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Blue Dog Sniffs Out a Golden Goose


The hyperbole is thicker than moss in the bayou. "I'm just a po' boy from New Iberia, LOOSiana."


Next, George Rodrigue will claim to be accompanying a cobalt-blue dog on a mystic journey through a never-never land between life and death.

And, know what? You'll start to believe, at least about the blue dog. (As for that poor boy stuff, a flashy Rolex gives the game away.)

Maybe you've seen Blue Dog. That's her, peering through improbably yellow eyes from those Absolut Vodka ads.

And now, here's "Blue Dog," the book. Blue Dog as a Book-of-the-Month Club pick. Blue Dog as philosopher. Blue Dog as cash cow. . . .

"It's just a high every day. You can't take it too seriously," says artist Rodrigue (pronounced Rod-reeg), Blue Dog's creator. He's on a promotional tour, signing books at SuperCrown in Glendale, sketching Blue Dog beneath his signature.

A boyish 50-year-old given to saying, "Man . . . " (as in, "Man, what a dog!"), Rodrigue is too happy to even bristle at any suggestion that Blue Dog is no Blue Boy, that the cur is crassly commercial.

"I painted Cajuns for 20 years when nobody wanted them, so they can't accuse me of painting Blue Dog for the money," he says.

After all, Blue Dog didn't come from some paint-by-numbers kit. Rodrigue was schooled at the Art Center College of Design. His oils of Cajun folk hang in the Louisiana governor's mansion, the residence of the French president and the Smithsonian.

He thinks it's a great joke when prospective buyers of Blue Dog paintings say to him, "'This is great (but) do you really know what you're doing?" He's quick to point out that he knows exactly what he's doing, which rules he's breaking.

Rodrigue calls Blue Dog "Tiffany," the name he gave the real-life Blue Dog when she came to him as a black-and-white pup in 1968. She was the reject from a friend's litter of terrier-spaniels, a mutt, and he thought a fancy moniker would "make her sound expensive."

For 12 years until she died, they were pals. Tiffany snoozed nearby as Rodrigue painted in his Lafayette, La., studio. Tiffany never failed to retrieve his tattered slippers from the trash.

In 1984, illustrating a book of Louisiana ghost stories, he needed a model for a mythical werewolf. He pulled out a photo of Tiffany. To make her otherworldly, he painted her blue.

An icon was born. Rodrigue's Blue Dog originals began to sell around Louisiana for $300. The big breakthrough came in 1988, when a Blue Dog at a Rodeo Drive gallery fetched $2,500.

Clearly, Tiffany was no mutt. Today, an original will set you back about $10,000; a print, $900. The craze has launched Blue Dog galleries in Carmel, Yokohama and Munich that gross $10,000 daily. To supply them, Rodrigue turns out about 200 Blue Dog paintings a year.

Rodrigue mentions such collectors as Whoopi Goldberg, Meredith and Tom Brokaw, Harry Connick Jr., "and a whole bunch of famous people." Hillary Rodham Clinton has a print, given to her by the owner of a New Orleans restaurant where she admired it.

Top money paid for top dog was $150,000 on commission from a Canadian stockbroker. He wanted Blue Dog painted with a bull and a bear.

Not content to be the only blue dog in the known world, Tiffany is a contributing writer of "Blue Dog," the book (Viking Studio Books), wherein she confides it was her idea all along that Rodrigue paint her. This was her dream, even as he "ran his fingers over my ears as if I were a stuffed doll."

In the book, Rodrigue and writer Lawrence S. Freundlich weave a charming tale of the man and dog on a quest for the meaning of it all.

"She wants to come back to me," Rodrigue says. "It's so sad. I have to tell her she can't." Blue Dog doesn't know she's dead.

As Blue Dog wanders through the spirit world, Rodrigue paints her with such improbably diverse subjects as Marla Maples and Huey Long's bodyguards.

He paints her with Elvis--"Blue Dog thinks Elvis is me because I listened to so much Elvis music. She doesn't know Elvis is dead, either."

And he paints her with nudes (something about her seeking love in all the wrong places). He even paints her as Pagliacci, a blue dog with the blues.

Of course, Tiffany "never thought she was a dog." Even Rodrigue must wonder. "Now that she's died, she's made me more famous and made herself famous. She loves it."

So does he.

There are the vodka ads. (For the record, Rodrigue doesn't drink. Presumably, Blue Dog doesn't either? "That's right.")

And there's the celebrity. He turned down a million-dollar T-shirt offer from the folks who made Spuds McKenzie famous. "I don't want my dog on every T-shirt in the country. It insults me and Tiffany."

For now, he's said thanks, but no thanks, to some very famous animators. "This is not a cartoon."

Ditto, a very hot filmmaker.

Doesn't he want to be rich and famous? "I am rich and famous."

Hearty laughter.

He'd still be "pushing those Cajuns" if it weren't for Tiffany.

"Damn dog. . . ."

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