In all the great movies that were released in 1939 — like “Gone With the Wind” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — and all the great dialog written, who could forget Dorothy played by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” saying “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
And what a metaphor for today’s political world — Toto pulling back the curtain to expose the phony Wizard; and the classic scene of Toto listening to Dorothy singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow …”
Ah, those were the memories — still alive for today’s generations to enjoy in re-runs easily found with modern technology.
Toto’s real name was Terry, a female Cairn terrier born in Altadena, Calif., in 1933, and abandoned at Carl Spitz’s Hollywood Dog Training School by the original owners.
Spitz kept her and trained her with his pioneering technique of hand signals.
The following year, Terry auditioned and won a role in “Bright Eyes,” starring Shirley Temple (then 5 years old). More roles followed.
After her role in “The Wizard of Oz” — based on a novel by L. Frank Baum — Terry’s name was officially changed to Toto.
Her salary of $125 a week in the movie was more than paid to any of the Munchkins.
During filming, Toto broke her foot when one of the Wicked Witch’s guards stepped on it.
Toto died in 1945 at age 11 after appearing in 16 movies, but was only given screen credit once — in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Four years later came Lassie, a Rough collie that most of the Greatest Generation grew up with — remembering the 1943 movie “Lassie Come Home” starring Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor, based on a short story by British novelist and screenwriter Eric M. Knight.
Here’s the story:
The Carraclough family in Yorkshire, England, was facing hard times during the Great Depression and sells their pet collie Lassie to the Duke of Rudling who lived in Scotland. Young Joe Carraclough is heartbroken when Lassie didn’t meet him after school as she usually did and then learns she’s been sold.
Lassie is taken to Scotland hundreds of miles away and locked in a kennel controlled by a mean keeper. The dog doesn’t like the Duke or the keeper and yearns to be back with her original family. The Duke’s sympathetic granddaughter Priscilla (played by Elizabeth Taylor) senses Lassie’s unhappiness and helps her escape.
The rest of the story is Lassie using her instincts to find her way home hundreds of miles to the south — facing stormy weather, cold, hunger, swamp and river crossings, while also evading a dog catcher and evil people seeking to harm her.
But along the way, she’s also befriended first by an elderly farm couple and later by a traveling tinker. All of them want to adopt her, but sense she’s on a mission of some kind and let her go.
Exhausted and dirty, Lassie finds her way home, and the story ends with a heartwarming reunion with young Joe.
In the movie, Lassie was a female, but in real life a laddie named Pal, owned by Rudd Weatherwax of North Hollywood.
MGM was looking for a Collie for an upcoming movie, so Weatherwax took Pal to the audition — competing with 300 other dogs. None got the part. Some six months later however, Russ decided to try again and boldly went to the studio and asked for another audition.
All the training paid off: The next day, Pal took a screen test, got the part and from then on was known as Lassie.
Another female collie was the original Lassie, and Pal was used as a stunt dog. But Pal did such a good job that he was given the Lassie role permanently.
The string of Lassie movies were so popular that a “Lassie” TV series was developed in the early days of television. The original costars with Lassie were Jan Clayton and George Cleveland. The series lasted 17 seasons on CBS, followed by two years of syndicated re-runs.
“I did Lassie for six years and I never had anybody come up to me and say, ‘It made me want to be a farmer,’” said actress June Lockhart who played the part of a doctor.
Saturday Evening Post said Pal had “the most spectacular canine career in film history.”
Pal played Lassie in seven Lassie feature films and lived to be 18. All the collies that descended from him and played the role lived to be at least 17 — except one named Baby.
Today, Carol Riggins, formerly co-trainer with Rudd Weatherwax’s son Robert owns and trains the latest Lassie — a 10th generation descendent from the original Pal.
Pal died of natural causes in June 1958, and was buried at the Weatherwax ranch in Canyon Country, Calif. Robert said, “Dad would never again watch an MGM Lassie movie …He didn’t want to have to be reminded of just how much he loved that dog.”
In 1918 during World War I, Cpl. Lee Duncan of the U.S. Aviation Corps found a German shepherd mother and puppies abandoned in a kennel in Lorraine, France. He saved them all but kept two — naming them Nénette and Rintintin after tiny French good luck dolls that many soldiers carried with them.
(Made of yarn, the two dolls were to be given and not bought — and the yarn thread linking them should never be broken, or they’d lose their power of protection.)
When the war ended, Duncan smuggled the two dogs back to the U.S., but sadly Nénette died.
Rin Tin Tin became a movie legend.
Lee Duncan nicknamed him “Rinty” and trained him for movie work. Rinty hit the big screen at a time when silent films were ending and talkies were coming in. The big dog was a huge success, earning international acclaim. He starred in 27 movies, and popularity soared for German Shepherds.
Big money rolled in for Warner Bros.
There are now 12 generations of Rin Tin Tin — and the legend continues.
Rinty died in 1932 at Duncan’s home in Los Angeles — the sad news reported by newspapers and magazines everywhere, and radio stations interrupted regular programming to make the announcement.
Duncan sent his beloved pet’s remains back to France, and they’re now interned in Paris at the Cimetière des Chiens — or Cemetery of the Dogs — the oldest pet cemetery in Europe.
The fictional canine Benji character was created by writer Joseph S. Camp Jr., who also directed the Benji films.
The real-life Benji was an undetermined mixed breed mutt owned by Frank L. Inn, a veteran Hollywood animal trainer. In 1960, he found a shaggy puppy named Higgins with soulful eyes languishing in the Burbank Animal Shelter just 3 miles from Warner Bros. Studios.
He immediately adopted him — the same day the little guy was scheduled to be euthanized.
Inn said Benji was the smartest animal he’d ever trained — learning one new trick or routine a week, like yawning or sneezing on cue. He even remembered them year to year.
Benji quickly became a favorite with movie-goers and television watchers. During the 1960s and ’70s, he appeared in 149 TV episodes of the sit-com “Petticoat Junction” during six of the show’s seven seasons on television.
He was mostly known as “Dog” or “Higgins” and in 1966 won the Patsy Award for Best Canine Actor.
He retired from show biz for a while when he was 14, but then made a comeback two years later when he auditioned for the movie “Benji” — wining the role and the name.
The movie made $40 million — big money in those days.
Benji died in 1978 at age 17. When his owner and trainer, Frank Inn, died in Sylmar, Calif., in 2002 at age 86, the two were united once again when an urn with Benji’s ashes was placed in Frank’s casket at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Frank Inn pioneered Hollywood’s animal training, having trained dogs, cats, pigs and many other animals. One accolade said, “He was a humanitarian who gave lavishly to charitable causes by providing dogs for the disabled and promoting the adoption of pets from animal shelters.”
Benji was his greatest star.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
— Will Rogers
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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Toto was buried on her family’s property in Studio City, Calif., but the site was destroyed in 1958, to make way for expanding the U.S. Highway 101 Ventura Freeway. The Toto Memorial statue was erected in 2011 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood — also the final resting place of many famous Hollywood personalities — including Rudolph Valentino.
Toto the Cairn Terrier…
“The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terrier breeds, originating in the Scottish Highlands and recognized as one of Scotland’s earliest working dogs. The breed was given the name Cairn, because the breed’s function was to hunt and chase quarry between the cairns (mounds of stones) in the Scottish highlands.”
Back to France…
When Rin Tin Tin died, owner Lee Duncan buried him in the backyard of his home in Los Angeles in a bronze casket with a simple wooden cross. The Depression forced him to sell his house, so he disinterred Rin Tin Tin’s remains and sent them to France’s famous Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques pet cemetery in Paris.
$10 for Lassie…
When Lassie was an undisciplined puppy, his original husband and wife owners took him to Rudd Weatherwax’s dog school for training. The fee was $10. When they returned to pick him up, they decided they’d enjoyed the peace and quiet at home so much while the puppy was gone, they didn’t want him back. Waving the $10 fee, Rudd was given the puppy.
The American Humane Association reported that because the original Benji was rescued from an animal shelter, more than 1,000,000 dogs were adopted from shelters across the country. Benji is partnered with Pets911 that promotes adoption of pets that need loving homes. Contact them at www.pets911.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: WWW PETS911 COM. Also on Facebook and Twitter.
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