Furry Friends of Music: “Walking the Dog” with Gershwin

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.

Proofs of George Gershwin's pet dog Tony. Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Proofs of George Gershwin’s pet dog Tony. Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

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.

George Gershwin, his mother Rose, and Tony the terrier, relaxing poolside at their Beverly Hills home. Ira and Lenore Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

George Gershwin, his mother Rose, and Tony the terrier, relaxing poolside at their Beverly Hills home. Ira and Leonore Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

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!

Tony playing with a ball. Ira and Leonore Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Tony playing with a ball. Ira and Leonore Trust Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress.

 

To read about other musical figures and the animals in their lives, please read the original post in the Furry Friends of Music series, as well as Leonard Bernstein and Honey.

 

Bibliography:

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.

7 Comments

  1. Sharon M.
    September 26, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Those terriers are just so mischievous!

  2. Elin Peltz
    September 26, 2016 at 10:16 am

    “Walking the Dog,” by RufusThomas

    …Just had to mention, as I first thought you were writing about Rufus Thomas! I’m a big Gershwin fan as well. Thanks for the article.

  3. HOWARD ALEXANDER STAFFORD
    September 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you Elin Peltz for your comment. When I saw the title I too immediately figured that it was about Rufus Thomas who I always loved his music and Carla too. I still enjoyed this article and how important dogs have been to so many of us all through history.

  4. Cait Miller
    September 26, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you for your comments, Elin and Howard!
    The title refers to an instrumental Gershwin piece written for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance (1937) to accompany a scene where, appropriately, they are each walking a dog. One recording was made with John Mauceri conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in “The Gershwins in Hollywood.”

  5. Jessica Sawyer
    September 27, 2016 at 6:35 am

    It’s interesting that a small insight like this can enhance ones appreciation for a composer’s music. As a dog lover myself this has given me a new way to look at Gershwin and will change how I listen to his music. This story would make a lovely addition to the Gershwin exhibit. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. Michael Morris
    March 27, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I unearthed a rare Gershwin tune form 1919 about a man and his dog. Thought you might enjoy it. https://gershwin100.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/were-pals/

  7. doug barnett
    April 30, 2018 at 12:51 am

    In the late 1930’s my Father built a 16mm color film lab on Highland Ave. ‘Pacific Industrial Films’ and an aluminum camera ‘boom’, the only pictures i ever saw of the boom was him filming the Gershwin’s dogs in their back yard. I think they were Red Setters, but Kodak Kodachrome dyes fade & red is the most persistent dye.

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