June 1 (Bloomberg) -- The elevator opens on Daryl Roth’s Park Avenue apartment to the barking of what sound like hungry German shepherds.
Roth emerges carrying a compact, furry loewchen. A second one ambles by her feet.
“They think they’re guard dogs,” she said with a laugh, introducing 18-year-old Leo and Lucy, 12.
The two appear in Roth’s Playbill biography for the dozens of plays she’s produced -- including “Proof,” “Wit” and the current Off-Broadway hit “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” She also had their names affixed to a Central Park bench, a tax-deductible tribute benefiting the Central Park Conservancy that today goes for $7,500.
Roth, 65, recently co-produced a 50-minute documentary, “My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story.” Richard Gere, Glenn Close, designer Isaac Mizrahi and about 20 other stars of various fields describe what Richard Belzer in the film calls “this incredible interspecies bond that I don’t think has been matched in all of human history.”
In Roth’s library, Lucy reclines on a blue swivel chair and Leo, blind and deaf, twirls in circles. The producer, who has two adult children and four grandkids, says her love of dogs dates back to her childhood in Wayne, New Jersey.
“We had collies,” she said. “I relate to dogs. I feel there’s a human quality about them, a knowingness. They connect us to something greater than ourselves.”
Her husband, Steven Roth, chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, the third largest U.S. real estate investment trust by market capitalization ($14.1 billion), doesn’t share her passion.
“He loves that I love my dogs,” she said. “He’s not as much of a dog lover as I am. But he’s coming around, after 41 years of marriage.”
The idea for the doggy documentary, which had a budget of $150,000, started with Mark St. Germain, a playwright and screenwriter. He was meeting with Gere in the kitchen of the actor’s Westchester home to discuss a film script. Then Gere’s dog, a half-corgi, half-pit bull named Billie, joined them.
“He was petting the dog and he started opening up,” Roth said.
St. Germain called Roth, who had produced two of his plays. They agreed this could be a film.
“We called our friends and people I had worked with, people we knew loved dogs,” she said.
In the film, the celebrities offer testimonials and stories about how dogs enrich their lives. Both Edward Albee and Edie Falco note that humans can hurt and betray each other.
“No dog I know has ever hurt me,” Falco says.
Mizrahi, flanked by his mutts Harry and Dean at his Bridgehampton house, describes their loyalty and obliviousness to celebrity.
“If you have any kind of public persona, you start to wonder who your real friends are,” he says in the film. “I never wonder about Harry or Dean.”
Gere expresses bemusement that his dog has the temerity to call the shots.
“Billie is the only creature I’m alpha to on this property,” he says, sitting in front of a verdant pond, as his wife, the actress Carey Lowell, smiles resignedly.
Danny Shire, the 17-year-old autistic son of the composer David Shire and actress Didi Conn, and the film’s most affecting figure, is shown taking giddy pleasure in his dogs. His father points out that many autistic children obsess over inanimate objects.
Better Than Elephants
“It’s nice that he’s fixated on something that’s living and changing and something he can relate to,” David Shire says. “It’s a good thing it wasn’t elephants.”
The film touches on canine overpopulation and the euthanizing of 6 million to 8 million animals every year. Falco cited many reasons people come up with not to adopt a child or dog.
“Until you have them in your arms, and then every one of them falls away,” said the actress, who has adopted two children and one Labrador.
Back on Park Avenue, Roth said when she encounters tough times in the theater she turns to Lucy and Leo.
“When I have a flop or things aren’t working I return to my comfort zone,” she said. “My comfort zone is with my dogs.”
Roth noticed that Lucy had migrated from her chair across the room to my feet. Ever the advocate, Roth offered to accompany me to a shelter to select a four-legged companion.
“This dog is the perfect size for you,” she said.
“My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story” sells for $26.95 at Docurama Films. Roth said 20 percent of any money earned by the filmmakers will go to animal welfare charities designated by people in the film.
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