BILL DORGAN'S TROUPE OF DRAMATIC TERRIERS
"BILL DORGAN had a good many ideas about dogs," said the man in the seedy shooting coat. "All the time he was breeding the spook hounds and working the brain hounds up to their wonderful stage of development he was making experiments.
"He never got discouraged, neither. When the Astral Spirits' Protective Union boycotted the spook hounds, and when the brain hounds got so wise that he couldn't hold 'em, he was more'n half started on his second marvelous experiment—the dramatic terriers.
"Bill got the idea one night when he went to see a 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' show up to Yonkers. When 'Liza began skipping across the cakes of ice, out come five niggers holding bloodhounds by the collars. At least they called 'em bloodhounds, but they looked more to me like the scrapings of the pound.
"They trotted acrost the stage with the niggers holding back on 'em, and making like they was having a hard time keeping 'em in. But anybody could see it was all a bluff.
"'They ain't no snap or ginger to that exhibition,' says Bill after the show, to Mrs. Dorgan. 'What's the matter with starting a breed of dogs that can act?'
"'They's millions in it,' says Bill after he'd studied on it a spell. That was always the way with Bill. The more he thought over one of his ideas the more it growed. 'I bet we've got a thousand "Uncle Tom's Cabin" companies in this country. What wouldn't they give for a pack of dogs that could really act?' he says.
"'Now you go slow,' says Mrs. Dorgan. People was always telling Bill to go slow, but the more you shut down the brakes on him the worse he got. He went straight home and brought his little English setter Lady Dandelion into the house and studied her.
"Lady Dandelion wasn't what you'd call an intelligent dog, though she was pretty good to look at if you didn't care for points. But she knowed a lot of tricks, and the more you laughed at her and jollied her along the worse she cut up.
"She'd come into the room and climb into the baby's high chair and set there, dropping her tail through the hole; she'd set in the cane bottom and fold her paws and laugh with her tongue out, waiting for you to laugh back. And if you'd only laugh back and clap your hands and tell her she was a nice dog, Lady Dandelion would git right down and run through all her tricks.
"'Fine for a starter,' says Bill. 'Fine and fancy. But what's the main point about actors? Imitation.
"'Lady Dandelion is strong for the glad hand and great on public applause. Now if I can get some more like her and some dogs that is good at imitating, the dramatic terriers is started,' says Bill.
"But Mrs. Dorgan puts in her oar. She says:
"'Bill, you're trying too much. If these are going to be actor dogs you've got to breed for body as well as traits of the intelleck. Actors has got to be good looking. I don't see how you're going to have any luck breeding for body as well as brains.'
"'Brains?' says Bill. 'Who ever said it took brains to act. What I want is prinkiness and imitation. Here. Dandelion!' and he puts her back in the kennels.
"So Bill ups and neglects his regular business again and goes to chasing canine phenoms. Pretty hard to get the kind he wanted, too. Lots of dogs that was as vain as peacocks and learned tricks great had to be rejected because they wasn't good looking enough.
"He got about a dozen finally and starts his breeding. Along about the third generation he begins to get results.
"There was the dog called E. H. Sothern, for example, a handsome sort of a pup. He was quick as a cat and pretty as a picture. And the tricks he wouldn't learn if you kind of laughed at him and jollied him along wasn't worth learning.
"Mrs. Siddons was a fine big one with a deep alto bark. She was always serious, which was why he named her that way, but the trick she couldn't learn in half an hour wasn't worth learning.
"Contrarywise, Joe Weber was a nachera1 born clown dog. Jest git him startted on his foolishness and clap your hands and laugh and he'd stick out his little red tongue and breathe hard to himself—like this: 'Hah! hah!'—and make home bright for a hull day.
"It was about this time that the brain-hounds got too smart for Bill and run away, leaving him time to put his hull attention on the dramatic terriers. In two generations more he had a set of living wonders.
"'I'm about ready to turn her loose,' says Bill. 'Come and ride in my auto, will you, Sam, when I began to realize.'
"'Getting: ready to unload 'em on the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" people?' says I.
"'Better'n that.' says Bill. 'Run up to the town hall at White Plains next week. There's where we're going to try the dogs on the dog,' he says mysterious like. 'We hit Broadway next month.'
"'What in time's the game?' says I.
"'Keep it dark,' says Bill. 'We're goin' to do "Uncle Tom's Cabin" all alone—every part took by one of the dramatic terriers!'
"He loosened up then and told me. It was going to be one of these here pantomimes, where they don't say nothing, but only jest act. Only this show and other pantomimes had points of difference.
"He'd hired Edwin Booth Jones, who's what they call a dramatic reader, to stand behind the stage and read off the words. The dogs was going to come out on the stage and do the acting.
"Bill had studied quite a while before he picked 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' He thought some about 'Camille,' with Mme. Rachel, what was a little, soft-haired white dog, in the leading part. But he thought he'd try 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' first, because everybody knows it.
"'Course, that's only a starter,' says Bill. 'Now, there's a dog over there I'm training for the leading part in "Zaza." She's a disgrace to the kennels, but she's got temper'ment, and she looks the part, now don't she?'
"Well, half of White Plains was in the town hall, and I sat with Bill in the author's box. He had a speech all wrote out which he was going to talk oft between the second and third acts, when they got to calling for author. Of course, he wasn't the author of the show, but he was the author of the great new scheme, which come to the same thing.
"Lew Dockstader, that was a fine, big dog, more Newfoundland than anything else, played Uncle Tom. Topsy was one of the little black clown dogs, third generation from Joe Weber.
"Bob Hilliard was the kennel name of the one that played Simon Legree. He had a fine big bark, but he was always scrapping at rehearsals, which had caused Bill all kinds of trouble. W. H. Crane, what was more Scotch terrier than anything else except greyhound, was Lawyer Marks.
"And Mme. Rachael, whom they'd picked to play Camille before Bill switched his plans, was Little Eva. Bill was awful proud of her. Said that she was going to be the biggest hit of his kennels.
"Well, the lights went down and the curtain come up, and the show started off with half a dozen supe dogs rollin' cotton and the White Plains male quartet singing behind the scenes. The effect was great. Those White Plains people was that astonished you could hear a pin drop in the house.
"And then in comes Lew Dockstader playing Uncle Tom and Mme. Rachael as Little Eva. They sets down on a bench jest like people, and that dramatic reader in the little box behind Uncle Tom's cabin begun to talk the words of the show.
"'Uncle Tom, tell me about heaven,' says he, in a kind of little girl voice.
"And when he said that Little Eva raised her front paws the way she'd been taught to do, and Uncle Tom slipped his forepaw over her shoulder.
"The effect was something grand. I sneaked a look at Bill. He was setting there with his arms folded across his best Sunday cutaway coat, looking like George Washington crossing the Delaware.
"Mrs. Dorgan was crying; she was that happy. And the audience just rose up and roared, it applauded that hard.
"Well, sir, that applause done the business. It's astonishing what happened next.
"For jest as soon as the applause died down so's you could hear anything, there was an awful lot of growling in the wings. Not loud growling and barking, but low growls, the kind a dog makes when he means business.
"And all of a sudden Bob Hilliard come jumping through the air and caught Lew Dockstader by the throat, and over they rolled. In jest about a minute it rained dogs.
"The hull company come rushing on the stage. Nell Gwynne, that was playing supe that night, went straight for Madame Rachael, and what she didn't do to her wasn't much. In another second forty dramatic terriers was having it out in full view of the audience.
"Everybody likes a dog fight, and the audience, that took it for a part of the show, was as pleased as anything until Edwin Booth Jones, that dramatic reader, got rattled and busted out of his cage and tried to make a sneak.
"Noticing this, and figuring that he'd come in for part of the applause, a half a dozen of them terriers got out of the bunch and come at him. They cut him off from the wings and he lost his head and hurdled straight over the footlights with James K. Hackett and Robert Taber hanging to his coat tails and Frederick Ward trying to get at his calves, and Louis James and Forbes Robertson and Zaza nipping for any place they could get a hold.
"Edwin Booth Jones took a tumble in the center aisle, and rolled over into the audience. Then the stage got too small for Bob Hilliard and Lew Dockstader, and they rolled after them and laid in the aisle and fit and fit and fit.
"The people begun to scream and rush for the doors. If the side of the White Plains town hall hadn't busted open with the rush of people, they'd 'a' been one of them theater horrors you read about.
"The town constable and the scene shifters and volunteers from the audience got in and tried to pound 'em apart. For about five minutes all you could hear in that the-ayter was howls and growls and whacks.
"They pried 'em apart at last. Mme. Rachael was pretty near done for, and Bob Hilliard had chewed great hunks out of Lew Dockstader. The first canine 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' company was busted for fair.
"It was this way, as Bill Dorgan explained it to me. He'd bred them dogs to type so long that they was jest like real actors. Only he hadn't bred in enough brain-hound so's they'd have sense and self-control.
"When they see another dog holding center stage, gitting all the applause, it was more than purfeshional jealousy could stand. It was a thing Bill never figured on until he got 'em before an audience.
"You never could do nothing with the dramatic terriers after that. Even when they had a rehearsal, just as soon as one of 'em got the stage and begun to act the others cut up awful, and either got to fighting or had sulks and wouldn't act at all.
"So finally Bill sold 'em all separately to trained dog people and used the money to pay for the expenses of the show in White Plains and repairs to the White Plains town hall.
"It was the only time I can remember when Bill come out even on any of his dog experiments."