Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review of "The Book of Joe: About a Dog and His Man" by Vincent Price




Vincent Price is probably best known for his roles in campy horror movies like House of Wax, The Fly, The Tingler, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, and many more. Price was also a well known London stage actor, Broadway thespian, and star of a wide variety of films.

In his private life Price was a great animal lover, and this book is about his dog Joe, perhaps the favorite of his many pets. In 1948 Price bought Joe - a short-legged, multi-colored, sweet-faced mutt - from a pet store for the bargain price of $3.50. Those were different times, and Joe was allowed to roam freely through his California neighborhood, sometimes staying away for days at a time. At one point Joe fathered a litter of pups at the home of actor Barry Sullivan and started spending most of his daylight hours there. Sullivan and his wife, thinking Joe was homeless, "adopted" him and named him Brownie. This led to an awkward incident when the Sullivans went to the Price home for dinner and saw their dog Brownie there! Everyone had a laugh and things turned out fine.

When Price injured his eye Joe demonstrated the instincts of a therapy dog. He lay on Price's bed or hovered at his feet day and night. Though Price inadvertently (and repeatedly) kicked Joe, stepped on his tail, trod on his paws, tripped over him, bumped into him, etc., nothing would deter the loyal pet's vigil. Joe demonstrated similar concern when Cousin Georgia, a cancer-stricken family friend, stayed with the Prices during her last months. Except for eating and walkies, Joe stayed right by her side until the end.

Price's wife Mary preferried pedigreed dogs to mutts and hoped to get a white puppy from a breeding pair of standard poodles. Instead Mary got a gray pup she named Prudence. Prudence was a lovable gal who - disdaining the cold stone floors of the Price home - would settle her fanny firmly on Joe's protrate body. After Prudence was bred, nine additional canines entered the Price household (though no white ones). Mary was fond of alliteraton and "Prudence Price's" babies were dubbed Paderewski, Pinto, Pansy, Patience, Penelope, Picayune, Percival, Pablo, and Pasquale - and to keep with the theme Joe was nicknamed PJoe. Following their mommy's example, the "P" youngsters took to sitting on Joe (ha ha ha). In time, seven of the pups were adopted out and the Prices became a three-dog-family, along with six birds and seven goldfish.

Price also tells stories about other animals he owned, met, or worked with. As a child, for example, Vincent inherited his sister's Boston bull terrier, Happy, when she got married. Having a flair for drama, young Vincent staged theatrical productions and - using household items like fur ear muffs, a lampshade, and cheap earrings - dressed Harry up as historical characters, including Cleopatra and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Later, while working in London, Price adopted a Siamese cat mix he named Albert the Good (for his role as Prince Albert in "Victoria Regina"). Later, back in the U.S., Albert roamed the roofs of New York, making friends far and wide. When Price adopted a bulldog named Johnny, Albert (seemingly) decided the apartment wasn't big enough for both of them and disappeared. Price eventually got an anonymous note affirming that Albert now had a good home...but would be returned if Johnny got the boot. Price decided to keep the dog.

Price has addtional humorous stories about befriending a goat (who got an Eskimo Pie out of the deal), and working with a horse, a cigarette-smoking chimp (he preferred menthols), a camel (who had a crush on the movie star), and bad oysters :) One story, about Price buying his son two Easter chicks that grew up to be shoulder-riding Bantam roosters, is hilarious. I especially relate to this story because - after my grade-school son brought home two Easter chicks from school - our family had a (reluctant) years long relationship with pet chickens and roosters.

Price has more stories about Joe, whom he dearly loved...and who loved him in return. Joe's finest moment may well have occurred after an indigent alcoholic odd-job man, recklessly riding a bike, collided with the dog. Knowing Price was a famous actor the old fellow sued for $13,000 - claiming Joe attacked him. Poor Joe endured the following trial with great dignity, even providing a few laughs for the judge and jury. And he won!

Price intersperses his many entertaining animal stories with tidbits about his personal life, professional roles, and interest in collecting art. Price is an excellent writer with a wonderful command of the language and a consistently droll delivery. To add to the fun, the prose is interspersed with humorous cartoon drawings of scenes from the stories.

I enjoyed the book from the first page to the last - including the preface by Price's daughter Victoria and the introduction by actor Bill Hader. I'd highly recommend "The Book of Joe" to dog lovers and anyone else who likes a good story.

Thanks to Netgalley, the author's estate, and the publisher for a copy of this book.



Rating: 4 stars

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