multiple flavors, seven for Prime Cuts alone.

One dog food company takes things a step farther, offering more than 200 different products, each supposedly custom designed for a specific breed.
They want us to think that virtually every breed of dog needs a different formula of dog food.

Perhaps you’ve seen this Royal Canin commercial, which tells us that the golden retriever and the yellow Lab — similar as they are — “eat, digest and process energy differently.”

Royal Canin is a ridiculously priced dog food not sold in grocery stores, which is a good thing, because if it were, there would be room for nothing else. Even Bush’s beans would have to clear out. Maybe that’s why it’s not sold in grocery stores.

Or maybe it’s all a marketing gimmick aimed at making us think Royal Canin is such a special, exclusive and high end product it must be purchased from your veterinarian. It’s called a “prescription diet.” It’s nothing of the sort.

Show me, Royal Canin, how Labs and goldens differently digest food, and differently “process energy.” Sure, one of them (sorry, Labs) may generally wolf their meals down more quickly, but aren’t the various tubes and chambers that food goes through on its way out pretty much the same for both breeds?

Why, when I read the ingredients for both, do I notice hardly any difference?

The profusion of flavors in beanage, in chippage, in dog food and everything else, is not new. Remember when there was just one Coke?

And it’s not all about claiming more shelf space. By coming up with a flavor for every mood, companies are able to bring more customers into their folds, and dazzle them with their vast arrays.

Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s all becoming a little much. No longer do we just have to decide between brands, we have to decide within brands, and a trip to the grocery store requires making more choices than election day.

Regular or non-drowsy, diet, sugar-free or light; thick crust or thin crust; smooth or chunky; gluteny or gluten-free; plain or low sodium; regular, spicy, or super spicy.

By the time I get to the checkout line, I’m exhausted, and have used up all my decision making powers for the day.

But I still have to decide whether I want paper or plastic bags, and if I will pay by credit card, debit card, or cash.

Kind of makes me wish I had a dog like Duke I could bring along on shopping trips to tell me what to do. On the other hand, you can’t trust a talking dog, can you?

For more of our Woof in Advertising posts, click here)

And if you need a more revolting “challenge”

An animal sanctuary in Ohio, after watching how successful the Ice Bucket Challenge has been as a fundraiser for ALS research, has launched a similar campaign to raise money for its shelter, challenging people to pick up dog or cat feces — with their bare hands.

The gimmick is similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge — but way more disgusting. Participants videotape themselves picking up poop, and post the video on the Internet, nominating friends and family to either take the challenge or make a donation to the shelter. ($25 is suggested.)

In a post on its Facebook page, The Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary in Port Clinton, Ohio, announced the “Poop Pickup Challenge” on Saturday:

“We at Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary are starting our own challenge. It is something that if you are a dog or cat lover have probably ALL done at one time or another. We want you to challenge people (hopefully germ haters) to a ‘Free-hand poop’ Event.”

“We’re just trying to do something to raise funds for the sanctuary,” Nancy Benevento, CEO of the sanctuary, told  The Toledo Blade. “Hands can be washed.”

As proof that the whole thing isn’t entirely tongue in cheek, Benevento got the campaign rolling by picking up — with her bare hands — a pile left by a bull mastiff at the sanctuary.

People are challenged to record themselves picking up dog or cat feces barehanded, post it to social media using the hashtag #pooppickupchallenge, and then challenge their family and friends. Those who are challenged and prefer not to pick up are asked to donate $25 to the sanctuary.

Benevento said she tried to make the challenge so revolting that people would wind up donating rather than completing it.

We think she succeeded on that last account, and we think picking up dog poop is far more earth-friendly than pouring ice water over oneself. (Or one’s dog.)

But concerns about health and hygiene should send this challenge to the Dumpster.

Filling up a bucket with dog poop and disposing of it, rather than the bare hands requirement, might have been a better challenge — and it should be poop from dogs other than your own. Picking that up is your job, anyway.

Those behind the challenge do suggest that anyone taking part should wash their hands afterwards. They advise picking up poop only from animals you know are healthy — though often one would have no way of knowing that. On top of that, they recommend you not do it with a hand that has any open cuts. And children, they add, should not be allowed to participate.

We’d say all those disclaimers pretty much take all the fun out of it — if there was any fun in it in the first place.

As much as we’re in favor of poop being picked up, and funds being raised for shelters, we think this idea is need of a lot of fine tuning.

For that reason and others, Mrs. Benevento, bold and well-intentioned as your challenge is, we’re not inclined to take it, and forgive us for not wanting to shake your hand right now.

Let’s limit the ice bucket challenge to the species that came up with it — humans

This boneheaded bloke decided his dog should take the Ice Bucket Challenge, and now the RSPCA is investigating.

Here’s hoping they track him down and file charges (and that he gets a taste of the prison cell challenge).

I have no problem with humans dumping buckets of ice water on their own heads to raise money for ALS research. But let’s not force it on our dogs.

This video shows a teenage boy in London tossing  his dog, head first, into a bucket of freezing water.

“‘Here’s my dog and she’s doing the ice bucket challenge,” he says. “She wants to nominate all the other dogs here and all the cats as well, yeah.”

The RSPCA is concerned others — given the Ice Bucket Challenge’s viral nature and the lemming-like behavior of many humans — might try to copy the asinine stunt.

“It is likely that the puppy in the footage could have been caused distress, if not harm, and we are very concerned that others would think this is appropriate,” a spokesperson said. “Causing unnecessary suffering to an animal is an offence under law and we would strongly urge people not to copy this video.”

Most of the videos I’ve seen of dogs having the Ice Bucket Challenge inflicted upon them have been cute and harmless, involving cups and only small amounts of water.

But there will always be jackasses who want to take things to greater extremes. If they want to try the ice block challenge, or the anvil from a rooftop challenge, they should have at it — but only as long as they use their own heads.

A $73,000 doggie vacation

holiday

Calling all rich fools: Two British companies have partnered up to offer your dog a spectacular luxury dog holiday.

The cost is $73,000, which we assume covers a week’s worth of boarding along with all the other perks — surfing lessons, reiki sessions, grooming, a new wardrobe, a personal chef and much more.

These, mind you, are services the dog will receive, presumably while his or her owners are on vacation somewhere else, assuming they have any money left to take one.

Behind the ridiculous gimmick are Paw Seasons, a luxury dog hotel in Bristol, England, and VeryFirstTo.com, a company specializing in luxury experiences.

It will be made available to only one dog, said VeryFirstTo.com founder Marcel Knobil.

“It’ll definitely be an individual or couple who enjoy an extravagant lifestyle. While they go off to the Caribbean they want their pet to have an equally enjoyable, extravagant stay where they are,” Knobil said. “It’s for those who enjoy the finer things in life and have a sense of humor. They have a soft spot for their dog and want them to have the best time possible.”

Highlights of the “Spectacular Luxury Dog Holiday” include chauffeured rides by the Paw Season’s hotel driver, a private suite showing dog movies on a screen, a doghouse built to replicate the one the dog has at home, local beach and countryside walks, a running session with hurdles World Champion Dai Greene, a day with author and dog behavior expert Stan Rawlinson, and a grooming at the Pet Spa at Harrods that includes aromatherapy bath and body massage.

No one has signed up yet, but Knobil told ABC News. “We’re pretty hopeful. We know it’s extravagant, but it’s a fabulous time for the dog and benefits two very good causes.”

The companies say $10,000 from the sale of the package will be split between two charities — Cancer Research U.K. and Battersea Dogs Home.

(Photo: Veryfirstto.com)