In honor of DogBoy’s Movie Night—beginning February 26 in our beautiful new Training and Wellness Center—here are some famous movie and t.v. dogs: real, animated and robotic. Some you may remember from your childhood, some you can see on t.v. now, and some you’ll be seeing at our movie nights!
Rin Tin Tin: He’s one of the earliest canine movie stars, and might just be the most famous German Shepherd in the world. In fact, the breed’s current popularity is largely thanks to this talented dog. The original Rin Tin Tin was rescued by American Corporal Lee Duncan from a bombed out kennel in Belgium in 1918 in the waning days of World War I. Duncan took Rin Tin Tin and a littermate he named Nenette back to the U.S. after the war. Both dogs got very sick, and only Rin survived. He was discovered at an exhibition thrown by a German Shepherd club (Shepherds being a relatively new breed at the time) when he jumped an astounding 11 feet, 9 inches. By comparison, the current Olympic high jump record is just over 8 feet in the men’s event. Charles Jones happened to be at the exhibition with his movie camera and filmed Rin Tin Tin and his amazing jump. The rest was cinema history. The original Rin Tin Tin made 26 movies before his death in 1932 and was credited with saving a little studio called Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. Ten generations and counting have carried on the first Rin Tin Tin’s showbiz legacy; you can read more about them and see what Rin Tin Tin XI is up to at www.rintintin.com.
Asta: Getting to co-star in movies with the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Golden Age of Hollywood would be any actor’s dream, and a wirehaired fox terrier named Skippy got to live it. He got his big break as Asta, the intrepid sidekick to socialite crime-solvers Nick and Nora Charles (played by Powell and Loy) in the movie The Thin Man and its first sequel, After The Thin Man. Skippy starred in a number of movies in the 1930s—often credited as Asta—and the biggest aside from The Thin Man films was the classic comedy Bringing Up Baby, where he played the mischievous dog George. George’s theft of a dinosaur bone causes big problems for Cary Grant’s awkward paleontologist but helps pave the way for his falling in love with Katherine Hepburn’s daffy heiress. Skippy was owned and trained by Henry and Gale East and the Easts were assisted by Frank and Rudd Weatherwax, who would soon find the biggest dog star of all—Lassie. Skippy’s fame endures on the internet where Asta still has an active fan club (www.iloveasta.com).
K-9: You don’t have to be a robot dog to be on a science fiction series—see Captain Jonathan Archer’s beagle Porthos on Enterprise—but it helps. The English science fiction series Doctor Who ran from 1963-1989 originally and is still going strong after a successful re-launch in 2005. Ten different actors have played The Doctor, the time-travelling hero and the robotic K-9 (voiced by John Leeson), a dog-shaped supercomputer with a laser bite, is one of only two characters from the original series to reappear in the new one. K-9 Mark I first appeared alongside Fourth Doctor Tom Baker (the one with the long scarf) and his companion Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen). K-9 Mark III had a cameo (again with Sarah Jane) in “The Five Doctors,” Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary special, and went down fighting in the 2006 episode “School Reunion,” saving Tenth Doctor David Tennant and Sarah Jane from evil aliens—just as a heroic dog should. K-9 has even appeared in two Doctor Who spin-offs: the special K-9 and Company in 1981 and the current series The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Benji: This lovable mutt with a heart of gold has been starring in movies and television series produced and directed by Joe Camp since 1974 and has been played by three different dogs. The first was Higgins, a poodle/schnauzer/cocker mix. Higgins was already a Hollywood veteran by the time Camp cast him as the original Benji; he’d been on the t.v. series Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, and starred in a movie called Mooch Goes to Hollywood before coming out of retirement at 15 to star in Benji. Higgins even did all his own stunts for the movie—not bad for the equivalent of a human 76 year-old. Higgins’ daughter, named Benji, starred in three movies, several specials, and a Saturday morning series from 1977-1989. The current Benji was adopted by Joe Camp and his wife after a three-month search and starred in 2004’s Benji: Off the Leash!
Brian Griffin: The Prius-driving, smoking, frustrated writer dog of the Griffin family on the animated comedy Family Guy is a Sinatra-loving sophisticate who would hump your leg for a dry martini. Probably the sanest member of the Griffin household, he still manages to get into plenty of trouble. He also does a mean song-and-dance number—at least when evil baby (and would-be world dominator) Stewie Griffin is available as a duet partner.
Eddie: The fourth member of the Crane household on the t.v. series Frasier, the impish Jack Russell terrier Eddie was played by two different dogs over the series’ 11 year run: Moose, and Moose’s son Enzo, who started as Moose’s stunt double. Eddie’s antics were often at the center of Frasier episodes and he frequently did visual gags during the “tag,” the portion of the show run during the closing credits. Moose played Eddie for seven seasons and 196 episodes before retiring in 2000 at age 10 and handing the role over to Enzo full-time. Sadly, like many Hollywood families, father and son didn’t get along and had to be kept separate on the set of Frasier when they worked together. Moose passed away in 2006; Enzo starred as the older Skip in the movie My Dog Skip and as Boodles in See Spot Run in addition to his work on Frasier.
Buddy: Proving that one really good trick can turn into a career, Buddy the Golden Retriever turned his skills at basketball into a movie franchise. His ability to sink baskets brought him to the attention of Disney, who put together the movie Air Bud around the trick. In the movie, Bud escapes from a cruel owner (played by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter) and helps a lonely teen through the death of his father and moving to a new town. Although the original Buddy only starred in the first Air Bud movie, it spawned a very successful and ongoing movie franchise.
Lassie: The most famous movie and television dog of them all is the iconic Rough Collie originally played by a dog named Pal (owned and handled by Rudd and Frank Weatherwax) in the 1943 big-screen version of Eric Knight’s novella Lassie Come-Home. The huge success of that film paved the way for many more Lassie films and television series over the next 60 years and counting. Pal himself, who passed away in 1958 at the ripe old
age of 18, starred in seven MGM Lassie movies and two television specials. The role was taken over by Pal’s son Lassie, Jr. and nine generations’ worth of descendents—most recently Hey Hey II in the 2006 series Lassie’s Pet Vet. More Lassie projects are in the works, but unfortunately disputes with the Weatherwax estate and the current owners of Lassie’s media rights mean that the role may not stay in Pal’s line. Among many other achievements, Lassie is one of only three animals with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—the other two being Rin Tin Tin and another German Shepherd from the silent film era, Strongheart. And like any good movie star, Lassie’s on the web at www.lassie.net.
Did we miss your favorite dog star? Nominate more in the comments section!
Contributed by Jay Robison