Barbara J. Andrews
Lina Basquette passed away in October 1994. The movie star, Zigfiled Follies dancer, Great Dane breeder, Pro Handler, and AKC Judge, died in her Wheeling, West Virginia home at age 87. Cancer took her life but not her spirit.
This is personal for me because as some of you know, Lina was my
"mother" in dogs. Although
she never gave an inch in the ring, she coached me for years. I wasn't the only one. Lina was generous with her
knowledge, and at times, her criticism. Even so, we earned each
other's respect back in the early seventies. Lina knew I
and while she was used to that, she realized that my
admiration was genuine and took
me under her wing. How I wish everyone
in dogs could have someone like Lina as a mentor, although back then the word wasn't in use. I
never found her lacking in dog sense but she was full of wisdom
beyond her years.
Lina Basquette shared outrageous stories of her personal life. But
then Lina was outrageous! Her loves and lovers were many,
especially during those Zigfield Follies days. Newspapers of the
1920's and 30's loved her! They gleefully reported her nine
marriages and went berserk when she re-married Sam Warner of
Warner Brothers Studios. Lina's affairs with celebrities
like Jack Dempsey were always newsworthy although
I don't think the time Adolph Hitler put the make
on her was reported. Perhaps due to the war but she told
me and other friends all the juicy details.
Lina Baskette was born in San Mateo, Calif. By age 9 she was
under contract to Universal Studios for a series of silent films
called "Lena Baskette Featurettes." Her name was changed to
reflect her glamour image as a prima ballerina and a star in the
Ziegfeld Follies. Although she made many films, her most famous
was the lead in "The Godless Girl," Cecil B. DeMille's last
silent movie, made in 1929.
Lina loved dogs almost as much as she loved men. For nearly thirty years, she bred top winning
Great Danes under the Honey Hollow prefix, living in Bucks County,
PA until the late seventies. She authored several books but
alas, they are not in my library.
When I was writing for Kennel Review and
Canine Chronicle, we talked about doing an interview. Lina always said "Oh honey,
let's not hurry through it at shows, 'why don't you come up and
see me sometime' batting her eyelashes and affecting the burlesque Queen Mae West's
famous line. When she vamped and flirted outrageously with
my husband Bill, we laughed together, knowing she was reliving
and sharing precious memories with us. We always planned
that trip but but we never seemed
to coordinate that trip. Lina was away judging or we were
showing. We thought there was plenty of
She insisted Bill and I come to
meet her half-sister, actress and dancer Marge Champion who was
spending a week with her. It was a rare
weekend when neither of us were at shows. We
didn't make that trip either because Bill was very sick by then.
Thank goodness Lina made time to share her life in the book
entitled Lina - DeMille's Godless Girl. The
autobiography was published in 1990 and my
autographed copy is a treasure.
Lina rarely flew to assignments.
She and "Special K" drove to shows and she
continued to do so as a judge. Lina's driving worried my husband who said he'd rather fly with a blind pilot.
She just laughed but always insisted on driving. On the
way to dinner one night, she
went the wrong way on an exit ramp, swearing profusely as she
backed precariously back down the ramp. We worried about
her in later years but the road wasn't what took her.
She was never at a loss for words and when
irked, she spared none at all. Sitting on a bale of
hay at a tiny show in a NC tobacco barn, she blew a puff of smoke
from her long brown cigarette and gestured at Jack Funk as he
walked by with the OES King Boots. (Before the groups were
split, and Boots was Top Working Dog) "Here I am in this arm pit of a
show and he shows up! Look around you BJ, there's Houston and Toddie, and Jeff... Humph!
Well, they wasted their client's money..."
She won the group that day and went on to Best
At Indianapolis one year, she said of Tommy
Glassford "He may have fast horses but he couldn't run from a fire.
My legs are better and so is my dog!" Best was right
after Working Group. She and "K" ran circles around Tommy in
Group, went straight in to win BIS. She never missing a
pirouette and despite heavy smoking (cigarettes were more than a
prop for Lina), Lina wasn't even breathing hard as she came out of
Lina Basquette was always on stage, always
the star. She had won the
Group at a big show in Indianapolis and ringside was
still crowded when she regally entered the BIS ring with Big Kim. There at the front of the Best In Show lineup was a very famous,
very tough lady handler whose name I'll leave out as she is now
Head high, Lina walked diagonally across the ring
and with a flourish, took the lead position. The other
handler looked up, frowned, took her glorious Irish Setter by
the ear and marched by Lina to the front of the line. Hand
on hip, Lina watched her go by.
A hush fell over ringside. It was the
battle of the Titans. Lina waltzed her Dane back to the front
of the line, never glancing at the other handler. The
BIS judge sensed the drama. Checking his table,
he tactfully kept his back to the ring to let it play out. The other handler watched Lina stack her dog and then she stomped to
the front of the line again but by now, she was in the corner! Lina smiled, moved
her big boy forward and center and he struck an imperial pose that clearly said GREAT Dane.
The judge turned and pretending not to notice
the two handlers separated from the rest of the lineup by
fifteen feet of empty space, signaled for the go-around.
Who won? To tell you the truth, I don't remember. It
doesn't matter. The "show" was over and two of the
greatest female handlers of all time had played to an audience
of their peers. Memories, never to be forgotten.
As a friend and as a judge, Lina told me Widow-Maker
was "sprinkled with stardust" and when a very famous backer
wanted to lease him, she and All Breed Judge E.W.
Tipton said almost the same thing
within a week of each other. Bill talked to Tip who said, "there's still enough of us
old guys out there who can find a
great dog when he's owner handled." Ironically, the very
last thing Tip did was give Widow Maker a huge Working Group win.
I had no idea how ill he was until I learned that he had left
the show before photos. Carroll James helped him to the
car and drove him back to TN. At what I believe was Lina's last show, judging from a
wheelchair, she awarded a
big east coast Working Group to a mis-marked owner-handled Widow Maker son
I bred. The dog went on to become #1 Akita.
Is she gone? I think not. As I
write this, Lina Basquette is still pirouetting, still
critiquing, still watching the dogs and the people she loved so
much. I feel her presence, don't you?
Lina Basquette, Too Little - Too Late
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