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Top 8 Dogs of Film and TV

Pacino, Bogart . . . Moose?

Proving that the best actors in show business are professionally trained (and housebroken), here are eight of Hollywood’s most famous four-legged performers.

1. Terry

This iconic terrier is best known for playing Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Terry wowed everyone on the set with her professionalism, always hitting her mark once the cameras started rolling.

When she was badly injured after one of the Winkie guards accidentally stepped on her, breaking her foot, Judy Garland brought Terry to her home to recuperate. Garland became so enamored with Terry that she tried to adopt her canine co-star from Carl Spitz (Terry’s owner), but he refused. Raking in $125 per week, Terry was one of the movie’s highest-paid actors, and the explosive success of The Wizard of Oz catapulted her into stardom.

Terry, whose owner renamed her Toto following Oz’s success, acted in a total of sixteen films across an eight-year-long career. She continues to be adored by fans across the country and the world, and it is because of her lasting popularity that the cairn terrier nearly became the official state dog of Kansas in 2012.

2. Buddy

Buddy was one of TV’s most beloved dog actors of the ‘90s. If you grew up hearing important life lessons from Danny “The Tan Man” Tanner, Jesse Katsopolis, or Joey Gladstone (usually accompanied by a hug of some kind), you know Buddy.

Buddy played Comet on ABC’s Full House from 1989 to 1995. In 1997, he made the hit kids’ film Air Bud, a movie that brought in over nine times its budget at the box office and got him nominated for an award at the 1998 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. Sadly, Buddy died of cancer shortly after making Air Bud. The film’s sequel, Air Bud: Golden Receiver, was dedicated to his memory.

3. Pal

When it comes to animal actors, Pal is basically the Laurence Olivier of the dog world. He was originally cast as the stunt double for Lassie in the 1943 film Lassie Come Home, but his incredible aptitude for carrying out commands impressed the director so greatly that he was recast in the film’s starring role. When MGM executives saw early footage of Pal’s performance, they upgraded Lassie Come Home from a low-budget children’s movie to a full-scale film with marketing support and Technicolor.

Pal and his trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, worked together on six more Lassie films for MGM. Although Pal essentially retired after his last movie, The Painted Hills, he starred in the two pilot episodes for the Lassie television series. Weatherwax’s assistant, Frank Inn, handled most of the training and breeding for the TV show, and Pal’s descendants exclusively took on the mantle of “Lassie” for all 19 seasons!

4. Moose

Moose and Pal share a lot in common. Both were overactive pups taken in by trainers who made them film and TV stars. Though Pal got his start in movies before working in television, Moose got his big break playing Eddie on NBC’s “Must See TV” hit, Frasier, moving on to film with My Dog Skip.

The entire cast of Frasier had nothing but praise for Moose throughout his seven-year stint on the show, noting his amazing knack for comedic timing and seemingly limitless repertoire of tricks. Audiences went crazy for Moose, and there was a time when he received more fan mail than any other actor on the show.

Like Pal, Moose had descendants who followed him into the family business, and his eldest son, Enzo, took over the role of Eddie when Moose was ready to retire. Enzo continued in his father’s footsteps until Frasier finally wrapped up with its eleventh season in 2004.

5. Higgins

It seems like all roads lead to Pal when it comes to acting dogs, and Higgins’s story is no exception. Higgins was found at a Burbank animal shelter by Frank Inn, the accomplished animal trainer who bred and worked with Pal’s progeny for the Lassie TV show.

Inn took one look at the scruffy-haired, mixed-breed pooch and knew he had the stuff to make it to Hollywood. Higgins got his start working on the 1960s comedy Petticoat Junction from 1964 to 1970. Inn said that Higgins was the smartest dog he had ever trained, since he had the unique ability to learn a new trick each week and keep it memorized for years.

In 1974, Higgins got his biggest and best-known role playing the titular character of Benji in a heartwarming story about a stray dog’s mission to rescue the children he loves from a gang of kidnappers. Critics universally lauded Higgins’s performance in the movie (which has an 86 percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes), with many saying it was the first time they had ever seen a dog actually use facial expressions to show emotions onscreen.

6. Rin Tin Tin

Rin Tin Tin’s unbelievable story begins in the war-torn region of Lorraine, France, during World War I. US Air Corporal Lee Duncan was scouting a vacated German encampment in the small city of Flirey when he came across a bombed-out, abandoned kennel belonging to the Imperial German Army. Duncan rescued a starving German shepherd and her pups from the debris, claiming two of the children (a brother and sister) as his own.

Unfortunately, the female pup succumbed to illness, but her brother—named Rinty by Lee—flourished. Rinty, AKA Rin Tin Tin, got his first shot at stardom when he was asked to replace an underperforming wolf in the 1922 silent film The Man From Hell’s River.

Rin Tin Tin then starred in the breakout hit Where the North Begins in 1923, and he was credited with saving Warner Bros. from going belly-up during the silent era of film. The Hollywood canine appeared in a total of 27 motion pictures, and he received an unprecedented salary of $6,000 a week at the height of his career.

7. Brigitte

Brigitte effortlessly stole the hearts of millions of Modern Family fans when she made her debut as a mischievous little French bulldog named Stella. Even though she found an enemy in Gloria (actress Sofía Vergara) from the very beginning, her playful antics softened the cast-iron heart of resident curmudgeon Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill).

Brigitte was abandoned by her first family, but she was eventually adopted by Hollywood animal trainer Guin Dill. She was hired almost immediately after auditioning for the show, and as she learned new tricks, Dill would let the show’s writers know so they could pen them into jokes and plotlines of upcoming episodes.

Unfortunately, due to a dispute with Brigitte’s acting agency, she was replaced in the show’s fourth season by a look-alike named Beatrice, but, to quote the 1989 cartoon classic All Dogs Go to Heaven, you can’t keep a good dog down. Brigitte went on to star in the TV series Resident Advisors and Pups United.

8. Soccer

Like many Hollywood actors, Soccer wasn’t a star overnight. Following in the footsteps of John Travolta, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jodie Foster, the affable young Jack Russell terrier had to pay his dues first, getting his acting chops in commercials for Nike and Mighty Dog. It wasn’t until 1995 that Soccer rose to fame as the main character of Wishbone.

The show encouraged young readers to explore a variety of stories, from Robin Hood to Frankenstein. Although the series only lasted two seasons on PBS, it won a Peabody Award and four Daytime Emmies before branching off into a number of successful book series. Soccer lived with his trainer, Jackie Martin Kaptan, and his career continued until his death in 2001.

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