Morris and Essex: Rare Video Brings Ring Greats Back to Life (Part 1)

Newsreel films recently added to YouTube provide a rare glimpse of the Morris and Essex Kennel Club show at the height of its prestige and splendor. In these short films dog-show greats of yesteryear, known to most of us only as static figures in old photos, come vividly to life. In the first of a three-part series we take a look at Morris and Essex show of 1939, perhaps the greatest outdoor dog show ever staged.

The Backstory

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge founded the Morris & Essex show in 1927 at Giralda Farms, her magnificent estate in Madison, New Jersey. By 1939 the show had grown to immense proportions. It took 160,000 square feet of canvas tenting to contain the world-record entry of 4,456 dogs and 2,400 exhibitors. (The big-top that housed the 1939 edition of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus required only 70,000 square feet of canvas.) At its height, Morris and Essex was more than twice the size of the next-largest outdoor show.

But, wrote the AKC Gazette’s Arthur Frederick Jones, “While size often is a contributing factor to greatness, size alone never has been the sole distinguishing characteristic of the Morris and Essex show. Its real claim to fame lies in the meticulous synchronization of its whole machinery of operation and in the endless thought that has been expended in anticipating the needs of the exhibitors.”

The Film

At more than 11 minutes, this is the longest of the three videos. There is no soundtrack, but there are helpful title cards. Of special interest is the presentation of the group winners, beginning at 7:36, an up-close look at one of the most formidable Best in Show lineups ever assembled:

• Breeder-owner-handler Herman E. Mellenthin’s Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own Brucie, called by Jones “the finest achievement of the man who probably has contributed more than any other to the advancement of breeding in America.” Earlier in the year Brucie, sired by My Own Kennels’ top stud Ch. Red Brucie, was named Best American-Bred at Westminster. (He would later go BIS at the Garden in consecutive years, beginning in 1940.)

Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler, rated among the greatest show dogs in U.S. history, handled by another legend, Len Brumby Sr. The day before this film was shot, Saddler won the 42nd of his 59 career BIS (American and Canadian), at the American Fox Terrier Club national. The pride of Wissaboo Kennels, Saddler was a 1938 M&E group winner.

• Standard Poodle Ch. Blakeen Eiger, handled by owner Hayes Blake Hoyt in her trademark white gloves and stylish hat. The previous year Mrs. Hoyt handled Eiger’s litter sister, Jung Frau, to an M&E group win. Brother and sister were sired by the celebrated Swiss import Ch. Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace of Blakeen.

Dachshund Ch. Herman Rinkton, the AKC’s Best American-Bred Hound of 1938, one of the era’s top BIS winners.

German Shepherd Dog Ch. Odin vom Busecker Schloss, representing the Working Group. (Herding dogs would not get their own group until 1983.) Owner-handled by Sidney Heckert, of Santa Barbara, California, Odin was a West Coast sensation proving himself against the Eastern elite.

• The famed orange-sable import Pomeranian Ch. Sealand Moneybox, owner-handled by Mrs. Vincent Matta. This was the second consecutive trip to the M&E finale for the powerhouse Pom.

The Big Finish

The task of choosing the best of this Mount Rushmore of dogdom fell to William H. Pym, a distinguished all-rounder judge from Vancouver, Canada. Jones reported in the Gazette, “Mr. Pym judged the final class as methodically as any man who ever has stepped into a ring. There was no indication that he ever before had seen these dogs, or that he knew their reputations. He was looking at them with eyes open only to points and faults as they were revealed on the day. And from the way he went over each specimen, he seemed to be checking off the sections of the standard against which each had been bred.”

Evaluating a lineup of unsurpassed quality, it was no surprise to the ringside faithful that Pym would do his work with utmost care. Eventually, he pointed to the Cocker. When Pym signed the judge’s book, he wrote a glorious chapter in our sport’s history.