If you ever need to photograph a hairless dog, Dick Dickerson is a good man to know. He will keep you entertained and even bring along a spare hairless dog.
When we decided to create a Vanderbilt Magazine cover with a movie-poster look to promote our story about the Vanderbilt-in-Hollywood program, Art Director Donna Pritchett and I became fixated on including a Chinese crested dog in our photo shoot. But where to find one that we could borrow?
A search of Vanderbilt’s website led us to S.M. “Dick” Dickerson, BA’63, who had been profiled in the Summer 2004 issue of the Peabody Reflector. On a Friday afternoon in late February, Mr. Dickerson arrived in an old pickup truck with a Chinese crested as well as a larger dog that he said was a Xoloitzcuintli—a Mexican hairless. Both dogs, he said, were national champions.
Word spread throughout the Creative Services division, where we were shooting the photo, that two hairless dogs wearing sweaters were on the premises. While a parade of designers and photographers came through, the unflappable Mr. Dickerson talked.
I have never wished more fervently that I had brought along a tape recorder.
I sat on the floor cuddling April, our cover dog, who was nervous and flatulent from all the attention. Dick told me his family began raising Chihuahuas in the 1800s and supplied them to Haile Selassie for 40 years. Dick met the Ethiopian emperor twice.
As a boy, Dick became interested in Chinese crested dogs, and one day as a 14-year-old he received a phone call from striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, who founded one of the first Chinese crested kennels. Dick got to know not only Gypsy Rose Lee but also some of her coterie of exotic dancers. “A naked dog for a naked woman,” she told him. Dick’s father always enjoyed telling about his son’s acquaintance at his club.
Dick lives in Springfield, Tenn., but his backyard is in Kentucky—a good thing, because he has enough stories to keep two states entertained.
He hosts a radio show and writes a newspaper column. He knows descendants of the James Gang and descendants of Aaron Burr, who fled to Kentucky after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. He raises exotic chickens and sends eggs to Martha Stewart. He wrote education speeches for President Jimmy Carter. And he is a second cousin of Al Gore, of whom he speaks with great admiration.
“This guy is like Forrest Gump,” Associate Editor Phillip Tucker whispered to me at one point during our photo shoot. “He seems to be connected to everybody.”
If you’ve never held a hairless dog, here’s what to expect: They are dense little dogs that feel very warm to the touch. Their skin feels soft, except for the raised spots.
In this issue, coincidentally, we also included a dog in our photo of Blair Professor Jim Lovensheimer on page 26. And you can see some of the livestock on Peabody’s historic Knapp Farm on page 20.
As they would say in Hollywood, no animals were harmed in the production of this magazine.