Celebrity Spotlight - Ed Begley, Jr.
Ed Begley, Jr., is a man of many passions. Whether it’s a child, a movie, a dog, or a tree, you get the feeling that Begley tries to give his all to each one of his loves. An actor so good that it seems like you have seen him just about everywhere, in real life Begley comes across as funny, kind, and down-to-earth—especially when talking about his beloved pets and family.
The proud owner of his own rescued furry tribe—a 12-year-old dog named Molly, two house cats named Bear and Baby Boy, and five feral cats that seem to have permanently adopted him—Begley says that what he values most about his pets is their companionship. “You have your two-legged friends, and then you have your four-legged friends. They love you. They care for you. They warn you of danger and attempt to protect you from it.”
He describes Molly, a wheaten terrier mix, as “a very loving and friendly dog. She’s a good watchdog. She barks loudly—and a lot.” On the other hand, she doesn’t bite and, once someone comes into the house, all she wants to do is nuzzle the person. “We had her before we had our child, and she was our baby for 21/2 years. She’s still our baby,” he says. Begley and his wife Rachelle have a young daughter, Hayden, and he is also the proud father of two adult children: Amanda and Nicholas.
TO HIS CAT, THOUGH, HE’S MR. MOM
Baby Boy is a beautiful Abyssinian mix that Begley rescued from a New York City shelter while he was working in a David Mamet play in 1995. “Baby Boy was just a few months old then. He’s 9 now.” Originally, Begley had rescued two kittens together—two little brothers—but they both became sick. At a time when he was completely immersed in his role in the play, Ed found himself running the kittens back and forth to the veterinarian. Sadly, one kitten died, but Begley was able to nurse “Boy” back to health. As a result, “he just decided, as animals sometimes do, that I was ‘Mom,’” says Begley.
When he was a sick kitten, he would climb up on Begley’s chest to nap, where, Ed proudly points out, “he still sleeps every night.” When Begley has to leave home for a few days, Boy will make a big fuss over him and meow upon his return, as if to say, “Where did you go?” Begley happily notes, “I can tell that he misses me. He likes my wife and the kids, but he really likes me!”
Their other house cat, Bear, belongs to Rachelle, who rescued him from an animal shelter in Canada. “Molly and Baby Boy enrich our lives with their love and friendship,” says Begley, describing the pair as “loving” and “serene.” Bear, on the other hand, is “not serene.” With a chuckle, Ed says, “Bear can get a little agitated,” a fact that he attributes to Bear’s being declawed years ago.
While Boy is mostly an indoor cat, he does enjoy the occasional stroll with Begley and Molly. “I’ll go and walk Molly and he’ll go alongside us like he has a leash on,” Ed marvels.
HOW SMART IS SMART?
Part of Begley’s routine for his pets includes, of course, regular visits to their veterinarian. He is always amazed at how they know when it’s time to go in for a checkup. “I’ll call up and say, ‘Hi! Parker Animal Hospital? I’d like to bring my cat in for some shots. Do you have time now? Great! I’ll be right over.’” Begley won’t even have the pet carrier out yet, but “I’ll go to round Boy up and… he’s gone,” he says. “I make calls all day. How does he know that that one is to the veterinarian?” What’s even more amusing—or amazing, depending on how you look at it—is that the cat is normally next to him all day long.
While Begley is a devoted animal lover, he really didn’t have any pets growing up. He had some cats in his twenties, but he basically went from age 4 to 44 before he had another dog—Molly. “I love cats. I love dogs, too,” Begley says, but when he was younger, his lifestyle didn’t really lend itself to a houseful of animals. As is often the case, however, at one point, a special animal did enter his life. “A cat just showed up on my chest one day,” laughs Begley. He had broken his leg as a young man and was in a body cast at the time. While he was lying prone in the bed, a cat just walked through his screen door one day and sat down on his chest. “I adopted that cat,” Ed recalls with some humor, “and I named him ‘Kitty Witty.’”
A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Not all of his rescues have been intentional. Years ago, “A cat came to the back door. I said, ‘Oh, nice kitty! Let me feed it something,’” says Ed, and he all too quickly found himself the “guardian” of a backyard full of feral cats. That initial cat was wild, unfriendly, and, unfortunately, not spayed. Begley couldn’t catch it, and of course, it had babies. As a result, at one time he had up to 20 cats in his backyard that he diligently tried to trap, take to the veterinarian, and then adopt out. He finally got their number down to five cats, but doing so was a struggle.
Ed recalls one cat in particular that would not go into the trap. She was too wary, and food was not enough of a motivator. “I finally thought of what I could put in that trap that would attract her—her babies.” He found her litter and put the new kittens in the trap. Somehow, she got two of them out and hid them in a drainpipe. With much persistence, Begley finally caught her and the rest of her kittens, but he had to pull out his stove and rip out the back wall of his house to save the two that she had hidden down the pipe. “We couldn’t have kittens stuck behind the wall,” Ed says simply.
RESPONSIBILITY IS KEY
The lengths to which Begley has gone to keep cats from having unwanted kittens is an example of how seriously he takes his responsibilities. Begley is committed to the spaying and neutering of all pets. He points to the population explosion of pets in animal shelters and the fact that they are overwhelmed with caring for so many unwanted animals. The only way to solve the problem, says Ed, is for owners to always have their pets neutered or spayed.
Responsible pet ownership also includes considering the quality of life a pet will have if you adopt one. Are you home enough to have a pet? Do you have the kind of schedule that will allow you to care for something that needs so much of your attention?
All of these things, along with proper veterinary care, are part of what it takes to be a responsible pet owner. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Hollywood star, like Begley, or just a “star” in the eyes of your own furry pal—taking good care of pets all comes down to providing lots of love and simply doing all the basics right.
Having been involved in show business for his entire adult life, Ed Begley, Jr. has had plenty of opportunities to play roles in animal-related entertainment. His most memorable role, from the pet-owning audience’s point of view, may have been his star turn as an ever-so-helpful hotel manager in the dog show spoof film, Best in Show. Directed by Christopher Guest, Best in Show is a funny, tongue-in-cheek movie that parodies the world of top-notch show dogs. Begley’s character attempts to find lodgings for two down-on-their-luck owners whose precious pooch eventually wins top honors at the prestigious Mayflower show.
Begley has also recently been seen in 2002’s Auto Focus, with Greg Kinnear, and in another incredibly funny Christopher Guest film, A Mighty Wind, in 2003. When interviewed for this article, he was preparing for a role in a new film called Desolation Sound. Apart from film and theater, Begley also has numerous television credits to his name. His most well-known role is arguably that of Dr. Victor Ehrlich on the hit show St. Elsewhere, for which Begley received an Emmy nomination during each viewing season.
A MEAN, GREEN, RECYCLING MACHINE
There are few people who are as devoted to preserving the environment as Ed Begley, Jr. While he is a star in the world of stage and screen, he is also a stellar example to many environmentalists of how to live life in harmony with the environment. One of his biggest accomplishments is that, since 1989, his home has been “off the power grid.” He uses solar heating and even his own exercise bike to make his Hollywood home completely energy efficient. He gets himself around Los Angeles using a bike, mass transit, or hybrid car. He has organized hybrid car rallies in Los Angeles, where he’s popped the hood to discuss technical points with reporters along with other celebrity hybrid car owners.
Where the animal world is concerned, Begley is a vegan, which means that he does not eat meat. He says he doesn’t try to force his beliefs on others, however. It’s just simply what he likes to do. He does admit that he once went on a “kick” and tried to feed his cats vegan food (which includes no animal by- products), “but of course they didn’t like it at all” and wanted meat, so he switched them back to a meat-based diet.