Film fans will undoubtedly remember the tough-guy comedic stylings of character actor Allen Jenkins, who appeared in countless films from the early 1930’s through the mid-1970’s. Jenkins was also the voice of Officer Dibble, the perpetually above-board New York cop constantly being duped by the animated Top Cat and his gang. But in 1948, Allen Jenkins made the news for a not-so-funny incident that he somehow turned into a very funny media event, and in doing so he launched his feline companion into celebrity status.
The incident happened on January 26th, 1948, and news media outlets were sharing the story country-wide (and possibly even world-wide) by the next day. Allen Jenkens was arrested for driving drunk on Sunset Blvd. and allegedly hitting a police squad car into the bargain. Similar celebrity brushes with the law were not uncommon, but what propelled this story into the world spotlight was the fact that Jenkins’ cat, Smiley, was taken to jail along with the actor. And it was soon learned that upon his arrest, Jenkins claimed that Smiley had been driving the car.
A photo of Jenkins and Smiley in jail accompanied copy, such as this from the St. Petersburg Times published on January 27, 1948 (oddly enough, most reports claimed Smiley was a calico, although in the photo he looks like a ginger tabby):
Tough Guy Allen Jenkins of the films and his calico cat Smiley were released on $150 bail yesterday for drunken driving. The cat and Jenkins were arrested together and freed together because the actor said it was Smiley, not he, who was at the wheel when officers stopped them.
“We were drunk driving,” Jenkins admitted to newsmen when booked at west Los Angeles jail, “That is, the cat was driving. I was just along for the ride.”
The actor entered a formal plea of not guilty for himself and asked for a jury trial which was set for Feb. 16.
Jenkins appeared only slightly concerned about himself but was worried about the cat’s night in jail.
“He’s been a good cat,” he said, “this is the first time he’s been in jail. I hope it’s his last.”
Smiley didn’t seem to mind. He purred happily and licked his whiskers.
Jenkins (and Smiley were) stopped when his automobile was almost involved in a head-on collision on Sunset Blvd.
“We’ve been buddies for 10 months,” he said. “We got together outside a Venice beer joint when the bartender kicked Smiley out on his ear right in front of me.”
Asked if he had objected, Jenkins drew himself up in a dignified manner and said, “Nah, I was sober.”
Since then he and the cat, who is about a year old, have been constant companions. Jenkins said Smiley has flown with him to New York and Chicago and 35 times to San Francisco.
“I hope he don’t take it to heart, having a police record,” Jenkins added.
Other reports indicated that Jenkins insisted Smiley be “paw-printed”, which the arresting officer did to “humor” the actor. While it seems fairly inarguable that Jenkins was under the influence at the time of his arrest, much of the incident could be put down to good-natured joking, which does seem to be in keeping with Jenkins’ personality. It’s likely he was trying to lighten the mood of the situation and clearly newspaper reporters were eating it up.
One person who picked up on the story with a fervor was columnist and novelist Paul Gallico, who reported on the incident on February 2nd in his New York based Thinking Aloud column:
We Have Seen These Drivers, Too
Unless the citizenry is alerted, there may be a very serious miscarriage of justice in Los Angeles, two weeks from today as a matter of fact, when Mr. Allen Jenkins, the moving picture actor, will go on trial on a charge of drunken driving.
It is a mockery of justice, and ridiculous on the face of it to try Mr. Jenkins when he has already testified that it was not he, but his cat who was driving the car at the time of the accident.
Ordinarily, I hesitate to mix into the law business, or give anybody advice, or attack the courts, since that can get you hauled up on a contempt charge, but in this instance, it just so happens that I know a great deal about cats, and they are lousy drivers, always swishing their tails or taking their hands off the wheel to wash at inopportune moments, or abandoning the whole works to go after a mouse of rabbit on the side of the road.
Mr. Jenkins was foolish perhaps to let his cat drive, but then, if the cat was regularly licensed and sober, which it seems Mr. Jenkins was not, on the face of it he would have seemed to have shown good sense. The cat might be charged with reckless or careless driving, but to try to pin a rap on Mr. Jenkins for chauffering while oiled seems to me to be pretty malicious. There are some sinister forces at work here.
You will say I am interested myself in this case because it was a calico cat involved, which is so close to Gallico that I might have been accused practically of nepotism and favoring a relative, but I want to assure you that I am acquainted with none of the parties to this unfortunate incident, and merely wish to see justice done.
It came to my attention through a picture published in the papers showing actor Jenkins incarcerated in the West Los Angeles sneezer, sitting on a chair behind bars with Smiley, his pet calico cat, cuddled in his arms. Overlying his broad features was a look of understandable bewilderment. You might say he looked woofled, and then again you might interpret it as a look of pure surprise at the odd turn events had taken.
He was arrested and tossed into durance vile on charges of driving while drunk and colliding with, of all things, a squad car.
Hailed before the bar of justice, Mr. Jenkins is quoted as giving his evidence, clearly and truthfully. He said, “The cat was driving. I was just along for the ride.”
Nevertheless, he and the cat was handed a bail rap of $150 on his plea of not guilty, and jury trial was set for Feb. 16.
You will notice that Mr. Jenkins in his testimony did not deny that he might have been a bit bubbled. He merely, and it seems to me rightly so, disclaimed responsibility for the collision with the squad car because not he, but Smiley the cat was at the wheel of the car and driving at the time of the accident. Also, if I were Mr. Jenkin’s lawyer, I would certainly ask some pertinent questions as to what the squad car was doing there at that moment, and when the cops saw it was a cat driving, why didn’t they look out?
Jenkins is a sportsman. He never suggested that the cat might have been a little steeped himself. I took a good look at the picture, and frankly Smiley looks a little cat-nipped to the ears to me. The pair might both have been out celebrating, but Jenkins never tried to implicate his pal in this manner. He simply gave out the facts in the case.
I mean I just happen to know about these things because I once had a Chinchilla cat named Chinny, who every so often would break into his piggy bank, take all the dough, stay out all night, visiting bars and grills, and show up the next morning, roaring. It was a weakness and we understood it.
But I am keeping my eye on that Los Angeles trial.
The trial itself took place on February 19th. Smiley was not present at the proceedings but even without his cat companion’s testimony Allen Jenkins was acquitted of all charges, most likely because it was explained that the actor had never been given a field sobriety test. And neither was Smiley, apparently.
“This is a great relief to Smiley,” Jenkins was reporting as having said. “He was upset about us being lawbreakers. I don’t want him to have a police record.”
Smiley’s time in the media made a star out of him, and there were several subsequent news stories about him for some time, including a follow up Thinking Aloud entry from Paul Gallico on August 27, 1948:
Smiley Jenkins, the automobile driving cat of Malibu Beach and the film colony about whom you have read in this space, came to town and invited us to dinner at ‘21,’ the eatery where he likes to hang out when he visits New York.
You will remember that little dust-up in Hollywood last spring when Smiley and the man he owns, a film comedian by the name of Allen Jenkins, were out in the jalopy for an evening spin. Smiley was at the wheel and in a moment of aberration brushed a cop car.
The police, apparently made nervous and obtuse by the incident, apprehended Smiley’s man and charged him with being tiddly, carting both him and Smiley off into durance vile.
When the facts of the case became known to me I immediately devoted the power and prestige of this department to demanding justice for Smiley in ringing tones. Naturally, the crusade had immediate effect. Smiley and his pet man were acquitted on all counts.
And I suppose it was only natural, too, upon his arrival in New York, to break in a new vaudeville act in which he is appearing, for Smiley to wish to meet the fearless and public spirited journalist who came to his aid. At any rate, he telephoned, invited the Missus and myself to dine with him, and I must say that we spent a very pleasant evening together.
Smiley is a ginger-colored cat, addicted to white shirt fronts. He himself, although a teetotaller, has more than a passing knowledge of fine vintages and ordered up a Cabernet ‘34 which was truly mellow. He humors his man, permitting him to lap beer up out of a stein. We dined on soft shelled crabs and swordfish amandines. Smiley had young mice fache au provencal which calls for just a whiff of garlic and fine herbs in the sauce. A cultured fellow.”
Gallico’s article ultimately turned into a strange diatribe as he proceeded to quote Smiley as being very concerned about traitorous Americans and the hooplah caused by those opposing the efforts to root this menace from our country’s midst. Clearly Smiley was even being used as a political puppet by some.
A year later, The Milwaukee Journal offered this update about Smiley in their July 28, 1949 edition:
Calico Cat, Pinched for Drunken Driving, Drinks Milk in Night Clubs Now
Hollywood, Calif. (UP) — Smiley, the calico cat who got hauled off to jail a year ago for drunk driving, is up to his old tricks. He’s hitting the nightclubs again — but he only drinks milk nowadays.
Spending a night behind bars “did something” to Smiley’s personality, his owner, Allen Jenkins, says solemnly — even though he did beat the rap.
The cat, a two year old of dubious ancestry, hit the headlines with film actor Jenkins when a couple of cops picked them up for joyriding with “too many under their belts.”
The cops didn’t think that it was funny. They dragged ‘em both along to the pokey, where Jenkins insisted they take Smiley’s “fingerprints” along with his.
A month later they were both acquitted. But Smiley’s never been the same since. Acquiring a police record made a show-off out of him.
“I took him along with me on a personal appearance tour,” Jenkins grinned. “He brought down the house. I finally made him stay in the wings – he was too popular.”
But Smiley had had his taste of publicity. And every town they hit he posed — smirking and self-satisfied — while newspaper photographers took his picture with the local fire chief or the chief of police.
“I took him into 21 in New York,” Jenkins said. “He had a great time. We tucked a bib under his whiskers and he drank right along with us — milk, that is.”
Smiley creates no end of excitement when he goes nightclubbing along the sunset “strip.” He enjoys the floor shows at Ciro’s or the Mocambo as much as anybody.
And, his movie star owner declares, he behaves himself — probably a lot better than some two legged “cats” who decorate those plushy places.
“He goes everywhere with me,” Jenkins says. “He’s flown to New York 16 times and San Francisco 44. But he always gets insulted when they make him ride back with the freight. What a ham!”
Smiley figures he’s a “celebrity,” what with all his notoriety and such. Didn’t it get him elected president of the National Feline association? And wasn’t he the very first cat in the country to be “identicoted?”
“That’s pretty good for an alley cat, huh?” beams Jenkins. “That’s where they tattoo a number on their leg for identification.
Smiley’s No. 1. And did he take it like a man? He did not! He yowled and screeched bloody murder!”
The only place Smiley doesn’t get to tag along is to the studio. Right now, Jenkins is playing a racing driver in “The Big Wheel,” and he doesn’t want Smiley around.
“Look,” he says, “at the mess I got into last time he helped me with my driving.”
It’s not clear what happened to Smiley, but he was not forgotten by the press. When Allen Jenkins was arrested again for drunk driving in 1957 the newspapers went out of their way to point out that he couldn’t blame Smiley for the incident this time since this time the cat was not in the car with him.