Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chuck Eisenmann, trainer of Littlest Hobo (1918-2010)

Chuck Eisenmann, then with the Kearney (Neb.) Irishmen baseball team, shows off one of the stunts taught to his German shepherd, London, the future star of The Littlest Hobo in the movies and on television.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 28, 2010

The star of the heartwarming Canadian television series The Littlest Hobo was a dog who showed an uncanny knack for arriving at a time of peril. After performing heroics, the shrewd stray resisted entreaties to stay, preferring instead the adventures on offer further along the open road.

The vagabond canine — in truth, several look-alike German shepherds — was handled by Chuck Eisenmann, himself a restless, wandering spirit.

Eisenmann, who has died, aged 91, spent decades promoting what he described as a unique, modern method of teaching animals — four-legged performers and their two-legged owners alike. He rejected the word trainer, preferring instead to be thought of as an educator.

“Any dog has the seeds of genius,” he pronounced.

He insisted dogs were capable of more than simply reacting to barked commands.

“The educated dog has the power to reason and to act on the conclusions reached,” he said.

Accompanied by his pack, he made untold thousands of personal appearances to promote his technique, as well as the movies in which the dogs starred.

The ballyhoo promised “the world’s greatest intellectual dogs! Hear them talk, add, subtract! See them do feats of intelligence! See the world’s only dog with a 5,000 word vocabulary in three languages!”

The arrival of the dog man and his amazing pooches was headline news in isolated locales such as Elyria, Ohio; Lawton, Okla.; and Mason City, Iowa,

By the late 1960s, Eisenmann was a guest on television talk shows, appearing on the Mike Douglas Show with a men’s fashion designer and the National Apple Week Queen, and on the Steve Allen Show with the comedian Henny Youngman and the folk-rock band the Youngbloods.

In 1972, Eisenmann conducted a demonstration for the benefit of the psychology club at the University of British Columbia, as recounted in Weekend Magazine.

He commanded his dog, London, to jump into the air.

The dog jumped.

“This time, London, when I say ‘jump’ it will mean lie down and put your paws over your eyes ... London, jump!”

The dog dutifully lay down before covering its eyes.

He expounded on his theories in a series of softcover instruction guides with such titles as “Stop! Sit! and Think” and “A Dog’s Day in Court.” He posed with five of his dogs for the cover of a 1975 long-playing album called “Educate your Dog by the Eisenmann Method.”

Before finding fame as a dog expert, he owned a night club, worked as a sports editor, enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and served as commandant and athletic director of a military school. Four years of military service during the Second World War interrupted a professional baseball career that included pitching for teams in Ottawa and Vancouver.

Charles Paul Eisenmann was born on Sept. 22, 1918, at Hawthorne, Wis. (He would later add two years to his birth date so as to not appear too old a baseball prospect, a common practice at the time.) After graduating from high school, he joined the peacetime U.S. Army at age 18.

A gifted athlete, the right-hander pitched for a service team in Hawaii, according to research by the baseball historian Gary Bedingfield for his “Baseball in Wartime” blog. Scouts noticed the 6-foot-1, 195-pound hurler with a looping curveball and he was signed to a contract, beginning his pro career with the Henderson Oilers of the Class-C East Texas League, far down baseball’s alphabet ladder.

A stint with the Vancouver Capilanos, a Class-B team, the following summer led to an eventual promotion to the old San Diego Padres, two levels below the major leagues. He pitched in just three games before swapping his red-and-white flannel uniform for army greens five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1943, having graduated from officer school, the second lieutenant pitched for the Signal Monarchs in an eight-team league featuring American, Canadian and British soldier athletes in London, according to Bedingfield. Eisenmann’s hurling led his squad to the title over a Canadian hospital team.

The historian also notes the officer suffered severe injuries when the blast of a V-1 buzz bomb blew him through the wall of his office.

“That bomb didn’t make the slightest preliminary buzz and the only warning I had was when I heard a guard on the roof shout, ‘Jump!’,” Eisenmann later said. “I instinctively did and was actually in the air when the explosion came. It blew me backward right through the wall of the room. Fortunately, the wall was crumbling with the explosion.”

He followed the Allied armies through northwestern Europe after having organized in Paris the first baseball game to be played on liberated French soil.

After returning stateside several months after the end of the war, he resumed his playing career in the high minor leagues. After three seasons, he gained his reward with a promotion to the parent Chicago White Sox at the end of the 1948 campaign. But he was not called on to pitch before season’s end and, as it turned out, sitting on the bench at Comiskey Park was as close to a major league appearance as he ever got.

He pitched in 17 games for the Ottawa Giants in 1951, another way station in a career that also saw him wear the uniform of the Lake Charles (La.) Skippers, Yakima (Wash.) Pippins, Tulsa (Okla.) Oilers, Memphis (Tenn.) Chickasaws, Syracuse (N.Y.) Chiefs, Birmingham (Ala.) Barons, Oakland Oaks and San Francisco Seals.

At age 34, he was released, though he refused to give up the game. He worked briefly as an umpire in California and took turns on the mound for semiprofessional teams in Nebraska and North Dakota, where he pitched for the Bismarck Barons of the ManDak League.

It was while operating a nightclub in the offseason that he got his first dog, which he named London after the city that had so bravely faced down the Nazis. Ever after, his top dog carried that name.

The dog accompanied him to the ball park in summers. One newspaper account described London’s panoply of tricks: “The dog brought keys from Eisenmann’s car, bowed to the crowd, brought a bat and a broom to the pitcher, ran the bases, brought a ball bag from the mound, told how old he is (five), imitated a kangaroo, closed a door, turned out a light, played dead, untied a boy and did a little typewriting.”

In 1955, with his master managing the Kearney Irishmen, London was sent onto the field during a game to bring a warmup jacket to the pitcher, who had reached first base. The dog mistakenly went to the pitching mound before spotting the pitcher and completing the delivery. But the delay caused the other team to protest and the umpires banished Eisenmann and London from the field.

The rhubarb attracted the attention of Life magazine, which devoted a two-page spread to the pair.

In turn, the article was noticed by Dorrell and Stuart McGowan, brothers who had in mind an idea about the adventures of a homeless dog. The Littlest Hobo, a movie released in 1958, told the story of a stray who befriends a boy and rescues his pet lamb from a date at the slaughterhouse.

This was followed two years later by My Dog, Buddy, starring London in the title role in a story of “a huckleberry-faced boy and his dog.” The boy is orphaned when his parents are killed in an automobile accident.

London and younger understudies Toro and Thorn starred in two other movies, The Marks of Distinction and Just Between Us, the latter in which a dog jumps from a trestle and leaps onto the wing of a taxiing airplane.

The baseball wonder dog and his owner were also featured in the 1963 book, “London: The Dog Who Made by the Team,” by David Malcolmson

That same year, the CTV network added to its schedule a new show, also named The Littlest Hobo. It was billed as an adult action series, airing in the early evening. The program got solid reviews — “the star will amaze you,” wrote gossip columnist Walter Winchell — and found a global audience in syndication. The series, which lasted three season, was filmed at the Hollyburn Film Studios in West Vancouver and other locales in British Columbia.

The altruistic Alsatian rescues a prospector from death in the desert, thwarts a bank robbery, and stops another dog from attacking a politician on the command of his evil owner, portrayed by Eisenmann. Along the way, London befriends a Cuban refugee boy, an ex-prize fighter, a lumberjack, a bronco rider, a nightclub singer, the owner of a Chinese restaurant, and an aboriginal boy who is both deaf and mute in a episode starring Chief Dan George. The friendships are always short-lived, as the hobo dog drifts along to the next town, riding the rails to adventure.

The series was revived in 1979 for a six-season run. By now, Eisenmann had seven dogs (two of them female) to satisfy a hectic schedule. The series, filmed in Ontario, attracted such actors as a teenaged Mike Myers and the venerable Al Waxman.

The series was syndicated to more than 40 countries, a rare Canadian cultural export outside of pop music to find so wide an audience.

Eisenmann had a simple philosophy to explain his success with his animals.

“A dog thinks just as a human does, and if you treat him as a stupid animal eventually he will act that way,” Eisenmann said. “That’s why I act positive around my dogs and treat them as friends.”

Eisenmann, who died on Sept. 6 at Roseburg, Ore., leaves two daughters, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and a sister.

13 comments:

Candy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candy said...

This is a great post. I saw Chuck Eisenmann and his dogs London, Thorn, Toro and Little London when I was a little girl. The show was wonderful. This morning, I woke up thinking, "I wonder if I could find Chuck Eisenmann on the Internet, so I could thank him." Sadly, it's too late for that, but I would like to thank you for this lovely post.

Laureen said...

Hello, I have just been watching the Littlest Hobo on T.V. It is wonderful
to see the program again.My name is Laureen I am 77yrs old, My whole family loved to watch the program so fresh and amazing what London could do and the way he wonder from place to place helping people and animals.
The stories were well plotted different each time,some fun ones as well,that is what made me look him up on my computer so glad he was loved all over the world Thank You for bringing London back.

Jacquie said...

My mom asked me to look up her old
friend, Chuck and was saddened to
hear he had passed so recently.
We met him in Vancouver,visited him at his home and were amazed at his dogs intelligence, how they could distinguish colors when choosing items, etc. Chuck later visited my mom & her husband in Alberta, Canada and bred his sheperd "Hobo" with our dog Natasha. Later he would jokingly tell my mom, the only male
of the litter was unfortunately a
"doughhead" (that would be difficult to educate) so he let
us keep him. It was great to read
your article, thanks.
Our condolences to Chucks family.
Jacquie Walker & family, of Banning, Ca. formerly from Vanc., B.C.

Grace Cha said...

Hello! Just saw on TV about The Littlest Hobo. I've been all smiles searching through the web more about Chuck Eisenmann and his dogs. Figured from a first edition of his book being offered for sale at Amazon that he had some dogs named London, Hobo and Toro. Great post here. Tweeting this @sadenshi. Cheers!

moosejawventure said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wayne said...

I met Chuck Eisenmann when he was filming The Littlest Hobo in 1963 in Mimico, Ontario. I remember because I was in the 1st grade. I was walking by the set (in front of a house) and a black and white german shepherd smelled the sandwich I had in a paper bag and was taking it the couple of blocks to my aunt's house. The dog was following me and a man yelled London, and then he came up to me and started talking to me. Asked me where I was going etc., and the next thing I know I had invited him to our house for dinner. Or he got me to invite him LOL. Then he took my mom and I (dad was out of town on business) for ice cream in New Toronto and there we were in this big station wagon with 4 dogs and one of them even took a bite out of my vanilla cone. I'll never forget it. Chuck asked my parents if I could be in one of the episodes and I actually appeared in one in a school bus. Chuck then was finished filming and left but he did keep in touch with my mom. Dad wasn't happy about that. And mom told me years later that Chuck had wanted her to marry him and he'd take us both out to the west coast. Mom said she couldn't leave my dad, but I still have a photo album of all of the dogs, some of the pictures are signed by Chuck. And I still have a couple of the letters he sent us which prove what mom said. From what I can remember Chuck was a really great man and the dogs were all awesome. RIP Chuck.

Unknown said...

Hi my name is Andre,I recently purchased a abandoned hoader property, now that I'm cleaning it up I found probably over 500 books"a dogs day in court" and over 500 " the better dog" pamphlet along with maybe 5000 various pictures, I was just wondering why this lady would of had so many, the property is in Field on.Any help would be appreciated

Andre Lefrancois said...

Hi my name is Andre,I recently purchased a abandoned hoader property, now that I'm cleaning it up I found probably over 500 books"a dogs day in court" and over 500 " the better dog" pamphlet along with maybe 5000 various pictures, I was just wondering why this lady would of had so many, the property is in Field on.Any help would be appreciated

Unknown said...

Hello André;
Interesting post. I know of a few people who are interested in Littlest Hobo or Chuck Eisenmann memorabilia - for purely sentimental reasons, not commercial reasons.
Would you be interested in sharing some of this 'find'?
If so, let me know how to reach you.
Thanks,
HoboTalk@sympatico.ca

Thanks

TorreyMomma said...

My adopted dad had his dog training school based on what he learned from Chuck, and had signed copies of "A Dog's Day in Court" and "The Better Dog" pamphlet, as well as many copies of the pamphlet that weren't signed.

My health prevented me from being able to go home for Chuck's funeral, or Ron's. Canines, their owners, and the world at large lost two amazing men....

Thank you for preserving Chuck's memory in this blog.

Alan Muir said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! I was watching Tim Conway in "The Billion Dollar Hobo" and was reminded of "The Littlest Hobo" from my younger days. I was allergic to dogs, so couldn't have my own, but I really enjoyed watching the show. It was such a thrill to meet the cast and get London's signature!

Bo reminded me so much of London, Thorn, and Toro. Not so much from their physical appearance as the way they acted. When the movie was over, sure enough, there was Chuck Eisenmann listed in the credits alongside Bo, "the world's smartest dog."

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