Morris and Essex: Rare Video Brings Ring Greats Back to Life (Part 3)

Newsreel footage recently added to YouTube provides 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.

This last installment of our three-part video series provides a tantalizing glimpse of the 1948 Morris and Essex show, staged by club president Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. A crowd of 15,000 saw history made by a dog with the coat of a lamb and the heart of a lion.

The Backstory

At ringside for the AKC Gazette was editor Arthur Frederick Jones:

“Trimmed down to a more workable size by limiting the number of breeds entered to 38 [a 2,664-dog entry, down from a record high of 4,456 in 1939], the recent event on the greensward at Giralda Farms, Madison, N.J., was the closest thing to perfection possible in a one-day exhibition.

“It will be remembered that last year history was made when the great Bedlington Terrier Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket went best of all breeds at Madison. To some that may have seemed like the end of the chapter. Actually, it was only a preface.

“Night Rocket went on to take Westminster, the indoor classic, but few were so bold as to install him as a favorite to go best of all breeds at Morris and Essex again. But that is what he did, and in so doing he established a new page in doggy history, for never before was there a two-time winner of this celebrated show. The victory brought him permanent possession of the Percy A. Rockefeller Trophy. Less publicized, but no less acknowledged as a great one by those who knew their dogs, Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket has become the closest canine counterpart of the horse racing world’s Citation.”

The Film

This is a clip from a newsreel produced by British Pathé, the leading name in news footage for the U.K. market between 1910 and the rise of BBC television. The silent snippet is just 45 seconds long, but it packs a lot of history into its brief running time.

At 0:15 we glimpse three of M&E’s 1948 group winners: Miniature Poodle Ch. Ensarr Salute handled by Henry Stoecker, best known to future generations of fanciers as a revered all-rounder judge; Ruth B. Sayres’s Pekingese Ch. Sheraton Dorian, in close-up; and Mr. and Mrs. William A. Rockefeller’s Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket and the famed Bedlington specialist Anthony Neary, who gaits his prize charge in an idiosyncratic style that can only be described as something between a strut and a march.

At 0:31, Best in Show judge Alva Rosenberg (taller than he looks in still photos) strides to the center of the ring, turns, and beckons to his winner, the Bedlington. There’s a quick cut to the rambunctious Rocket—obviously shot earlier in the day—and then a cut back to the BIS ring, where Neary and Rocket are seen striding toward the winner’s platform. Mrs. Dodge approaches Rosenberg to shake the hand of the great all-rounder.

At 0:42, we get a lovely shot of Rocket on the platform. Neary stoops down to give the fleecy Bedlington a few quick flicks of the comb. Mrs. Dodge holds the Percy Rockefeller Trophy mentioned in the Gazette story. Seconds later photographer Evelyn Shafer took the win shot at the top of this page, one of the best and most important photos of her distinguished career.

The Big Finish

“I haven’t judged him for a year, but he is just as great a dog as he was then,” Rosenberg said of his choice for Best in Show. “He hasn’t coarsened in any way, moved perfectly, was in perfect condition and fine coat. He beat a grand lot of dogs, but he won quite easily. I’d say without reservation that he is one of the best I’ve seen in 38 years of judging.”

For more in this video series, see Part 1 and Part 2.