And now, enter stage right, a life-size “human dog” named Bonzo.

I’ve spoken often of the concept of the “Soundies time machine.” How extraordinary that these film shorts can allow us to “travel back in time” give us the experience of a vaudeville show in 1918 Manhattan, or a jazz performance during the war years on Chicago’s South Side.  While this Soundie is somewhat unusual, not in the best shape, and possibly not one that you’ll want to return to often, it does allow us to get a taste of a routine shared by a star of the vaudeville stage from more than a century ago.

Alfred “Alf” Latell began performing in 1902, specializing in the impersonation of animals – bears, dogs, monkeys, goats, and a variety of birds – complete with appropriate sounds. (His appearance as “Bonzo the Dog” was apparently an audience favorite.) Latell might well be one of the earliest stage performers to also be seen on the Panoram screen. The fact that a review from Variety in the early 1930s describes Latell as simply “the funny dog-actor” suggests that readers would be familiar with the routine. Latell was frequently on the road, and while appearing in Montreal during the late 1930s, a reviewer noted that Latell was “still getting all the laughs.” And here we are, October 1943, and the lascivious Bonzo is still going strong, scoping out the womens’ legs in a Soundie titled Putting on the Dog.

This Soundie was produced during the recording ban in New York City by a reinvented Minoco Production, operated by Jack Berry and a new partner, Pyrmen Smith. With the recording ban/musicians strike in effect, the soundtrack was recorded by a small non-union quartet led by pianist Charles Touchette. The featured tune is “Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone,” sung by Iris Howard. Howard was usually based in Los Angeles where she worked in nightclubs, on the radio, and the burlesque stage.