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Fala, the dog who helped win a presidential election

September 23, 2018 by NCC Staff

 

On September 23, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made his famous Fala speech, which became a defining moment in his fourth presidential campaign. So who was the Terrier that helped FDR win his closest race and which Hollywood star inspired Roosevelt?

768px-Franklin_D._Roosevelt_and_FalaFala was born in April 1940, and he was an early holiday gift for President Roosevelt from Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, a distant relative and friend of the president’s. Suckley raised Terriers and hand-picked a Terrier named Big Boy to go to the White House. Roosevelt renamed the dog “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill” after a Scottish ancestor, and the name was quickly shortened to Fala.

Fala soon became the most famous dog in the Free World, after he was seen in newsreels and photographs accompanying President Roosevelt on his official duties. Fala was also seen riding along with President Roosevelt in a special car that Roosevelt operated using hand controls.

The First Dog also sailed with Roosevelt to summit meetings and inspection tours, and it was at the height of Roosevelt and Fala’s fame in 1944 that the canine companion made political headlines. Roosevelt had made the controversial decision to run for a fourth term in 1944, and there were public concerns about the President’s health, especially after a photo was published that depicted a tired, haggard Roosevelt.

Then some opponents started repeating a story that President Roosevelt had left Fala behind by accident on a tour of the Aleutian Islands during a trip, and he sent a Navy destroyer to retrieve Fala at great expense to taxpayers. Roosevelt had also struggled with GOP opponent Thomas Dewey, and he was still dogged by rumors about his health. Roosevelt jumped on the chance to use his famous pet to turn the tables on his opponents.

On September 23, 1944, President Roosevelt started his re-election campaign in a nationally broadcast speech from a dinner in Washington hosted by the Teamsters. Reportedly, the dinner guests had several drinks during the event and were a very receptive audience for the President.

Roosevelt drew huge laughs from the audience when he attacked the Republicans for bringing his dog into the political muck. “These Republican leaders have not been content with the attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala,” Roosevelt said.

Author Barbara Leaming, in her biography of actor-director Orson Welles, claimed that Welles told a joke about Fala and his Scottish heritage to Roosevelt, who found a way to work it in into his Teamsters’ speech. “Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him - at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.”

Link: Read The Full Speech

The Fala speech served the purpose of presenting to voters a Roosevelt they were familiar with from his various Fireside charts. Photos from the event published in Time magazine showed a healthy-looking President Roosevelt at the Teamsters’ dinner.

In November, Roosevelt won a fourth term in office, defeating Dewey in the Electoral College with 432 votes, compared with 99 for Dewey. But the President had on-going health problems, and he died from a massive stroke on April 12, 1945.

Fala attended the funeral in Washington and went off to live with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park, N.Y. On April 5, 1952, Fala passed away there just two days shy of his 12th birthday. He received a full obituary in the New York Times.

 

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