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Buster the skating rooster

Buster the skating rooster

Aug. 17, 1952: Buster, a roller skating rooster, navigates between a girl’s legs during a photo session with former Los Angeles Times staff photographer Leigh Wiener.

Years later, Wiener wrote about Buster:

Because of an incident that happened to me when I was a photographer for the Los Angeles Times, I now have a surefire method of dealing with strangers who approach me on the street and ask me to take their picture.

A reporter and I were sent to a run-down part of town on South Alvarado Street to cover an apparent hit-and-run auto accident. Arriving on scene, we discovered that what had happened wasn’t much of a news story. There were no deaths, no injuries, and no damage to speak of .…

As we were about to get back into our car and leave, a man who fit the stereotypical “wino” image stepped out of the small crowd and came over to me .…

In a voice that was soft and cultured, he said, “Mister, will you take my picture? I’m Billy Lehr.” I was about to tell him to get lost when I suddenly remembered a phone conversation I had had three weeks before with a New York picture agent. The agent told me that he had heard there was a dog in California that could roller skate. If I could find that dog and photograph him, I could make a lot of money.

I looked at Lehr and said, “Sure I’ll take you picture, mister, if you have a dog that can roller skate.”

Without missing a beat, Lehr came back: “I don’t have a skating dog, but how about a rooster?”

“That can skate?” I asked.

“Of course he can skate,” he said, almost with disdain, “why else would I ask you to take my picture?”

Why else indeed, I thought.

The following day – my day off – I made arrangements to meet the gentleman and his bird at two in the afternoon. What a meeting! Billy and Buster – Buster being the rooster – were on time. Billy was dressed as he was the day before with a few more stains on his shirt. Buster, however, wore a clean pair of “You Can’t Bust ‘Em” overalls, and his custom-made roller skates simply shined.

Some youngsters joined our party, and soon I had exposed 10 rolls of film with my Rolleiflex. The Times ran the pictures big, and by the time Associated Press and the United Press International had finished with them, the pictures of a skating rooster had appeared in almost every paper in the world .…

The story of Buster didn’t stop there. Two months later Lehr contacted Wiener and asked him to meet him at an ice rink:

There was Buster with his new ice skates. His proud owner was cleanshaven and wore brand new clothes. The only sad note on this occasion was that the young girls skating with Buster couldn’t keep up with him. He outskated them all.

Again, the Times gave a lot of space to the pictures and one of the editors, Hayden Reese, provided the photo essay with an appropriate headline: BUSTER THE ROOSTER CAN SKATE BETTER THAN HE USTER!

Now, whenever people stop me on the street and request me to take their picture, I say, “Sure, if you have a skating rooster.”

The text is used with permission from the 1982 book by Leigh Wiener, “How Do You Photograph People?”

Wiener worked at the Los Angeles Times from 1949 to 1956, leaving to pursue a successful freelance career. He passed away in 1993.

See more of Weiner’s photography.

Buster ice skates past Cathy Henderson of San Marino.  Photo publshed in the Times Oct. 12, 1952. Credit: Leigh Wiener / Los Angeles Times

Above: A portrait of Buster on roller skates published in the Aug. 17, 1952, Los Angeles Times. Credit: Leigh Wiener / Los Angeles Times

2 Comments

  1. October 25, 2011, 12:38 pm

    I love archived LA Times articles like these. In this day and age, its still hard to believe that a rooster could roller skate and ice skate better than some people. I wish YouTube was around so that we could see Buster skating circles around the little girls.

    By: robert
  2. April 20, 2013, 12:57 pm

    I can imagine it! I had a rooster and he was so clever and loveable <3

    By: ccc

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