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French Bulldog At Heart Of New Children's Book 'Naughty Mabel'


Mabel is French and naughty. She eats underwear, she interrupts parties, she licks herself, in public even, and leaves a mess in her wake. And I'm not even mentioning her intestinal challenges. Naughty Mabel is a French bulldog who's at home in the Hamptons. It is also a book ostensibly for children by Nathan Lane and his husband, Devlin Elliott, illustrated by Dan Krall. And Nathan Lane, the Tony, Obie, Olivier and Emmy award-winning actor, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

NATHAN LANE: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: Is this a made-up dog or one you know?

LANE: The character is inspired slightly by our own French bulldog, Mabel. But it just amused us, the notion of an Eloise-type character but in the form of a French bulldog because not only are they a rather popular breed these days, but they have this issue with snoring, because of their snub noses, and some flatulence issues. And it - you know, they are an amusing dog. They really seem to have a sense of humor at times. Literally, Mabel will look at me and do a take that could rival Buster Keaton's.

SIMON: (Laughter).

LANE: So we thought that was, you know, a funny idea for a character and then putting her in the Hamptons. And we also, you know, we had discussed - we didn't want it to be autobiographical in that way.

SIMON: OK, so this is - the couple in the Hamptons is not a thinly disguised version of you and your husband.


SIMON: Without giving anything away, it's quite an achievement for the illustrator to show flatulence.

LANE: To be honest with you, when we wrote it, we just thought it was amusing that, you know, she had a little gas.

SIMON: Yeah.

LANE: And it was more of the silent but deadly variety. But Dan literally has turned it into a mass - it's a mass exodus. And this is huge, billowing smoke - green smoke - that come - has seemingly come out of this little dog, which seems to amuse children no end.

SIMON: Yeah, you're Nathan Lane, one of the great actors of our time. Can I ask you to read...

LANE: Oh, thank you.

SIMON: ...A couple of pages of the book?

LANE: Oh, sure. Well this is - she's been given a bath, which she really doesn't care for, and she can't figure out why this has happened. So she says, (reading) I discussed this new wrinkle in my routine with my feline friends next door, Smarty Cat and Scaredy (ph) Cat. We all decided that there could only be one reason for my special bath. My parents were throwing a party. Smarty Cat and Scaredy Cat were jealous because the humans in my life throw fabulous parties while their human is a nice old lady who falls asleep watching late-night infomercials. They said I'm lucky, as well as naughty, a frightening combination. Unlucky is more like it because that night, I was sent to bed early, alone, bathed, party-less (ph). This injustice called for a response because...

SIMON: I'll add that you actually have her tucked in for the night the way you would tuck in a child.

LANE: Yes. Oh, yeah, she's in her bedroom.

SIMON: Actually, better than most children are tucked in, I don't mind observing, yeah.

LANE: (Laughter) Should I go on or...?

SIMON: Yeah, no, just a couple pages.

LANE: Oh, she says, (reading) because I live to party. My game plan was to try to blend in, hoping they wouldn't notice. Unfortunately, they noticed. So did everyone else. You've never seen so many camera phones flashing - very red carpet. I was told parties aren't for naughty little girls, but what good is a party without naughty little girls?

SIMON: Can I ask about the real Mabel for a second?

LANE: Sure.

SIMON: How did she strut into your lives?

LANE: She was a present from the playwright Terrence McNally. And I wasn't so crazy about the idea of a dog. I like dogs very much, but the notion of coming home after a show and having to take a dog out and then clean up after it wasn't so appealing to me. But Devlin really wanted one. And so finally I said OK, let's just do it. And so they all went off to a farm in Pennsylvania with Devlin and Terrence and his partner, Tom Kirdahy. And there were two little French bulldogs in a cage. And they were huddled together in a corner. It was a litter that had - many of the puppies had been taken and there was, like, this brother and sister. And - I know, it's like "Sophie's Choice." And you - if I...

SIMON: (Laughter) A little different, but go ahead, yeah.

LANE: If I knew then what I know now, I would have said to bring them both. But he took Mabel, and they brought her home. And she was tiny - this tiny little black and white ball of fur. And not unlike the people in the book, she's become our child. And, you know, as they say, dogs can add years to your life, you know, getting that sort of unconditional love on four legs every day.

SIMON: Is life more interesting because Mabel is naughty?

LANE: Well, it is in the book. Although I must admit, she has been to a therapist at one point. She...

SIMON: The real Mabel, the dog?

LANE: Yeah, the real Mabel went to a therapist, which is ironic after years of telling her to stay off the couch. But...

SIMON: (Laughter).

LANE: She...

SIMON: I'm sorry, that's one of the funniest lines I've ever heard in my life.

LANE: (Laughter) Well, thank you very much.

SIMON: But you're - but you're serious. You took her to a...

LANE: Yeah, no, we had to take her to a behaviorist because for some reason she started nipping at the dog walker. And she loved this guy, and it was very odd. And we could not figure out exactly why it was happening after years of going on walks with him. And now she seemed to have calmed down after that.

SIMON: What's it like for you to write a book that's ostensibly for children? What's it represent in your career? Is it a relief? Is it...

LANE: Well, as a kid, I was a voracious reader. And I read all the children's books, all the classics. And in particular, I loved "Stuart Little" by E.B. White. It had such an effect on me. And just that - I like any book that starts with a matter of fact birth of mouse to a woman in Manhattan and nobody blinks. But so I have a lot of respect for people who do this and write children's books. And so it's very satisfying when I see just how much kids get a kick out of the character and enjoy it and - but really, from my point of view, I was hoping to create something fun for a parent to read. You know, I just thought it would be a fun character to play and that hopefully the adults would get a kick out of it as well.

SIMON: Well, I tried it on our 9-year-old.

LANE: Yeah.

SIMON: And the effect you would've wanted.

LANE: Oh, that's - that is great to hear.

SIMON: She loved - but putting flatulence in a book, that - it's...

LANE: I know.

SIMON: It's a killer item for a kid.

LANE: (Laughter) Literally. You know, I try not to read reviews but some people have seemed quite offended by the notion of flatulence, as a - and I believe as a cheap joke. But it only came out of the fact that it is a part of this breed. I deal with it all the time. You know, you'll be talking and suddenly you'll very quietly hear (imitating flatulence) and you think, oh, no...

SIMON: (Laughter).

LANE: ...(Laughter) We better clear the room. So it wasn't, you know - I mean, I love a cheap joke as much as anybody. But it really wasn't that. It just came out of the breed itself literally and figuratively. And obviously it amuses kids and it must be used judiciously...

SIMON: Yeah.

LANE: ...Tastefully.

SIMON: Flatulence has to be tasteful.

LANE: I'm talking about tasteful farts.

SIMON: Yeah.

LANE: Yeah.

SIMON: Nathan Lane, his book, "Naughty Mabel," and, boy, is she. Thanks so much for being with us.

LANE: Thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.