By Brian Fischler
Bernadette Peters is one of the most recognizable faces and names on Broadway. Amazingly, all of her awards and performances pale in comparison to her charitable endeavors and work with animals. So where did this star of the screen and stage’s lifelong love affair with animals begin?
“It began with my father when I was a kid. He would rescue birds and bring them home. I didn’t have a dog right away, as my parents wanted to wait until I was old enough to be responsible to take care of a dog,” recalls Bernadette Peters.
Unfortunately, one of her earliest memories of dogs isn’t a pleasant one. “When I was a teenager I saw a dog get hit by a car on the boulevard. I was so upset, I was crying hysterically. I didn’t care who saw me that upset.”
So being a dog lover might be something that you are born with?
“Yes, being a dog lover is just in you. I have always just loved dogs.”
When did you get your first dog?
“I begged my mom for a dog, and finally got one when I was nine. We lived in an apartment in Queens, New York, and they told us the dog wouldn’t get too big. She looked like a retriever cocker spaniel.” says Peters, “Those days were different times. They wouldn’t tell us to spay and neuter our dogs. When my dog had puppies, I was in heaven. Interviewing the perspective adopters was one of the best pleasures. I took it very seriously.”
I have read that you used to have a big fear of pit bulls. What helped you get over your fear of them?
“Knowledge is everything. I used to cross the street when I saw one,” says Peters. “When we went to the kill shelter I was amazed at the number of pure breed dogs,” adds Peters. The woman who worked at the shelter really educated Bernadette.
“It’s interesting….if you look at Victorian pictures the dogs in them are always pit bulls. At the turn of the century pit bulls were the family dog. People would have them protect their babies from rats. Helen Keller’s dog was a pit bull…even the dog from the ‘Little Rascals’ was a pit bull.”
It seems to me that pit bulls really do get a bad rap.
“Unfortunately, people have been taking them and training them to fight, making them angry. Even goldens can become vicious if people abuse them,” says Peters. “You hear these stories of pit bulls on the loose that attack someone, and end up in a shelter. It’s people that have made them vicious, and it’s those people that should be put away. The dogs are naturally very loving.”
What can you tell us about your pit bull Stella?
“Stella is my first pit bull. She is 15, and very loving. When my dog Kramer passed, Stella was a wreck. She would push Kramer’s doggy bed up against the wall. She was heartbroken. She would wake up at five in the morning crying. I had to get her a companion,” adds Peters.
Your dog Kramer was the inspiration for your first children’s book, “Broadway Barks.” How was Kramer scrappy?
“He looked liked Lady from ‘Lady and the Tramp.’ He was kind of a big dog, and had long hair everywhere except his legs. He was handsome and very regal. Picture him smoking a pipe.”
It seems like he was a funny guy.
“He would swim with his waist half way out of the water. I guess that way he could smoke his pipe,” laughs Peters.
It sounds like Stella and Kramer really got along well.
“One time I took Stella on this show that had a pet psychic. When it aired, Stella was so excited. She kept aiming her head toward the TV. She knew she was on. She kept running over to Kramer as if she was saying, ‘They’re talking about me!’ She then came over to me, and put her head on the ottoman.”
Read the second installment of Brian Fischler’s interview with Bernadette Peters. Ms. Peters returns to “Smash” on NBC on April 2.