Top Dog Film Stars

Although many actors dreaded working with dogs, dogs have become an integral part of a genre of movies. They are the main component of the boy (or Girl) and his (or her) dog offering. In bit roles and major parts, they can add depth, pathos, and humor to an otherwise dull movie. The big screen has paraded many a bigger-than-life canine. Some even obtained a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Two of the biggest have become icons for ideal dogs. Some have continued this tradition. Other canines fall into the category of character actors or comic relief. While these canines are or were famous, they were always known by their stage name.

• Rin Tin Tin (1918 – 1932)

Rin Tin Tin was not the first dog actor to appear prominently in movies, but he was the first great dog star. Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd. He was found in Germany by Corporal Lee Duncan, a soldier during World War I.

Rin Tin Tin was starving when Duncan located him, his mother and litter mates. He held a noble ancestry. In February 1918, Rin Tin Tin and 4 other pups were living in the kennel of an abandoned German station. Duncan took it upon himself to rescue the mother and pups. He adopted two: Rin Tin Tin and Nanete. Both were named after French Puppets given to the
American soldiers for good luck.

Duncan returned to California. Only Rin Tin Tin survived the trip. Duncan went back to work but entered Rin Tin Tin in several dog shows. Soon the talented canine was discovered. He stepped in to perform the scene another dog had refused. Soon, he had a contract with Warner Brothers.

Rin Tin Tin was the star of 26 pictures for Warner Brothers Studio. His films initially saved the studio from bankruptcy. In his hay day, more than 10,000 fan letters arrive weekly. He died in 1932 but not before he established a precedent and a dynasty. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Las Angeles, but his body is lying in the world’s most famous pet cemetery in Asnières-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.

Brief Filmography: The Man from Hell’s River (1927), A Dog of the Regiment (1927), Rinty of the Desert (1928), The Famous Warner Brothers Dog (1928), The Lightning Warrior (1931).

• Lassie 1940 –

After Rin Tin Tin, Lassie was the biggest canine to hit the silver screen. He, yes, Lassie was a Laddie, was trained by Rudd Weathermax. The Weathermax family were to establish themselves as serious animal trainers. They originally intended to help the owners train Pal a.k.a. Lassie to stop chasing motorcycles. The owners decided to give Pal over to Weathermax. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship

Lassie was not intended to be a film star. It just happened. He was initially hired as a stunt dog. He replaced a canine who refused to swim across a raging river. He then took over the role. Soon Pal as Lassie was a major motion picture star. His best role was in Lassie Come Home (1943). After he retired form show business, his sons and grandsons took over.

Brief Filmography: Lassie Come Home (1943), Son of Lassie (1945), Courage of Lassie (1946), Challenge to Lassie (1949)

• Toto/Terry (1933-1944)

Toto’s real name was Terry. She was a female Black Cairn Terrier who acted across from many of the era’s greatest child stars. Although best known for her role opposite Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, she also acted with other child star, Shirley Temple, in the movie Bright Eyes.

Terry performed in 14 movies. Unlike either Rin Tin Tin or Lassie, Terry was not slotted into 1 specific role. Her performance in The Wizard of Oz, however, did increase her earning power. Her wages went up to a princely $125 a week during shooting. This was a higher sum than many of the film’s human actors. Terry also came to the premier at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Brief Filmography: Bright Eyes (1934), Fury (1936), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Women (1939) George Washington Slept Here (1942)

• Buddy (1989?- 1998)

Buddy appeared in only movie during his short but memorable career. Prior to his role as Buddy in Air Bud, this Golden Retriever had appeared on the Stupid Pet Trick segment of the David Letterman Show. Buddy made and dunked in basketballs. Buddy won over the crowd.
Buddy then went on to make his mark in movie history.

He starred in Air Bud. At the Academy Award that year, he was honored as holding his own among “the greatest Animal Actors of all time“. Buddy’s career as a canine movie star was fleeting. Although he spawned an entire series of Air Bud movies, he only starred in one. A bout with cancer took away one of his rear legs. Buddy rallied but died in 1998.

Filmography: Air Bud (1997)

(Article written by Lacy Johnston)