Two Gifts of Love
According to Walter Fletcher, former columnist for The New York Times, the Best Dog in Show at Westminster was not the most famous dog in America. That honor went to Murray the Outlaw of Falahill – the most famous dog in the world!
Some would argue that this Scottish Terrier still holds that title in 2021. So who was this well-traveled and clever dog of renown?
The Scotsman was bred by Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, and together with Mrs. August Kelly of Westport, Connecticut, became their gift to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Fala was meant to provide constant companionship for the president, who spent long, lonely hours working in the White House.
And Fala took on the job with great aplomb. Traveling by train, automobile, airplane and naval ship, he performed “tricks” and endeared himself to children, adults, heads of state and particularly the press. In fact, when his many antics were not reported often enough, fictional accounts appeared in headlines, like the one when Roosevelt supposedly sent a battleship to bring Fala home from Europe. Fala was the delight of young Crown Prince Harald of Norway, who was a frequent guest at the White House during the war years.
While the president’s cousin, Daisy Suckley, made a gift of Fala, Roosevelt’s other cousin and frequent companion, Laura “Polly” Delano, was another gift giver. This time it came from Laura’s famous Knocknagree kennels in Rhinebeck, New York. In addition to being a noted Irish Setter breeder, Laura was an international dog show judge, including Westminster. The puppy became the president’s very popular Christmas gift to the children of Norway’s royal family, who lived nearby in protective custody.
Now, 77 years later, The New York Times reviews the new PBS Masterpiece Theater movie “Atlantic Crossing,” in which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt arranges for a U.S. naval ship to evacuate Norway’s royal family from Nazi invasion to the safety of the United States. While much of the historical drama is well documented, all is not accurate; for example, the attempt by Nazi agents to abduct the children when they were on vacation at the Hamptons on Long Island did not happen. Yet the work of Alexander Eik as writer and producer-director is an elegant depiction of the close friendship of Crown Princess Martha and Franklin Roosevelt. The eight episodes also include appropriate story lines for Princess Ragnhild, Princess Astrid and Prince Harald, the young children who are an ocean away from their homeland and even in America too close to the reality of war. In this story the president is portrayed as the children’s understanding “godfather” – and that is what they called him – who tries to set a scene of happy traditions.
The beginning of the “Atlantic Crossing” movie shows the royal children in Norway playing with their house dog, a darkly marked blue belton English Setter, although no documentation can be found, and the photos of the period show the family with only small dogs.
Certainly, when the large box is delivered to the drawing room in the White House and presented to the royal children at Christmas, what we see is a memorable event in the series – a wiggly Irish Setter puppy is released into the waiting arms of the children. And, yes, this red playmate came from Laura’s kennel, and at the end of the war traveled to Norway and his new home.
Judge Laura Delano presents BOB to Louis Iacabucci’s Irish Setter handled by Marsha Hall Brown at Troy, New York, October 1959. Photo William Brown.
Crown Prince Harald is the present-day King of Norway – King Harald V. See page 425 in “No Ordinary Time” (Goodwin) and page 263 in “Essence of Setters” (Brown) for details of the presidential train trip across America with Fala, Laura Delano, an Irish Setter puppy and the CIA.
Marsha Hall Brown recently retired from 50 years of judging. With her family she bred generations of English Setter champions and was an ardent supporter of Junior Showmanship. The author of four prize-winning books on dogs, she recently authored “Under Sun, Stars and Sails – a Whaling Family’s Life at Sea.”