Man’s Best Friend
Mr Marlon Brando with the family dachshund, Van Nuys, California, October 1949. Photograph by Mr Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
From lions and anteaters to dogs called Pussycat, we pay tribute to the four-legged companions of the great and the good.
A man’s pet says a lot about him. We’re all familiar with the sight of would-be hard men parading around parks with vicious-looking rottweilers or pit bulls. Pugs, meanwhile, sit at the opposite end of the spectrum and are much loved by men (including the late Duke of Windsor) who have nothing to prove with regard to their masculinity. When it comes to choosing a pet, there are considerations beyond mere appearances.
These days, few of us think beyond the norm – cats, dogs, fish and birds. But in the 1970s, some powerful men, notably the British casino owner Mr John Aspinall, felt that only by keeping lions as pets could they adequately convey their dominant position in society. For more on this extraordinary period of history, read The Gamblers, Mr John Pearson’s remarkable book about the notorious British aristocrat Lord Lucan, the era in which he lived and the milieu in which he moved.
Regardless of a man’s position in society, there are obvious practical problems when it comes to exotic pets (lion walkers are so hard to find), which is presumably why Mr Aspinall founded Howletts Wild Animal Park. So, to assist you while you consider whether there’s room in your life (and your home) for a primate, a reptile, an arachnid or a crustacean, you can review the choices made by some of the 20th century’s most remarkable men.
Mr Gardner McKay and Pussycat
Mr Gardner McKay and his pet dog Pussycat, Hollywood, 1959. Photograph by Mr Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The late actor Mr Gardner McKay is now little remembered, perhaps because he turned his back on Hollywood in the late 1960s in order to concentrate on his sculpture (which he exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art) and playwriting (which earned him a variety of theatre awards). Today we’re more interested in his confusingly named dog and the frankly reckless manner in which Mr McKay dried its hair after it had been washed. Pussycat, who looks like a miniature old English sheepdog, must have been a habitual daredevil, as other photographs exist that capture him climbing a ladder.
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Mr John Barrymore and Clementine
Mr John Barrymore at his home in Los Angeles with his pet monkey Clementine, circa 1926. Photograph by Corbis
A star of cinema’s early silent era, Mr John Barrymore was in Hollywood working on his 1926 movie Don Juan when he was photographed with his monkey Clementine. The room’s elaborate decor – and Mr Barrymore’s elaborate outfit – remind us that this was a different era. One suspects that Hollywood actors in the 21st century are about as likely to occupy rooms furnished with velvet table cloths and silver model knights as they are to relax wearing a sports jacket, tie and high-waisted trousers and smoking a pipe. While the current whereabouts of Clementine’s family are unknown, Mr Barrymore’s descendants include his granddaughter, the actress Ms Drew Barrymore.
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Mr Marlon Brando and Kurtze Beiner
Mr Marlon Brando with the family dachshund at his grandmother's house in Van Nuys, California, October 1949. Photograph by Mr Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
In 1949, two years after his breakthrough theatrical role in A Streetcar Named Desire and a year before his cinema debut in The Men, Mr Marlon Brando was temporarily living in the Van Nuys district of Los Angeles. With a legendary stage performance behind him and superstardom only a few years away, Mr Brando spent time in the Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys preparing for his first film role, in which he played a paraplegic WWII veteran. While in LA, he lived with his grandmother and clearly grew fond of her cruelly named dachshund Kurtze Beiner (“short legs” in German). Dachshunds, as Mr Brando’s grandma clearly knew, are ideal apartment pets, thanks to the limited exercise needed to tire them out. Rest assured there is an inverse relationship between the length of their legs and the size of their personalities – just look at Kurtze Beiner’s face.
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Balthus and Mitsou
Balthus at home in Switzerland with his cat Mitsou, 1999. Photograph by Ms Martine Franck/Magnum Photos
The Polish-French painter Balthus was born Mr Balthasar Klossowski de Rola in Paris in 1908. While his work is regarded as classical, and always retained a figurative style that contrasted with the modern forms explored by his contemporaries Mr Pablo Picasso and Mr André Breton, it was often shockingly explicit; naked girls (often pictured next to cats) were a speciality. During WWII, Balthus fled Paris and eventually settled in the extraordinary carved Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland, with his second, much younger wife Ms Setsuko Ideta. Cats were a life-long obsession for Balthus, who, at the age of 11, published a book of drawings of a stray cat that he’d befriended. Incredibly, given the artist’s age, the Austrian poet Mr Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the book’s foreword. In this shot, taken in Balthus’s 91st year, the painter, in comfy-looking loungewear, relaxes with his much-loved cat Mitsou.
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Mr Lucien Freud and his dog
Mr Lucien Freud, Coombe Priory, Dorset, April 1956. Photograph © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
The famous British painter Mr Lucien Freud was a well-known dog lover, and immortalised the animals in oils and charcoal – his “Double Portrait” of 1985-1986 captures his whippet Pluto asleep next to Ms Susanna Chancellor, but he first painted a pooch in “Girl With A White Dog” (1950-1951). This photograph was taken five years after he painted “Girl With A White Dog”, when Mr Freud was a young artist living in Combe Manor, a house in Dorset, south-west England. The name of Mr Freud’s dog is sadly lost to history, and we can only speculate on its breed (a labrador? A setter? Some kind of spaniel?). It’s far easier to be certain about the intensity of Mr Freud’s stare, and how envious we are of his sweater.
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Mr John Huston and his whippets
Mr John Huston at his country house, Ireland, 1968. Photograph by Ms Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
The late Hollywood star Mr John Huston was both an actor of real quality (Chinatown) and a distinguished director (The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen). He had a long career, with his first acting credit (an extra in 1929’s The Shakedown) and his last (1987’s Mister Corbett’s Ghost) separated by 58 years. His prolific directing work was nothing if not varied, and took in a noir classic (the aforementioned The Maltese Falcon), a Western (The Unforgiven) and Annie, a children’s musical. Here, Mr Huston is captured in rugged workwear treating his whippets at the table (tut, tut) in his Irish home, St Clerans Manor House in Galway.
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Mr George Adamson and Boy and Girl
Mr George Adamson with lions Boy and Girl, Kenya, 1960s. Photograph by Mr Akhtar Hussein/Associated Newspapers/REX Shutterstock
The British conservationist Mr George Adamson was born in India and worked in Kenya as a gold prospector and hunter before he joined the country’s game department in 1938. Mr Adamson lived an admirable life in the Kenyan countryside, where he and his wife Joy raised lions. The most famous of these animals was an orphaned cub called Elsa, whom Mr and Mrs Adamson hand-raised before releasing her into the wild (Elsa’s story later inspired the 1966 film Born Free). In this photograph, Mr Adamson is out walking with Boy and Girl, and the shot is one of many that depict the extraordinary proximity that characterised his close relationship with the lions.
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Mr Salvador Dalí and Babou
Mr Salvador Dalí with his ocelot Babou at The St Regis, New York, 1965. Photograph by Mr Roger Higgins/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC
The surrealist painter Mr Salvador Dalí had a very modern sense of how an artist’s public image could play a role in supporting and promoting his artistic endeavours. Either that or the man really was nuts. Whichever it was, Mr Dalí’s most famous furry friend was a giant anteater that he took for a walk on a lead in Paris in 1969 (a moment in history when middle-aged painters, even ones as famous as Mr Dalí, probably struggled to make themselves heard above the riotous clamour of the youthful soixante-huitards). The anteater was a prop for a stunt, rather than a companion; Mr Dalí’s real pet was Babou, a Colombian ocelot (a dwarf leopard) that accompanied him wherever he went, including on a transatlantic crossing aboard the SS France and on visits to grand hotels such as Le Meurice in Paris and New York’s St Regis.