It is no exaggeration to say The Book of Joe: About a Dog and His Man, originally released in 1961 and reissued today by Open Road Media, is the love story of a man and his dog, specifically Vincent Price and his mutt Joe. Yes, terrifying Prince Prospero, the apocalyptic warrior of The Last Man On Earth, the guy who creeped you out in those Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper songs when you were a kid? Turns out he was a big old adorable softy, at least when it came to animals. And also a gifted storyteller in his own right.
Just before Christmas in 1947, Price’s wife left him and took their five-year-old son with her. It was just Price, the Christmas decorations, and his two dogs, Golden Blackie and Panda, in his house in Los Angeles. Blackie was soon after injured when hit by a car and taken to a hospital to mend. Panda was then struck and killed. This is how Price described his mood – “It seemed that the whole world was sinking around and I was alone, a monument to loneliness, beneath those canyon sycamores laden with mistletoe, with only misery tall enough to reach my height and kiss me.”
It’s the type of line you’d imagine Price delivering in one of his readings from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. But this is ultimately a book about joy. And it doesn’t take long for that to start, when Price visits a pet store the day after Christmas and finds love at first sight. “This, then, was Joe,” he writes of seeing his scruffy puppy. “Dog of dogs. Short-legged, slightly bowed in the front and splay-foot behind, curl-tailed, with ears like a flying fox and a face that, if there are dog angels (and I’m sure there are), was an angel dog’s face.” And Joe was on sale, too. Apparently no one wanted him, so he was marked down from $5 to $3.50.
Thus began a relationship that saw Price through sickness and bad reviews, a new marriage, a court case, and an offer to run for mayor of Beverly Hills on the anti-vivisection ticket. Fourteen years altogether. Joe is alive and well at the end of the book, though the idea that his time is limited weighs heavily on Price. He writes that when he has to close the book of Joe, “I know I’ll have that hurting in my heart and mind, and that Hamlet – oh, that ever-quotable Hamlet – will be able to express it better than I can: ‘Take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.’”
Hug your dog, folks.