In the tradition of classic dog stories like Anna Quindlen’s Good Dog. Stay. and J. R. Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip, actor Vincent Price shares the heartwarming tale of his fourteen-year love affair with his mischievous yet endearing mutt Joe Actor Vincent Price won acclaim for his performances as a menacing villain in dozens of macabre horror films, such as House of Wax. Less well known, though, is Price’s lifelong love of animals, especially his fourteen-year-old mutt, Joe. From his wife’s passion for poodles to film set encounters with all types of creatures, including goats, apes, and camels, Price’s life was full of furry, four-legged friends. But it was Joe who truly captured his heart. Intelligent, courageous, and devoted to his owner, Joe was a special dog with a personality all his own. In this touching and light-hearted memoir, with a new introduction by Bill Hader and a preface by Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria, Joe gets involved in all sorts of hijinks: At one point, the actor has to defend his canine companion in court! Despite some bad habits, like stealing guests’ shoes, pursuing lustful trysts with neighboring dogs, or belly flopping into the garden fishpond—crushing more than a few fish—Price loves his Joselito, whose unconditional loyalty more than makes up for his minor indiscretions. And when Price’s elderly cousin who comes to stay with him is stricken with cancer, Joe never leaves her side. Price’s tender and witty recollections of his time spent with Joe will bring joy to any animal lover’s heart. The Vincent Price Family Legacy will donate a portion of the proceeds from this book to the Fund for Animals.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Vincent Price (1911–1993) was a prolific American actor, best known for his roles in horror films such as House of Wax, The Mad Magician, and The Fly. He also starred in a series of Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations directed by Roger Corman, including The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, and The Masque of the Red Death. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Yale University, Price began his acting career while pursuing a master of fine arts at the University of London. His vast work included more than one hundred roles in film, radio, and television, with his singular, deep voice becoming synonymous with PBS’s Mystery! and BBC Radio’s The Price of Fear. An avid art collector, Price and his wife, Mary Grant, established the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College with two thousand pieces from their own collection. Price is the author of I Like What I Know: A Visual Autobiography and The Book of Joe.
Read an Excerpt
The Book of Joe
About a Dog and His Man
By Vincent Price, Leo Hershfield
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1961 Vincent Price
All rights reserved.
THIS IS A TALE OF how I went to the dogs or, to be numerically correct, to the dog. Now please do not expect this book to end with a glorious proclamation of rehabilitation. Not a chance. After fourteen years I'm incurably hooked on, intoxicated by, and addicted to — my dog, Joe.
No candidate for a show ring, my Joe. The only kind of ring with which he's familiar is the one he inadvertently but unremovably dyed in the dining-room rug. Dear but tactless friends have remarked that Joe is ugly. They make sport of his hairy, pointed ears; his legs that bow before and waddle after; the sweep of his tail (so luxurious even I have to admit it's slightly ridiculous ... kind of like a waif wearing mink); they consider his color untidy and his nose tough as a truffle. Well, either they're blind or I am, because the older he gets the stronger these debatable charms take their claim of me.
As I'm writing this, he is comfortably curled up on my feet. That is, he used to be able to curl when he was slimmer. Now his position at my feet could probably best be described as lumped, and the sound accompanying this lump these days — a muted symphony of snorts and wheezes — is not unpleasant save, perhaps, that it harbingers the winter of his existence, a thought that causes a lump in my throat ... and one I'll happily forgo for now.
Through fourteen years of togetherness, with life's inevitable highs and lows, there have been times when Joe has offered me more humanity than humans could. Between Joe and me there is only one line of communication: affection. And it is the only communication system I know of that so seldom needs repairs. Attention, vigilance, yes. But the power that feeds it has the soul as its source — the basic dynamo that makes us all go — and I go all the way with Joe.
I'm a man who needs a lot of definitions. I have a library that, by no means totally definitive on any subject, does somewhat placate my inquisitiveness about the whys and hows of lots of things with lots of answers. On the subject of man's relationship with dogs, however, I can find little explicit information. There are volumes on how this relationship affects men, and a few attempts to tell how it affects dogs — not, unfortunately, firsthand from a dog. But apparently the fact that it does exist and has existed since the beginning of time is taken so for granted that no author I can find has felt called upon to try to explain why. There it is. Most men patently love dogs, and dogs, for the most part, apparently love men.
So much whimsey, sentiment, and bathos have been written about it that one is almost put off attempting it once again, especially one determined to avoid some of the above approaches. The whole subject seems somehow to sum itself up in a somewhat saccharine statement that a man's best friend is his dog. This devastating declaration, which quite blandly eliminates the possibility of man's liking his own kind anywhere near as well, no one seems concerned about. And every day, now that I'm hypersensitive to it as a statement of fact, I see new evidence of its truth.
For example, there's the brute who belts his wife in the jaw, dresses his children down with a stream of toothsome oaths, then turns to his pet and purrs it an earful of sweet talk that would put a traveling salesman to shame. He will order his family around like a sergeant, and then wait, hand and foot, on his four-pawed friend, whose watery eyes will only reproach him for his kindness by demanding more. No effort is too great to make his animal feel as a man's best friend should: beloved. To hell with the wife and kids.
At a gala party one night, in the best of company, suddenly two poodles arrived, unannounced, and immediately took over all conversation, social intercourse, and two of the far-too-few chairs. Exquisite ladies in fashionable creations and priceless jewels put the fragile seams of their dresses to unendurable stress in inelegant positions to get on a level of social exchange with the poodles. The men, usually voraciously hungry and thirsty at the cocktail hour, became abstaining circus trainers in their efforts to lure the poodles away from the ladies with fancy hors d'oeuvres and even the martinis. The host and hostess turned into an ogre and ogress who gave evidence of wishing that we'd all go home so they could enjoy their dogs by themselves. For the half hour of the poodles' stage center not a single sentence was exchanged by the guests unless by someone who, made unbearably homesick for his own dog, frantically tried to divert attention from the poodles present by relating laborious tales of the cute intelligence and acid acumen of his own Scotty, beagle, Dalmatian, basset hound, or — pardon the expression — poodle — with a much fancier clip and better disposition.
One guest who quite obviously prided himself on his rugged masculinity went completely limp and lisped a long sentence of baby talk to one of the dogs and, catching himself at it, quickly directed his attention toward somebody else's wife, but so self-consciously and quickly that a touch of unbecoming baby talk remained in his hot pursuit of her charms.
My search and research for a clue on the subject of this strange behavior has brought me no definitive answer. However, the proverbs of all nations, as well as the vernacular, are filled with homely references to dogs, such as the old American saw that defines man's three good friends as "An old wife, a dog, and money." There's little question in my mind that this is an admirable trinity. Of course, it could be modernized with other adjectives: "A young wife, an old dog, and much money."
"After a time, even a dog makes a compromise with a cat." So say the Hungarians, contributors to female felininity in the persons of some of the most glamorous ladies of stage, screen, and boudoir. Perhaps one of this same type of lady, some time back, invented another Hungarian proverb: "Dogs bark, money speaks."
"Going to the dogs" is always a phrase applied to people who are easing out of life's responsibilities and having a helluva good time doing it. But just so we won't hurt the feelings of our canine friends, once the slider hits bottom, we never say, "He's made it! He's at the 'dogs.'" And can it not be said that in "going to the dogs" the trip may often have been started by a "hair of the dog that bit you"?
Suffice it to say that man's literature is full of references to dogs, and I only regret that dogs have no literature to be full of men.
There's another familiar adage: "Every dog has his day." Well, Joe and most dogs I've known have not only their day but most of mine and parts of other people's, too. When the day isn't theirs, you'd better get them to the vet's. They're sick.
So, back to the "day" of Joe, which, as I've mentioned, began fourteen years ago.
It was the eve of Christmas Eve. Clouds were low with the promise of rain. California's answer to a white Christmas is, more often than not, a wet one. But rain in the Sunshine State can bring with it all of the coziness of snow, if you let yourself dream a little. If you're an actor, between "assignments" you have a drink and make toasted cheese sandwiches. At least I do. And if it's Christmas time, you set about all the happy chores of that happy season, which you never expect to be sad.
But on this occasion Christmas loomed a couple of days ahead, like the funeral of hope. By mutual agreement my wife and I had parted. She took our five-year-old son and went to stay with friends, and Christmas walked out with my boy, leaving me unseasonably and unreasonably desolate. No ... not unreasonably. I love Christmas. I had come from a happy home and Christmas was the happiest of family times. Perhaps my parents had their problems too, even at Christmas, but if they did they kept them well hidden, and whatever might have been showing was blurred to my eager eyes, peering at the miracle of Christmas from behind rose-colored glasses.
Throughout our lives, no matter what our ages, most of us anticipate the holidays. We look forward to their happiest fulfillment. We never really expect a bad Christmas. But that sad eve of Christmas Eve, I looked forward to only one thing: having it over with. It seemed that the whole world was sinking around me and I was alone, a monument to loneliness, beneath those canyon sycamores laden with mistletoe, with only misery tall enough to reach my height and kiss me.
All I had were the dogs. An empty house and the dogs — one, a brindle bitch who, mongreled some generations back, still looked like what might have been an early ancestor of the Norwegian elkhound. She had been named "Golden Blackie" by my son because of her black-tipped, golden fur. The other, her pup, Panda, also named by my boy because he was a woolly black and white ball of fur, was the only one we had kept out of a litter of twelve, sired by a disagreeable but ever-lovin' mutated brute who lived up the street. By this Christmas, Panda was a happy, prancing, almost-mature puppy dog, as black as black coffee, except for an immaculate white chest-dickey. His greatest pride was an ebony plume of a tail, behind which Sally Rand would have been proud to hide her ample charms ... if possible.
I was mighty grateful for the dogs and took them with me as I did some feeble, last-minute shopping. At home they were close at foot as I wrapped half a heartful of gifts for my boy and threw up some disconsolate decorations around the house. They sensed my desolation at the whole procedure and gave what loyal animals always give at such a time — an added sense of despair — as they dragged behind every move I made, and, whenever and wherever I lit, made two heaps of furry dejection at my feet.
I trimmed a tree in the knowledge that the boy would spend some little promised time with me on Christmas Day. I even hung up a stocking — but lower this year — for I felt that Panda, in his present mood, wouldn't have enough spunk to think of it as his own, as he'd done the year before, when he was a voracious, bent-pawed ball of a pup. The year before, Panda had eaten the stocking and its contents, leaving for hungry Santa's visit only a forlorn, half-chewed tangerine.
Panda had lost his pep. I was right. Once the stocking was in place and within his reach, he simply put his heavy chin on the curb of the fireplace and eyed it sadly, while Goldie consolingly bathed his face with her currycomb tongue.
By noon on Christmas Eve, a little blurred on beer, I went sound asleep on the floor in front of the unlit fire. The last thing I remember was that Goldie had decided that I needed a bath too, and was starting gently with my ear.
When you live in a narrow California canyon, there are two sounds that strike terror in you: a siren ... and screeching brakes. They announce the two possibilities of disaster: fire or — because there are no sidewalks — an accident in which someone or something has been hit, or almost.
Screech! Silence ...! And I was awake and off the floor and out the door and in the street. A woman ran toward me, mumbling how sorry she was. What about? My dog.
There, on the neighbor's lawn, lay Goldie, whimpering and licking her leg. It was broken.
Somewhere out of the leftover terror of being awakened by that screech — out of my beer-bruised brain — out of the burden of that new aloneness — came the longest continuous line of curse words I've ever mustered up in my life. This careless carful of people had hurt my dog and I damned them with every word of hate I'd ever heard until their car slunk down the canyon with its spare between its wheels and disappeared. Then I called our good vet, who appeared almost before I hung up. He gave Goldie a quieting shot, bound her leg, and took her off to the hospital, leaving me with the assurance that she'd be all right in a week or two.
I called the friends with whom my wife was staying and told them to tell her about Goldie. I hung up, had a real drink this time — whiskey — and quickly I was completely awake and as sober as a member of A.A. in good standing.
It was time to feed Panda and eat something myself, then wait out Christmas Eve or, if I were lucky, sleep it out. I whistled for that big black mutt. I needed him and, with Goldie gone, he'd need me.
He didn't come.
I've always found that dogs are much more sensitive than we give them credit for being, especially when we think that something isn't going to affect them. And, in the same light, they can drive you crazy with insensitivity when you think that they've had a tough time of it, by not caring a hoot in hell for your concern for them.
I was afraid that Panda might have tried to follow the vet, or have gone off up the street in complete indifference to Goldie's plight. Either way, I had to find him, so I searched the house and then the garden.
Up on the back terrace, sticking out from under a pitisporum bush, bent with its Christmas splendor of red berries, I spied his large black plume of a tail. I snuck up on it and gave it a gentle yank. No wag. I lifted a berry branch and there was the rest of him, quiet as he'd never been ... dead.
He'd been hit and had taken off on the impulse that he was still alive, only to die a hundred yards away, under the bush with the Christmas-red berries.
I buried him near the bush, and then I sat down on the ground and cried — for about an hour. My God, how it hurts a man to cry! Not from masculinity abused or from vanity or fear that someone will see you. It just plain hurts. This time it hurt so much I didn't even think of doing what I always had done the few times I'd cried before: look at myself in a mirror. This was a sadness I didn't want to see and certainly didn't want to remember.
"Merry Christmas!" The first jerk who said that to me was going to get the most un-Christian cold shoulder ever given for free!
I slept the Eve away, waking every once-in-the-night with the cold anticipation of having to tell my boy that his dogs were hurt, and that his special, loving one was dead. And yet I slept late in the subconscious knowledge that there would be no early tugging out of bed to open stockings this Christmas morning.
Little boys are enchanting creatures. They are merrier and more inconsequential than little girls. Little girls learn so soon what they are, and to play it for all it's worth. Little boys aren't on the make for anyone. I had dreamed, ever since I was one myself, that someday I'd have one — a boy child. This boy was my dream come true. Blond, loving, sensitive, and completely boy. My profession had kept me away from him enough that my responsibility to him weighed pretty heavily. But now I would have to live without him, with only the usual "normal visiting rights," every-other-weekends in which to try to be a father; odd holidays to make desperate passes at his affection. And here was the first of these, the togetherness of his family still day-fresh in his mind; bewildered by why he was not in his own room; why he and his mother were away from home at Christmas ... and where was I?
The few hours he would be with me, this greatest of all children's days, we wouldn't have a chance to repair any of the present or future punctures in our relationship, or even patch up this immediate hole in our Christmas stocking. Goldie's leg was broken, Panda was dead, and I had to tell him that the only things still entrusted to me of our old security were hurt and beyond hurt.
Had it been my fault? Hardly, since the dogs were always allowed to run free. But I indulged myself in a shallow wallow of self-recrimination and decided that it was no escape. The facts existed. I had to face them.
My son was coming in the door any minute and I had to make the best of it. Some crazy notion made me run up to the back terrace, fashion a crude cross of red berries, and put it on Panda's grave. What I expected that to mean or do I had no idea, but it made me feel better and I'd pretty much decided that anything that would make me feel better was the thing to do. Misery loves self-indulgence.
He arrived, full of love and of tears that came like a quick little storm, soothing but violent while it lasted, for the sun was not far away. In our joy at seeing one another the tears stopped, at least long enough to let us open the presents, and they would make him forget to cry — I hoped.
Our hours were eaten up with Christmas fun and we parted with mutual promises that everything was going to be all right and that I'd call him tomorrow.
Excerpted from The Book of Joe by Vincent Price, Leo Hershfield. Copyright © 1961 Vincent Price. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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