The following is a guest post from Gershwin Archivist Janet McKinney.
Dog: composer’s best friend? Sometimes it seems like a novel idea that these revered historical figures would be charmed, comforted, and loved by animals just as the rest of us are. These seemingly larger than life personalities become more relatable when there is an adoring pet by their side.
If we are to believe a New York Herald Tribune article published on November 6, 1929, George Gershwin purchased as a gift for his parents the wire-haired terrier he would name Tony on October 30, 1929. The very next day Tony wandered out of the apartment at 33 Riverside Drive. George placed a lost and found advertisement in the New York Herald Tribune and the dog was recovered a few days later on the fifth of November. Apparently, this was only the first of several occurrences, as The Gershwin Years relates that Tony “was often in the news either by getting lost or stolen, but somehow always returned.”
In the biography Gershwin, Jablonski recounts another story of Tony’s adventures when he often had free reign to roam outside the Gershwin residence on 103rd street. Tony wandered home with eleven-year-old Joseph Zahler, whereupon Joseph’s father noted the collar and license and instructed the boy to return the dog to its rightful owner. George kindly rewarded Joseph five dollars for Tony’s safe return.
In 1936 George and Ira Gershwin signed with RKO Pictures and flew to Hollywood to write film scores. Tony would follow George to their new home in Beverly Hills, though he would travel cross country in Gershwin’s Buick. The car, driven by George’s butler Paul Mueller, was filled to the brim with Gershwin’s personal belongings. Paul kept a diary of the events of each day, keeping track of costs and other details of the trip. In the diary, preserved in the Music Division’s George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Paul reported he had to stop because poor Tony was sick and he was afraid the dog might die. Paul wrote that the veterinarian they saw “advised me strongly not to take the dog another mile in the car.” George mentioned in a letter to his friend Zena Hannenfeldt that Tony would have to stay there in the animal hospital for a couple of days. Happily, Tony recovered and soon joined Gershwin out on the West Coast. Pictured here are George, his mother Rose, and Tony the terrier, relaxing poolside at their new home.
Tony is the most famous of Gershwin dogs, but was not the only dog in George’s life. In Howard Pollack’s biography he writes that “Gershwin often had a dog (usually a terrier) by his side, including Bombo, Tinker and Tony.” If only we knew the origins of those names!
Diary of Paul Mueller, 1934-1936. Box 67 Folder 2, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
“Lost and Found-Public Notices.” New York Herald Tribune, November 3, 1929.
George Gershwin, letter to Zena Hannenfeldt, September 2, 1936. Box 64 Folder 5, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.
“Gershwin Finds Lost Dog Through Advertisement.” New York Herald Tribune, November 6, 1929.
Jablonski, Edward. Gershwin. New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Jablonski, Edward, and Lawrence D. Stewart. The Gershwin Years. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
Pollack, Howard. George Gershwin: His Life and Work. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.