A Colorful Corgi Character: Mary Elizabeth Goodneighbor Was Truly Distinctive
Many of us thoroughly enjoy listening to the veterans in the family reminisce about those unique dog show world characters from the past. One particular Corgi exhibitor, who comes to mind as being truly distinctive, made a lasting impression on those who were fortunate enough to make her acquaintance.
The lady belonged to the North Jersey Sector Dog Club and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of New York. She was from Paterson, New Jersey, and embellished the show ring of Madison Square Garden in the mid-1960s with both Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. She learned early on to dress cautiously when presenting her dogs, because she did not want to compete against them. She recalled that a dog she was showing once placed second because her sweater was a bit too tight and the judge’s wife was watching very closely from ringside!
Now that we have you burning your brain about this vixen of the Corgi world, we will reveal her name. Mary Elizabeth Goodneighbor absolutely adored her dogs and was regularly photographed with her many canine companions. One of the few pieces of jewelry she would wear on the street was a button with a picture of a dog on it. Common street attire was actually quite unusual for this well-known performer, as most of the time she wouldn’t have had much clothing on to pin a button to.
How is that you ask? Well, Ms. Goodneighbor was better-known in the entertainment world as Irma the Body. “Irma” was adamant about keeping her dog show acquaintances separate from the much different world in which she worked. Performing paid the bills (and quite nicely at four figures a week), but in reality, she led a very respectable life off the burlesque stage.
We know that Ms. Goodneighbor had several Pembrokes and a blue merle Cardigan that she exhibited on a regular basis. She also had ties to the Canadian Corgi world. It seems that well-known Cardigan fancier Charles MacInnes, from up north, was desperately searching for other Cardigan fanciers to find a dog for breeding. Rumors spread about this woman from the US who showed in southern Ontario several years before.
Mary Nelms, of the historic Brymore Kennels, sold two Cardigans to Ms. Goodneighbor who loved showing them herself. Irma made numerous jaunts to Canada to exhibit her dogs, and she was obviously not an individual whom one would easily forget. She was even quoted as saying that she chose a Corgi for the show ring because she didn’t want a dog that looked better than she did.
In 1965, Sports Illustrated magazine reported that Champion Crago’s Red San of Cote de Neige, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, had won Best of Breed at dog shows from New Hampshire to the Lehigh Valley, and was entered in that year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Mary Elizabeth Goodneighbor, Crago’s owner, had also won some titles of her own, among them “Miss Guaranteed All Woman” and “Miss Heavy Armored Maintenance.”
Celebrities have long been attracted to the supposed pomp and circumstance of the dog show world, and it has certainly had its share of memorable participants. The great thing is that no matter your occupation or family tree, the love of your favorite breed and the desire to continue its strengths via the sport of purebred dogs will permit each of us to “go down and back” in the ring with equal opportunity. Though just remember what Irma said, “When you’re at the dog show, you can watch my dogs… if you want to watch me, you have to buy a ticket.”