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Tag: tricks

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.

Stumped: How I turned my dog into a decorative lawn ornament

stump 006

It has been a year now since Ace and I moved into a little house in Bethania, North Carolina, and we’ve made a home improvement or two – even though we just rent.

One issue I hadn’t figured out though was what to do with the big tree stump in the front yard – which many might view as an eyesore.

Two years ago the whole property was an eyesore. The house was heavily damaged by a fire – a fire that, I’m told, killed two or three of the dogs that lived with the person who rented it then.

The little white house on Main Street sat vacant – amid a neighborhood of historic, pre-Revolutionary, mostly meticulously kept homes in Bethania, a community settled by Moravians in 1759.

It was purchased and renovated by the man who’s now my landlord, and since I moved in – and without spending too much of my own money – I’ve tried to make some little improvements here and there to the grounds.

As for the tree stump, I contemplated hollowing out the center and turning it into a decorative planter, but that would be a lot of work.

I thought about putting a plaque across it, the sort that a lot of the truly historic homes in town have. Mine’s just 1940s vintage, though.

I considered carving a Moravian star – sort of the town symbol – on the top of the stump. But that would be a lot of work, too.

For a good long while, I was stumped. Then it came to me. Rather than cover it up, I should use the big ol’ stump as a focal point – as the foundation, or pedestal, if you will,  for some artwork.

And that’s how my dog became a decorative lawn ornament.

You know those big mansions you sometimes see – the ones with big cement lions on either side of the driveway? I’m not sure what message those big cement lions are supposed to send – other than “Yes, I’m rich enough to afford big cement lions.” Or maybe, “Enter at your own risk; this area patrolled by big cement lions.”

Having no big  cement lions myself, and having a pedestal on only one side of my driveway, I decided upon a variation of that theme, and called upon my big ol’ dog.

It took only a day to teach him, with help from treats, to “Get on the stump,” and then sit still, and then stay there when I walk away.

(Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, and even learn some your old self.)

Now, I can sit up on the front porch and command him to get on the stump, and then watch as people in cars whizzing past my otherwise nondescript house do double takes and point.

(Just as a reminder the speed limit is 35 in front of my house.)

Being a living lawn ornament, and given he has come to expect some treatage for getting on the stump, he’s not entirely motionless. If you watch carefully you can see the flow of drool that often cascades from his mouth while he’s up there, knowing that, in exchange for his toil, there’s a treat in his near future.

He’ll sit there for 10 minutes or more, though I usually don’t make him stay that long.

Of all the yard improvements I’ve made – flower boxes and flower beds and distributing pine needles to cover up the weeds on the front bank that’s too steep for me to mow – I think the Ace lawn ornament is by far my biggest achievement.

He is after all, the finest work of art I own, and I like to think – whether he’s up on his tree stump pedestal or just hanging out in the yard – he makes the bucolic little town of Bethania even more beautiful.

(Photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

 

Old dogs, new tricks, good times

How could you not love a guy whose last name ends with “mutt?”

How could you not be smitten with a man with the mug of a pug, the work ethic of a sled dog; the insatiable curiosity of a boxer; and the droopy demeanor of a basset hound?

If you were to mix Yogi Bear with Rocky Balboa, then southern fry them, you’d have David Perlmutt, in whose house Ace and I spent the last three days. He’s one of those guys who underwhelms you (to borrow a friend’s description) on first impression. (I, too, am a member of that club.) He’s very low key, quite soft spoken, and doesn’t feel the need to publicly exhibit vast amounts of enthusiasm, which is not to say he doesn’t have it. It’s in there, percolating. But being perky is not his thing. He’s not exactly Mr. Bubbly.

In that way, and a few others, we are peas in a pod. We both graduated, the same year, from the University of North Carolina’s journalism school – though we don’t think we knew each other back then. We both worked at the Charlotte Observer, though in my case just for a year. He’s been there nearly 30.

We’re both divorced (though in my case twice) and we both have only children headed off to college this month.

We’ve both written books – he one called “Charlie Two Shoes” that may be on its way to becoming a movie; me a soon-to-be-released one called “Dog, Inc.

We’re both disheartened by what’s happened to newspapers in the past decade or more, and worry about their future, but he has hung in, while I – for the time being, anyway — abandoned that ship.

And we’re both plum dog crazy.

(And no, I’m not proposing. He has already turned me down.)

But he did invite Ace and me to be guests in his lovely home among towering trees in a quiet Charlotte neighborhood that’s filled with dogs. His two, Caki and Clancy, were at the home of his ex (with whom he shares custody of the canines) so I didn’t get a chance to meet them.

But I did get a chance to meet his neighbor’s dog, a  golden retriever mix named Winnie, who consented to show me her trademark trick, opening, then closing, the Archer family’s front door.

She performed it flawlessly three times in a row, because that’s how many tries it took for me to get a decent photo. (Perhaps I should train Ace to take pictures and let him handle the photography from now on.)

Winnie, who’s three-years-old, is assisted in the task by a rubber band, wrapped around the door knob (one of those regular round door knobs), which allows her front paws to get some traction, and twist the knob. Then she pushes the door open, walks inside, turns around, closes it with a flick of her front paws and beams proudly.

“She picked it up in no time,” said Ellen Archer, who, with the aid of treats, taught Winnie the trick.

 

My visit to Charlotte — on top of checking out The Dog Bar, spending some time with cousin Laura, reconnecting with Perlmutt and re-meeting his now-grown and multi-talented daughter, Ainslie (today’s guest columnist) — also gave me a chance to look up another old friend, Ray Owens.

He’s one of my ex-college roommates who, despite being in near constant prank mode — then and now —  somehow managed to become a successful attorney. As it turns out, he has lost neither his hair, his sense of humor, nor his detailed memories of college days, including the time, driving home from a Deep Purple/Uriah Heap/Black Sabbath concert in Fayetteville, we hit a furious rainstorm. My yellow Firebird — though, I would argue still, a totally  hot car — had broken windshield wipers, so we resolved the matter by tying shoestrings to each wiper and, from inside the car, pulling the wipers back and forth manually the whole way home.

Not a bad trick, either. I think we rewarded ourselves from the sack of treats we carried with us for the trip — Fritos and bean dip, as I recall.

You might imagine that we’ve grown up since then — that we’ve all become respectable and responsible adults as we pass through middle age and beyond; that we’ ve realized that life is serious business and, once your hair is gone or going grey, it’s time to close the door on Black Sabbath, childish pranks, dopey behavior, running in circles and needless frivolity.

But if we’ve learned anything from or dogs, it’s this: Naaaah.

Spinning dog’s curious habit makes the news

CBC News in Canada.

Tucker was featured on the Today Show yesterday, prompting some chuckles among the staff. But as some of our readers point out in the comments section below, Tucker’s behavior may be no laughing matter — and even a sign of an illness.

Better late than never: A Bo-prah moment

You’ll have to forgive us for being a few days late in bringing you this groundbreaking moment — when Bo met Oprah. Despite our vigilance, this one somehow slipped between the cracks. So, without further ado, here it is: Bo and Oprah high five.

BARCStoberfest: Saturday in Patterson Park

Hon_DogHalloween may be more than a week away, but the time to start costuming your pooch for BARCStoberfest is now.

BARCStoberfest takes place this Saturday, Oct. 17, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Baltimore’s Patterson Park.

The costume contest, a perennial favorite, starts at 1:30 pm. Dogs can compete in any of several categories: Best Halloween Theme,  Best Hon/Best Boh, Matching Dog & Human and Most Original.

A Best in Show winner will be selected (by audience applause) from the four category winners. There’s a $15 entry fee for each category, and prizes in the contest are donated by Dogma.

Other contests at BARCStoberfest include most unique pet trick or talent, best tail wagger, best singer or howler, best kisser, fastest treat eater and smallest and largest dog. There’s a $5 entry fee for those competitions.

The 5th annual BARCStoberfest is a festival for animal lovers that helps raise funds for BARCS, which takes in 12.000 animals a year. If it’s rained out Saturday, it will be held Sunday.

But what about writing and arithmetic?

Since we brought you the dog who can read yesterday, we thought we’d continue today with the dog who can do math.

Reading, arithmetic … what does that leave? Oh yeah, writing. What’s that? You don’t think a dog can write?

Think again: