Hollywood Hounds: Leaders of the Pack

A dog can be more than a man’s best friend. It can be a star! Look back at some of Hollywood’s canine favorites that wowed audiences with their neat tricks and their nice temperaments.

1. Lassie

Over one thousand dogs auditioned for the part of Lassie. The original Rough Collie that was cast refused to swim across a river for a stunt. Pal, who was cast as a stunt dog, was able to do the trick and took over the part. Interestingly, Pal wasn’t raised to be a performer. In fact, he had two bad habits: excessive barking and chasing cars. His owner brought him to the kennel of Rudd Weatherwax, who trained dogs professionally. Weatherwax was able to re-train Pal, and he earned more than twice as much as eight-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in Lassie Come Home – $250 per week compared to her $100. Pal became a star after Lassie Come Home to the point that he was insured for $1 million dollars and was even allowed to fly on planes with Weatherwax. He even received thousands of letters from fans each week. Pal also had his own bedroom, ate in restaurants, and had his own car, boat, plane, and pet dog. On her 60th birthday, Elizabeth Taylor was gifted a great grandchild of Pal.

2. Rin-Tin-Tin

Lee Duncan found Rin-Tin-Tin in a bombed-out kennel in France while serving in WWII. When he returned to California, he trained the German Shepherd to perform, and he was able to jump almost 12 feet high which helped him land his film role. Over the span of his career, he made over 25 films and was paid $1 thousand a week. His collar was even made of diamonds. Each month, the canine star received 50,000 letters from fans. It was reported that he received the most votes for Best Actor in 1929, but the Academy decided the award had to go to a human. Sometimes Rin-Tin-Tin got a sweet treat on the set after he jumped through windows that were made of translucent sugar.

3. Asta

This Wire Fox Terrier’s actual name was Skippy. He began his career around age 1, and he found his big break thanks to The Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Skippy (sometimes called the “Laurence Olivier of Dogs”) knew how to play hide and seek, do a backflip, howl on command, and cover his face. In order to get Skippy to do tricks, his trainer used a rubber mouse “Oslo”. When he wasn’t performing, Skippy was often in his dressing room, so as to not to break his concentration. He ate a healthy diet of vegetables and made sure to get at least 12 hours of rest. After all, he did his own stunts. Skippy’s rate was approximately $200 per week (more than the average dog in Hollywood), while his trainer got $60. Some of his credits include The Awful Truth (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne), Bringing Up Baby (Grant and Katharine Hepburn), and It’s a Small World (Spencer Tracy and Wendy Barrie).

4. Toto

Terry was a cairn terrier hired to travel to Oz with Dorothy. But she was very shy and even hid under the bed when Carl Spitz first tried to train her. Before she walked down the yellow brick road, she starred in Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple, Stablemates with Mickey Rooney, and Fritz Lang's Fury. On The Wizard of Oz set, Terry was scared of the wind machines and the steam that came from the Tin Man’s hat. When one of the witch’s guards accidently stepped on her foot, she took two weeks off for the sprain to recover at Judy Garland’s house and slept in a little box in her bedroom. The two grew very close, and he began to follow her everywhere. Garland said, “And you can’t imagine a more clever little dog! We all wanted to buy him from the owner.” For his Oz work, Terry earned $125 per week while Garland earned $500.

5. Beethoven

Chris, who played the titular dog, was an 185-pound Saint Bernard who, according to his trainer, wasn’t a big cuddler. Movie magic was used to make the dog appear stronger than he was in certain scenes, and other times, a stuntman or mechanical dog was actually used. After Chris died, three other dogs took his place for the remaining sequels.