The unlucky dog known as Cheeseface may be the only case of deliberate assassination in celebrity animal history.
In 1973, Cheeseface appeared on the cover of National Lampoon magazine with the caption “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog”. In early 1976, an unidentified assailant tracked down Cheeseface to the farm where he lived and killed him.
The dog was a professional. Like a model, it sat perfectly still with a blank expression. Finally, Lampoon‘s art director Michael Gross had the idea of standing off-camera behind the dog’s trainer (who was holding the gun) and shouting the dog’s name. Hence the perfect pathos of the dog’s sidelong glance.
Apparently, when this edition of the National Lampoon was released in Jan. 1973, it caused many readers to go into a frenzy and buy the magazine to avoid the risk of an innocent dog being killed,
In early 1976, Susan Devins, who’d just completed her master’s degree in library sciences, was hired as an assistant copy editor at National Lampoon. Early on her first day, she received a phone call.
“Cheeseface is dead,” the caller said. “Cheeseface the dog is dead.”
Someone had tracked down the black-and-white mutt from the January 1973 cover at the farm where he lived and shot him. After initially thinking the call was a joke, Devins realized the bizarre event was real and that Cheeseface had been assassinated. She burst into tears, thinking, “Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into.”
Updated 12 February 2018:
I received an email from the Ronald Harris, the photographer who shot that infamous cover.
He clarifies how he, not Michael Gross, was behind that famous expression.
Thanks so much for the fascinating reminiscence, Robert!
Good morning, Siobhan,
I am the photographer who shot that famous cover for the National Lampoon. I ended up working for them freelance for over 20 Years and was responsible for photographing over a dozen covers.
I just read your article on poor Cheeseface. It was a fine article except for one glaring error. Michael Gross was a wonderful art director, but he was not all responsible for the famous scared sideways look of Cheeseface.
The Netflix new movie, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” is also inaccurate about that event, because it makes it look as if it was a casual shooting at the Lampoon offices. It was actually an all day shooting at my studio in in Chelsea in 1973 with a professional dog (Cheeseface) and dog trainer, whom we hired.
The National Lampoon was fairly new, so they had absolutely no budget for retouching. Everything had to be captured in the camera. The number one requirement during the shooting was that they wanted the dog to be staring at the gun and looking very scared. We tried everything. Shouting his name (no doubt Michael helped in that department), clapping our hands, loud sudden noises, but nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, I asked the hand model (my sales rep at the time) to pull the trigger. That created the one and only perfect frame. That is why, if you look closely at the cover, you’ll see that the gun is not cocked. It was supposed to be cocked according to the original layout, but only we were aware of that. Obviously, all worked out for the best in the end, except for your tragic story. The saga of Cheeseface was particularly disturbing, because the following Lampoon issue had a picture on the editors page of him lying down claiming that they had to shoot him, because not enough issues were sold.
I hope that this additional information is helpful to you. Ronald G Harris