Monday, September 13, 2010

Chuck Eisenmann & The Littlest Hobo Tribute

Many other sources have already reported that Charles P. Eisenmann, owner and trainer of the Shepherd dogs who played London, The Littlest Hobo, in TV and movies from the fifties through the eighties, died on September 6, 2010, at the age of 91. I would like to dedicate this post to him.

The photos that you will see throughout are scans from Chuck's books or actual Littlest Hobo dogs publicity prints I own, distributed over the decades from the sixties to the eighties. I have obtained some of them via a Shiloh Shepherd Dog Club of America board member who was kind enough to put them up for sale to benefit the club; others, most especially the beautiful color print from 1984, I received when a friend of Chuck's died and some of his estate was liquidated at auction. Possibly the most precious ones I received from Chuck's secretary once upon a time, a lovely lady whose auction I managed to win--gaining a photo which included the only two female Hobo dogs, Raura and Venus. I hope she finds the time to write up her memories of Chuck, as she told me she wished to do while we corresponded.

For the Christmas of 2008 I sent Chuck a Christmas card--it may never have reached him at his Oregon nursing home, but I enclosed a photo of Kyrie and a heartfelt thanks for the books and tours he had done with his dogs over the years. Now he is gone, but he lived a great life. He was one of "the most important figures in American military baseball in Europe during World War II" according to Gary Bedingfield's "Baseball In Wartime" blog (thanks Mr. Bedingfield for digging up so much about Chuck that I never knew!). You can find that post in Mr. Bedingfield's blog (and some lovely photos of London farther down in it) at .

Chuck gave up professional baseball when "the dog started showing signs of greatness". London, his German Shepherd, had accompanied him everywhere--he was even included in contracts Chuck signed with the teams he played for! Born in 1951, London was five years old before he was first mentioned in the Bismark Tribute, when Chuck came out on the field and did a show with him for the entertainment of the crowd.

The newspaper notes that London ran the bases when asked to. Later, after an incident with London that cost his team a game, London got a Life magazine spread, and was asked to perform at Watertown, again to entertain fans. There, Chuck tried to prove his dog's intelligence by doing everything BUT specifically asking him to "run the bases". Biographer David Malcolmson writes about it in London: The Dog Who Made The Team:

"London," asked Chuck, "Do you know where you are?"
Here was a concept he had never put into words with his dog, but it was within London's power.
Even Chuck could never quite get used to the way his dog would respond. London looked around him, not at the stands now, but at the two dugouts, then at the diamond behind him. To London, the best of all places in the outdoor world was a baseball diamond. His tail wagged a little.
The people could not help but see something of this. Probably to many of them it would be merely another sign that the man had rehearsed his dog well. It would do no good for Chuck to have Hank broadcast: "My dog has never before been asked this question."
Chuck went on, "Suppose, London, suppose out there on this diamond a game is going on. Suppose you are on the team. London, you're playing baseball!"
The spell was on them both. Chuck told himself, go slow! go slow! They must be made to see it. If it happens too fast, it will look like just another trick. If the stands could be made to see..."

Chuck tried his best to make the stands see--and London, using only the words Chuck told him: "Home Run" "You've hit the ball out of the park" "you've hit your homer. Go ahead" DID understand what Chuck was asking. He ran the bases! Even after that, most in the stands seemed to not understand that the dog had been reasoning out what to do based on English words--not on a memorized command. But, Malcolmson writes, one person at least who saw a tape of later, similar performances did:

"One of the shows that followed was seen by a woman who wrote in to the "You Asked For It" television program. She asked for the dog who thinks like a man.
Her letter opened up, for London and for Chuck, Hollywood's golden gate."

"You Asked For It" was London's big break, and he was soon in demand for other shows, other appearances, and then a 1958 feature-length movie: The Littlest Hobo. It was a short step after that to the TV series in the 60's, acted in by London's sons and grandsons and daughters. The series was revived again with more London descendants, from the late seventies to the mid-eighties.

These later dogs are the ones behind the original Shiloh Shepherd outcross: Samson, the dog that took Tina Barber away from registration with the AKC and into the territory of creating her own breed. She has stuck to her dream through fire and flood, thick and thin, endless betrayals (but she has been shored up through it all by some honest Shiloh-loving folks, some very good long-time friends, and the love of these amazing dogs). Every ISSR Shiloh Shepherd living today has the Hobo dogs behind them, but only a very few have inherited the unique facial markings. Among them is my Kyrie. Below, a Hobo pup from Chuck's book "The Better Dog; The Educated Dog":

And London, circa 1984--the star of the revamped TV show:

I hope that you have enjoyed our brief history, photos, and tribute to Chuck. I would like to thank Tina Barber for working with Chuck and integrating the Hobo lines into the Shiloh Shepherd, and Chuck himself for all that he did to push the cause of educated dogs. He was a man far ahead of his time--a man who believed that by educating instead of training dogs, by teaching with observation, faith, and empathy instead of shoving them around with brute force, you could teach them to think like you or I. And every owner of a real Shiloh Shepherd today knows that he was right.