Whatever Happened to Lassie (and 8 Other Showbiz Dogs)?


Good news, dog lovers and Potterheads: the dog that played Sirius Black’s animal form in the HP movies is up for adoption. The German Shepherd’s owner is a stuntman who feels he’s traveling too much to take proper care of the dog, whose name is actually Shadowberry, not Padfoot. I’m sure the 10-year-old Berry will have no problems finding an owner to take care of him in his twilight years, but what happened to some of the other famous dogs from movie history?

1. Lassie from seven Lassie films. The first animal actor to play the iconic collie was actually a male dog named Pal. Pal portrayed Lassie in Lassie Come Home, plus six other movies and two television pilots. Though the show was picked up, Pal was ready to retire after 11 years in the industry. His three-year-old son, Lassie Jr., stepped in to pick up the family business. From his retirement in 1954 to his death in 1958, Pal lived with his trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. Years later, Rudd’s son commented on how devastated his father was when his best friend died: "It hit him very hard when Pal died. He buried him in a special place on the ranch and would often visit the grave. Dad would never again watch an MGM Lassie movie. He just couldn't bear to see Pal. He didn't want to have to be reminded of just how much he loved that dog."

2. Brandon from Punky Brewster. As I mentioned last week, Punky’s buddy Brandon was named after then-NBC president Brandon Tartikoff – onscreen, at least. The golden retriever’s real name was Sandy. After Punky, Sandy went on to star in The Watchers with Corey Haim. He was later adopted by a family that just happened to have a little boy who grew up to be a cameraman for TMZ, the Hollywood gossip show. He mentioned it to Soleil Moon Frye, the star of the show, when he ran into her at a book signing. Check it out.

3. Benji from Benji. The dog behind Benji, Higgins, was one busy actor.

Not only did he play Benji at the ripe old age of 14, prior to that he was “Dog” on Petticoat Junction for six seasons. He also had cameos on Green Acres and the Beverly Hillbillies. Like Pal and Rudd Weatherwax, Higgins and his trainer were unbelievably close. Trainer Frank Inn found the little mutt at an animal shelter when he was just a puppy and developed such an attachment to him that he wrote two poems in his honor. When Higgins died in 1975, Inn had him cremated and kept him in an urn on the mantel. Upon Inn’s own death in 2002, his family placed Higgins’ ashes in the coffin, at Inn’s request.

4. Asta from The Thin Man. Skippy the Wire-Haired Fox Terrier had a better movie career than some actors – he starred in dozens of movies in less than 10 years. His owner was Gale Henry East, an actress who opened a dog training facility once her onscreen days were over.

5. Old Yeller from Old Yeller. I'm sure we're all glad that Spike the Lab/Mastiff mix didn't meet the same fate as his onscreen counterpart. (Go ahead, grab some tissues. I'll wait.) Spike was also part of the Weatherwax family of dogs. At first, Disney Studios wasn't sure the part was right for Spike since the script called for the dog to get pretty vicious. Spike had grown up around kids and didn't have a mean bone in his body, so it was hard for studio execs to see his mean side. They relented, however, and Spike won the part - and our hearts. He went on to star in A Dog Named Flanders with David Ladd; he also appeared in three episodes of a Western TV show called 26 Men. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find much about his whereabouts upon retirement - presumably he went home to live with the Weatherwaxes - but some sources say Spike was buried at sea when he did pass away.

7. Rin Tin Tin. There were many Rin Tin Tins over the years, but let's talk about the dog that originated the role. The German Shepherd was found by an American serviceman in Lorraine, France, and named the dog Rin tin tin after a French puppet. Owner Lee Duncan was convinced the smart dog would be perfect for a film career - and obviously, he was correct. He was a huge silent film star; supposedly he even won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actor until judges insisted on giving the statuette to a human (I'm sure Emil Jannings thanks them). He died in 1932, just shy of his 14th birthday. According to Hollywood legend, Jean Harlow lived across the street and came over to comfort the dog in his final hours, even holding his head in her lap as he died. Rinty's owner, Lee Duncan, had given her one of Rin Tin Tin's puppies years before.

8. Toto from The Wizard of Oz. Though Toto was Terry the dog’s most famous role, it definitely wasn’t her only role. In fact, her first major movie was in Bright Eyes with Shirley Temple, the biggest star of the day. It was during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, however, that Terry was badly injured when an actor playing one of the Winkie guards stepped on her foot, breaking it. Judy Garland insisted on letting Terry stay at her house while she recovered and developed such an attachment that she asked to adopt Terry. Terry’s trainer, Carl Spitz, said no – she had more work to do. Terry died in 1945, still under the Spitz’ care. He buried her at his ranch in Studio City, California, but when the Ventura Freeway was constructed in 1958, the whole area was dug up, including Terry’s remains. Earlier this year, a life size monument was dedicated to Terry at Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles.

9. Petey from Our Gang. Pete the Pup is kind of a sad tale. The original pit bull who played the part, Pal the Wonder Dog, had that distinctive ring around his eye naturally – almost. The near-circle was completed with a little help from the makeup crew. Sadly, it’s said that someone with an unknown motive poisoned Pal in 1930. After that, Pal’s son, Pete, was one of the main animal actors to take over for his dad, even though he had to have his eye circle painted on by famous makeup artist Max Factor. After leaving Our Gang, Pete the Pup moved to Atlantic City, where he took pictures with his fans on Steel Pier. He died of old age in 1946.