Lina Basquett passed away October 1994. Zigfield Follies dancer, movie star, Honey Hollow Great Dane legend, pro handler, then multi-Group AKC Judge; Lina died in her W. VA 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 studied her 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. I never found her lacking in dog sense and she was full of worldly 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.
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" in 1929. It was Cecil B. DeMille's last silent movie.
Newspapers of the 1920's and 30's loved her! They gleefully reported her nine marriages and the presses rolled furiously 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 many others all the juicy details.
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. Lina shared her life in the book entitled Lina - DeMille's Godless Girl. The autobiography was published in 1990 and my autographed copy is a treasure.
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..." I think she was showing Big Kim Of Bella Dane, not sure, but she won the group that day and went on to Best In Show.
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!" Sure enough, she and "K" ran circles around Tommy in Group, 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 the ring. She went straight into the BIS ring, and Tommy clapped for them.
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 judging.
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.
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 always laughed but always insisted on driving. On the way to dinner one night, she turned up an exit ramp and swore profusely as she backed precariously back down the ramp while Bill hung out the window guiding her and watching for cars coming up the ramp. We worried about her in later years but the road wasn't what took her.
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. Tip said, "there's still enough of us old guys out there who can find a great dog when he's owner handled." A few months later, Tip gave Widow Maker a huge Group I on the Tarheel Circuit. I had no idea how ill he was until I learned later that day that he was unable to judge his second Group. Carroll James helped him to the car and drove him back to Tennessee. In an ironic twist, at the last show Lina judged (from a wheelchair), she awarded a big east coast Working Group to a mis-marked, owner-handled Widow Maker son I had bred. He went on to become #1 Akita that year.
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" then, batting her eyelashes and affecting the burlesque Queen Mae West's famous line, she'd toss her head and say "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" She vamped and flirted outrageously with my husband and we loved it, knowing she was reliving and sharing precious memories with us.
We always planned that trip but never seemed to coordinate. Lina was away judging or we were showing. We thought there was plenty of time... She insisted Bill and I come to meet her half-sister, actress and dancer Marge Champion who was spending a week with her. We couldn't make that trip either because by then Bill was very sick. We cried together when I told her.
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?
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