Recently, I finished reading the great book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean. Though technically a book about the famed movie star dog of its title, it ultimately serves as a history of dogs in general in popular culture over the past century and how radically that has changed. Once seen as just a part of the barnyard pack, they have managed to become central parts of our families, and much of that has been shaped by movies, books, television and other forces and popular culture.
Besides Goodbye, My Lady and the brief flash of a basenji at the opening of African Queen, I don't know that they have been featured in any other forms of mass entertainment. That may be for the good that they are somewhat obscure and people still ask "What kind of creature is that" at least two or three times a day on our walks. The 101 Dalmatian and Beverly Hills Chihuahua movies have probably sent hundreds if not thousands of dogs into rescue when people did not research the breed and then weren't prepared for what they got.
It got me to wondering if basenjis have been pets of any famous people. Just as I was contemplating that, I was reading the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle when this picture of Pauline Kael, the famed New Yorker magazine film critic popped up in a new mention of a biography about her. It turns out that she had two basenjis named Polly and Bush Baby who moved with her from California to New York in 1965. They were so central to her, that they were even mentioned in the 2001 New York Times obituary. I don't know that any other basenjis have achieved quite that level of national fame. Many of her friends reportedly loved the irony of this woman who could never stop talking would choose a breed of dog that never barked so she could continue to dominate every conversation.
A leading movie critic may not be quite a celebrity these days, but I wonder if there are any other well known people -- entertainment figures, politicians, sports stars -- who are more famous and have had basenjis in their life. Kael was known for being strong willed, opinionated, caustic, not one to suffer fools, but loyal to those she admired or at least tolerated. Not bad qualities for a basenji owner I would say.
Of course, every basenji owner knows that their curly tailed monsters are true stars in their home. At the risk of weaving in a total nonsequitor I will share this photo of my stars in their Halloween finery.