A Salute to Luke the Dog

One of life’s great pleasures is watching dogs in silent comedies, and perhaps the greatest of them all was Luke, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier that belonged to Roscoe Arbuckle and his wife, actress Minta Durfee.

Luke enjoyed a six-year career in pictures—from 1914-1920—working not only with Arbuckle, but also with other comedy stars of the era, such as Mabel Normand, Buster Keaton, Betty Compson and Edgar Kennedy, among others.

Arbuckle and Durfee acquired Luke as a puppy in November 1913 from film director Wilfred Lucas. Some say Lucas gave the pup to Durfee in lieu of “hazard pay” for a dangerous stunt he asked her to perform during the filming of one of his pictures. It’s reported that Luke’s name was inspired by the director’s last name.

It was Arbuckle, though, who trained and taught Luke to perform on command for the camera, and Luke was one game pooch when the call of “Action” was heard. He earned $150 a week when working on a film—approximately $2,000 in today’s money.

Luke’s final performance came in the Buster Keaton short The Scarecrow(1920), and it’s sequences from that film that we’ve edited to create this video tribute (you should watch the entire short—it’s terrific).

Arbuckle and Durfee separated in 1921 and later divorced, and it was Durfee who was awarded custody of Luke, though Arbuckle retained visitation rights. It’s thought that the pair’s parting of the ways is what led to the end of Luke’s acting career.

Luke died, age 13, in 1926. He was a good dog and a wonderful performer.

Googling Bygone Beaneries, Tough Guys and Rich Gals

We love old movies on their own merits, but we watch them in a way that’s very different from the way we watch modern films. For us (and we’re confident we’re not alone in this), old movies are like time travel. We listen closely to the dialogue for slang we might not have heard before, we examine all the actors from head to toe to take in their vintage clothing, we watch for period billboards and advertisements to discover long-forgotten products and businesses, and when we do uncover something new, we quickly turn to our good friend Ms. Google to see what knowledge she has to share.

Recently, we were watching Undertow, a film noir from 1949. It stars Scott Brady (he was Lawrence Tierney‘s brother, you know) and an actress we weren’t sure we recognized named Peggy Dow.

We looked up Dow on IMDb.com and learned that, after just a handful of pictures, she gave up Hollywood to marry a guy named Walter Helmerich, who was just getting started in the family business, which just happened to be oil drilling. The Helmeriches resided in Tulsa, Oklahoma (our native state), raised five sons and must have done pretty well for themselves, because the theatre department at the University of Oklahoma is now named the Peggy Dow Helmerich School of Drama (we figure they must have kicked in with a pretty sizable donation to earn that honor).

We graduated from that very school (though it hadn’t yet been named after Ms. Helmerich at the time) with a BFA in Theatre, so we feel a certain connection to her now. If we hadn’t watched Undertow and been inspired to do a little digging, we’d have never known.

By the way, as of this writing, Ms. Helmerich is still with us. And not only is OU’s drama school named after her, so is the auditorium at Northwestern’s Annie May Swift Hall (her alma mater). And since 1985, the Tulsa Library Trust has annually presented the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award to a deserving writer.

Now, back to the movie: At one point in the picture, Brady returns to his hometown of Chicago and there are some nice shots of South Wabash Avenue as he tries to ditch a cop who’s tailing him. How do we know it’s Wabash Avenue? Well, a restaurant called Lander’s caught our eye as Brady strolled past it (In Chicago, It’s Lander’s was the eatery’s slogan).

It had an appealing vintage look to it, glass bricks and all, so we turned again to Ms. Google with fingers crossed to see if it had somehow managed to survive to the present day.Read More »