Example: [Linkletter, 1967]
- The pet is either a cat or a dog.
- The foodstuff eaten by the animal also varies: baked salmon, wild mushrooms, hors d'oeuvres, cold cuts, sandwiches, and salmon mousse have all been mentioned.
Here's a story that pops up as regularly as clock work. The last time it came from Hollywood, and was pinned to the lovely Joan Caulfield.
The unwitting guests arrived, ate, and made merry — until
There followed a mad rush to the hospital, with ten beautiful but panic-stricken ladies screaming for stomach pumps at the same time. When the ordeal was over, and it became apparent they were going to survive, they headed weakly for their homes and sleeping pills.
"Wasn't it awful about your poor doggy?" she gushed. "I saw the truck run over him, but you were having such fun with your guests, I didn't want to disturb you."
The hostess at a dinner-party fears that the mushrooms she plans to use in the soup may be poisonous toadstools. Shortly before the guests arrive, she instructs the butler to try them out on her dog. The man makes no report; the guest arrive; dinner is served. In the middle of the meal, the butler enters, goes to his mistress and whispers; "Madame, the dog is dead!" He leaves the room, and the hostess tells the guests of their predicament. Frantic phone calls bring doctors and internes — with stomach pumps — and everyone is well pumped out. When the guests leave (after a pleasant party) the hostess goes to the butler and tells him she would like to see the body of her dog. "Oh, madam!" the man exclaims. "You don't want to see that dog. He looks perfectly shocking!
What makes this legend so appealing is the hostess' chagrin over having to admit the food she'd been serving her guests had previously been browsed by the dog. Faced with the decision of either enlightening her guests and thus revealing her shameful secret, or saying nothing and risking their dropping dead at any moment, she invariably makes the right choice. Even so, it's not a social faux pas she's ever likely to recover from.
Even the most experienced hostess fears starring in a dinner party disaster. The successful navigation of social situations is stressful enough without being the one at center stage. We wonder if, when called upon, we'll display half the aplomb of the famed hostess who, upon observing her serving girl drop a roast in front of the guests, smoothly instructed her: "Take it back to the kitchen, Marie, then bring out the other cut."
Barbara "arsenic and old plaice" Mikkelson
Sightings: Look for a replay of this legend in the 1989 film Her Alibi and in the 1994 John Berendt novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
An unusual "bird" version showed up in an episode of the television sitcom Frasier (original air date
Last updated: 2 August 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good To Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 44-45, 138). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. ISBN 0-393-95169-3 (pp. 111-112). Cerf, Bennett. Shake Well Before Using. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948 (p. 179). de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (p. 146). Linkletter, Art. Oops! Or, Life's Awful Moments. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1967 (pp. 72-73). Harrison, Paul. "In New York." The Fitchburg [Massachusetts] Sentinel. 23 October 1933 (p. 6). Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends. St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996. (pp. 63, 73). Smith, Paul. The Book of Nasty Legends. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. ISBN 0-00-636856-5 (pp. 56-57). Young, James. 101 Plots Used and Abused. Boston: The Writer, Inc., 1946 (pp. 21-22)
Also told in:
Berendt, John. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. New York: Random House, 1994. ISBN 0-679-42922-0 (pp. 336-337). Holt, David and Bill Mooney. Spiders in the Hairdo. Little Rock: August House, 1999. ISBN 0-87483-525-9 (p. 26). Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths. London: Virgin Press, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (pp. 30-32). The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (p. 40).