My mother, who was a child during the Depression, recalls the radio program “Little Orphan Annie” with pleasure. A serial directed to children, it featured the comic-strip characters, who first appeared in 1924, although the plots of the show didn’t follow the stories, or include all the characters, of the print version. The national broadcast was sponsored by the Wander Company, makers of Ovaltine, a powder that was added to milk to make it more nutritious — and delicious — to children. (Ovaltine was first marketed as a food supplement for invalids.)
Beginning in 1925, the year after the comic strip first appeared, Annie acquired a sidekick, a mixed breed dog that she named Sandy. Sandy was drawn so that he looked like he was least partly an Airedale terrier, a popular breed in the 1920s and 1930s. He also had a very happy dog smile and the same round, empty eyes as his young mistress. Unlike Buster Brown’s dog Tige, however, Sandy was no comedian, nor did he share his observations on life through thought balloons. He was a hero, however, who saved Annie from various dangers.
I had no idea that the radio show had spawned a booklet about training dogs. When I saw this one in an online auction, I bid but assumed that collectors of Little Orphan Annie memorabilia would drive the price past my tiny collecting budget. I was surprised when I won it. And the booklet came with its original mailing envelope! The little girl who ordered the book carefully filled in her personal information on the back cover.
Inside the front cover, Annie introduced Sandy, a “real All-American dog,” who “has about the best of every kind of dog in him.”
The booklet contained care and training advice by Michael von Motzeck, proprietor of the V. and M. Training Kennels of Chicago, Illinois (the city where the radio show originated). Von Motzeck offered advice that was still relatively progressive at the time. For example, he was a proponent of the folded newspaper as the only method for punishment and advised that patience, petting and praise were the true keys to training.
The instructions for teaching dogs tricks showed boys interacting with their pets rather than adults. Even though the booklet was a gift from Little Orphan Annie, girls were neglected as potential dog trainers. The advice on care and training was followed by information on 29 breeds punctuated with attractive small drawings, mostly of the characters in the radio show. Below, in the page on Airedales, Annie and Sandy look on while Annie’s friend Joe Corntassel builds a dog house, presumably for Sandy.
Returning to von Motzeck, I discovered that he is another of these interesting characters who made some kind of living as a trainer, dog dealer, and kennel proprietor in the 1920s and 1930s. (I wrote about another of these fellows, a Los Angeles go-getter named Richard Goodwin, in my 6 March 2017 post.) Classified ads for von Motzeck’s V. &. M. training and boarding kennel appear in the Chicago Tribune in August of 1936. He offered to train dogs for “obedience, protection and stagework” and listed “Dobermans, Airedales and Other Breeds” for sale. How the good people of the Wander Company found him is a mystery, but it is possible that someone attended von Motzeck’s demonstration of dog obedience at the Pedigree Shop of the Marshall Fields Department Store later that year. It featured his champion Doberman-Pinscher “Major Von Motzeck.”
By 1939, Michael von Motzeck was featured in magazine advertisements for Red Heart Dog Food, offered by Chicago packing house John Morrell & Company. (His dogs always ate Red Heart, of course.) That year he also appeared in a long article titled “How Smart is Your Dog?” in Popular Mechanics, the Bible of Depression-era do-it-yourselfers. And finally, in 1945, von Motzeck’s dogs were featured in Life Magazine; he had trained a dachshund named Sascha to be the seeing-eye for a blind collie from his kennel and was considering training more service dogs for disabled dogs!