Written By: Ben Cosgrove
Most people who spend time studying the relative intelligence of animals will readily admit that pigs are among the smartest of our mammalian cousins.
One photographer in particular, Vernon Merritt III, might attest to the validity of such an assertion about pigs, if only because he once found himself taking pictures of one of the most famous pigs ever to oink its way through a photo shoot and, if nothing else, came away impressed by the creature’s willingness to please.
The story of Merritt’s portrait session with Arnold of Green Acres fame is succinctly told in the book, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw (Bulfinch Press, 1998). Returning to the States after he was wounded (“shot through the coccyx,” as he put it) while covering the war in Vietnam as a freelancer, Merritt was hired as a staff photographer at LIFE in 1968. Asked specifically about his 1970 photo shoot with the pig, Merritt jokingly acknowledges in What They Saw that, as an Alabama native, he might have been tapped for the assignment because of his own “special understanding of the porcine nature.”
We rented the pig, and he came with his handler, and the pig would do anything you wanted the pig to do. The handler would click one of those little clickers, and every time he did, he’d give the pig a little something to eat. The pig was overwhelmingly cooperative.
“Overwhelmingly cooperative.” How often does one hear that phrase applied to celebrities, human or otherwise, these days? We’re just sayin’. . . .