Now the World Knows the Story of How Robert Altman Tattooed Harry Truman’s Dog

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10/20/2009 2:12 PM |

Robert Altman Oral Biography

Appropriately, reviews of Mitchell Zuckoff’s new Robert Altman: The Oral Biography are accruing into an overlapping portrait of the ornery bastard; in times like this, we turn to reviews of new biographies for anecdotes and quotes suitable for bloggy excerpt.

It’s touching that Shelley Duvall used to call Altman “Pirate“, and weedy, boozy testimonials from coconspirators Tim Robbins and Michael Murphy are fun but hardly surprising (neither are their unpleasant, ugly flipsides); and Altman’s alluded-to affair with Faye Dunaway has apparently been a matter of public record since at least 1989—though if this comes as news to you, as it did to me, you’re going to want to take a minute to really fully consider the implications here, because seriously, what?—so in looking for something new to post here we turn to Dana Stevens, at Slate, who has already taken the trouble of typing up the section of the book in which Robert Altman tattoos Harry Truman’s dog.

Yes, it turns out that, after getting out of World War Two, Bob tried his hands in the dog-tattooing racket, inscribing some identifying marks on the haunch of an unloved Truman family puppy (“Truman had this dog he didn’t even care about, a little dog of some kind. They sent it over to us and we tattooed it.”).

Given the timing of Altman’s discharge from the armed services, the dog would presumably have been Feller, a Cocker Spaniel. And Robert Altman tattooed him. There you have it.

This is not the only time a major American filmmaker has tattooed the a presidential pet, of course: to guard against espionage during the Second World War, William Wyler was assigned the task of tattooing Fala, Franklin Roosevelt’s terrier, in between directing newsreels; in 1977, George Roy Hill did an anchor on Liberty’s left foreleg (at Betty Ford’s request). And in 1995, Mary Harron and Socks the cat got matching tramp stamps.

2 Comment

  • Why does everyone seem so surprised that Bob hooked up with a still-in-her-prime Faye Dunaway? (David Thomson rudely calls their alleged affair “implausible,” begging the question of what Mr. Thomson’s little black book looks like.) Whatever, I saw Altman do a talk at a Museum of the Moving Image screening a few months before his death, and dude was a total charmer, plus

  • Hey, Pablo Picasso was only five foot three, but girls could not resist his stare; I’m not talking aesthetics here (although knowing Thomson I rather suspect that he is). My surprise has more to do with the pairing of the ice-queenly control-freaky Dunaway and pothead and all-world crank Bob. They’re two of my favorite people in movies, but I would have thought that just putting the two of them in the same room together would have created sufficient opposing gravitational fields to form a miniature black hole right there in the living room of your La Brea bungalow.