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Legacy


If imitation is the measure of success, then Cassius is one of the most successful people to have lived, just behind Elvis. If you ignore current modern day trend of squeezing to death any halfway successful idea to get every last penny from it, the dogs playing poker paintings have to be one most imitated items. There have been countless takeoffs of Coolidge’s paintings. They include ashtrays, personal checks, plates, paintings, appearances in video games, playing cards, poker chips and clothing-just to name a few. In fact an almost complete outfit consisting of just the dogs playing poker motif can be worn, including multiple shirts, a necktie, and even cuff-links (although I have yet to discover boxer shorts). Those poker dogs cover just about anything.

There have, of course, been many paintings that have copied one or more of Coolidge’s novel ideas. Many buildings have large murals of one of the paintings. There is a building along Highway 60 in West Virginia that has Poker Sympathy on a wall. Pool halls in both the United States and Mexico have large “dogs playing pool” murals on their walls. A lithograph of these pool dogs has even been found as far away as Iraq. Artists have also done work similar to Coolidge’s, but in other mediums. Although not a painter, the artist William Wegman produced anthropomorphic art similar to Coolidge. Wegman placed real dogs in scenes and then photographed them. I do not think though, that he has dared to situate dogs around the infamous card table. There have also been many contemporary paintings of dogs playing poker, although they are not exact copies of Coolidge’s scenes. Arthur Sarnoff has created many pictures of canines engaged in various activities that range from sitting behind slot machines to golf. The modern adaptation that I personally like best is Scooby-Doo Playing Poker. In this painting various Hanna Barbara canines, including Scooby-Doo, Astro, and Muttley, sit around the proverbial poker table. I must admit, however, that I am quite bias because I watched too much Scooby-Doo as a child. Although all these modern paintings of gambling canines are impressive, they do not compare to the original masterpieces by Coolidge.

The magnificence of the poker dogs in advertising that Brown & Bigelow discovered has not been lost over the years. Many companies since Brown & Bigelow have successfully used Coolidge’s style to promote their products and ideas. In 2001 the Nebraska group Tobacco Free Hall County commissioned the marketing firm Bailey Lauerman to create artwork for an anti-smoking campaign. In this takeoff the second hand smoke from a smoking spaniel has killed all the other dogs around a card table, showing the adverse affects of second hand smoke. In another feat of marketing ingenuity, the Minnesota state lottery produced a television commercial involving those poker dogs for a game named Showdown Poker. In this commercial three men are perusing a museum and commenting on the fine art amidst them. As the camera pulls away, however, we see that the museum patrons are actually viewing—you guessed it—of Coolidge’s mighty paintings. Now if only there was a legitimate art museum that had a Coolidge exhibit. Advertisers have even gone as far as replacing the classic dogs around the table with lamas, in an effort to promote an auction in Reno. Perhaps one of the best adaptations of Coolidge’s vision, however, was accomplished by ESPN. To advertise Monday night football they, with the assistance of Animal Makers, produced commercials with a combination of real and animatronic dogs sitting around a poker table talking with football players. It is good to know that Coolidge’s knack for advertising has not been lost.

Speaking of television, many television series have had either quick humorous spoof shots or entire episodes based around the dogs playing poker paintings. There are too many shows to list (and I do not watch enough TV to see them all), but they range from several short scenes in the hit show The Simpsons, to an episode of the classic show Cheers where Sam is proud of a framed dogs playing poker print that Diane does not like. I think I must side with Sam on this one (although I must admit I have not been able to watch that episode). As poor as most of television is, it is a relief to know that some television shows are sticking with time tested, high quality material.

Although remembered in his obituary as the man who “painted many pictures of dogs,” Cassius Coolidge had many other accomplishments throughout his lifetime. Ranging from painting numbers on houses to writing plays about mosquitoes, Cash seemed to do a little bit of almost everything. He will, however, always be remembered for his paintings of dogs. Through these timeless poker dog paintings “he created a fair world in which opposable thumbs were not required to hold a beer bottle, button a shirt, or lift that glorious ace off a card table’s felt.” Cassius Coolidge was a truly remarkable person that has changed the way that many (or at least myself) look at art.


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