Saturday, March 10, 2012

Famous Women and Their Dogs: Billie Holiday and Mister

March is women's history month and I thought it would be fun to highlight some famous woman, and their dogs.   Dogs are often in the background of accounts of a famous person's life or absent all together.   As dog lovers we all know how profoundly influential dogs can be and how meaning our relationships with them are.   

One famous famous woman who had a close relationship with a dog is Billie Holiday.   Despite her talent and fame Holiday had a hard life.  She had an erratic childhood with an absent father and a neglectful mother and was bounced around from the home of one relative to another for most of her childhood.  Worst of all she was raped by a neighbor at twelve.  

As an older adolescent Holiday reportedly worked alongside her mother as a prostitute.  At this time she also began her singing career.   As word of her talent spread she started playing better class clubs and began making recordings.   Even as her fame climbed her troubles mounted as well.   Holiday had to deal with rampant racism in the entertainment industry and she had an attraction to abusive men as well as drugs and liquor.   She died of alcohol related liver disease in 1959 at the age of 54.

In the midst of all her troubled intimacies with humans, Holiday shared an extremely close relationship with her dog, Mister.   Here is a picture of him snacking on one of her shoes backstage at an NYC night club.

Holiday and Mister were rarely apart.   She regularly brought him with her when she performed, which would have been highly unusual at a time when most large dogs were relegated to back yards.  

In 1947 when she was arrested for narcotics possession and spent time in prison, Mister missed her terribly.  Upon her release and her return home, he was so thrilled at their reunion that he jumped all over her, licking her, and causing some passers by to think that he was attacking her.  The resulting commotion drew even more media attention to Holiday's legal troubles.

Mister purportedly possessed a somewhat ferocious temperament.  It seems likely that he may only have been trying to protect his mistress from some of the more dangerous men in her life, but many in Holiday's circle were fearful of the dog.

 An often reported anecdote about Holiday is that of a grocery list which was found among her possessions after her death. It seems to offer a glimpse into her personality and priorities, it read: "cigarettes, gin, dog food."


  1. What a rough and tragic life Billie had. Thankfully she did know the love of a dog. I guess her grocery list says it all!

  2. Perhaps Mister became her body guard...after all she had been through she finally had a trusting poochie to watch over her.

    What a voice...I adore Billi Holiday music!

    Hope you all are doing well....thinking of you.

  3. Hey, that Mister was a lucky fellow, it seems to me. If only I were permitted to snack on shoes....
    Toodle pip!

  4. What a cool pst and neat pictures
    Benny & Lily

  5. We like Billie Holiday and have listen to her CD frequently. We never knew about her dog.

    Nina, Myshka, Sasha, Betsy, Lucy, Phoebe and Lily

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.