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George Christy Talks About Hollywood Dogs, Rin Tin Tin, Uggie, Wizard of Oz and More!

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They sallied forth with the friendliest presences on stage at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre.   Quietly and nonchalantly, parading and without preening.   Strutting, stretching, yawning and cuddling sans any borrowed finery.  Superstars!  A class act that provided a beatific few hours for Dog People.

No need for them to show off.   Unlike 53-year-old Madonna in Istanbul who couldn’t resist dropping her bra at her concert.   “Poor thing,” my Aunt Amalia would smirk, and shrug her shoulders in disbelief.   “Desperate attention ploy … and why no backlash to the peep show in this predominantly Muslim nation?” wonders  David K. Li in the New York Post.   “Is this the breast she can do?”  Three days later, this mother of four flashed her ass in Rome.

Now, about our superstar canines of the cinemas,  appearing at last week’s rewarding evening for dog owners and dog lovers and just plain folks.  The Academy’s host Randy Haberkamp orchestrated and moderated Hollywood Dogs From Rin Tin Tin and Uggie, to the delight of an enthusiastic audience.

“Movies tapped into a mythology about dogs,” Randy explained to LA Times’ Susan King.   “The way we look after our pets over these past centuries has been greatly affected by the movies.  We know that dogs are man’s best friend with qualities we ascribe to them.   Heroism, being faithful, intelligence, etc.   Traits that were definitely enhanced by storytelling that began with 1905’s Rescued By Rover – the idea that humans have this canine savior, a kind of early hero.”

Author Susan Orlean, among Randy’s guests that evening, fell in love with Rin Tin Tin watching the ’50s TV series about his adventures.   Years later, she was drawn to write the bestselling biography, Rin Tin Tin, The Life And Legend, a work of three years.

Hidden in a kennel of dead dogs during World War I, the German Shepherd puppy was discovered by U.S. Corporal Leland “Lee” Duncan, who became obsessed with him,  discovering that Rin Tin Tin reached great heights with a 12-foot leap during a dog show and could run up a tree like a cat.   Both Duncan and Warner Bros. executives were amazed that Rin Tin Tin could act.

In 1927, Fox’s Darryl Zanuck, who wrote early Rin Tin Tin scripts, campaigned for the Academy to create Merit Awards, even nominating Rin Tin Tin as Most Popular Player.  The idea flunked.

“Hollywood loves dogs,” enthused Susan Orlean.  “In fact, dogs have been in movies ever since there have been movies …  Dogs proved to be ideal actors.   At one point during the 1920s, 80 different dogs were starring in features … almost all were German Shepherds.   Affordable, agreeable and eager, and, as one studio executive put it, the only stars guaranteed to stay sober.

“Sometimes they are just background players.   Sometimes, as in the case of Uggie, the Jack Russell Terrier in The Artist, they emerge as an exceptional character, witty and wise and omniscient, perfectly suited to the dreamtime of film.  Dogs stir something in people, and have done this for more than a hundred years.”

On hand for the evening were Brigitte, the French bulldog who plays Stella in Modern Family.  Oscar, the Anatolian Shepherd weighing 165 pounds, having appeared in The Lucky One (2012).   Rin Tin Tin, the 12th generation descendant.

We met and listened to animal trainers Sarah Clifford (The Artist),  Heather Long (Into The Wild),  and Chelsea Riggins, who worked with Lassie.   Also, Rin Tin Tin Club president Dorothy Yanchak; Animal Safety Representative Gina Johnson who’s monitored animal sequences for Water For Elephants and Dolphin Tale; Jone Borman of the Animal Humane Association’s Film and TV Unit.

The evening wrapped with a screening of Warner Bros. 1925 Clash Of The Wolves, starring Rin Tin Tin as the leader of the wolves.   Susan Orlean has seen it 12 times!

Dog people can’t forget the immortal Toto from The Wizard Of Oz.   A female brindle Cairin Terrier, whose real name was Terry, received a weekly paycheck of $125, more than the Munchkins who were paid between $50 to $100 a week.   Appearing in 13 different films, Toto’s remembered with a permanent memorial at the Hollywood Forever Century.   After dying in 1945, Toto was buried by owner Carl Spitz at his Studio City ranch.   In 1958, her resting place was demolished during the construction of the Ventura Freeway.

On June 10th, the day of Judy Garland’s 90th birthday, Turner Classic Movies screened The Wizard of Oz.  Judy was sixteen when she was cast as Dorothy (Shirley Temple had been considered).   Over time, the phrase, “a friend of Dorothy’s,” indicating an acquaintance was gay, was adopted as lingo by Judy’s fans.

Claiming “it slowed the action” and was degrading for Dorothy to sing it in a barnyard, Judy’s Over The Rainbow ballad was dropped by the producers, until Victor Fleming flogged them to their senses.   Written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, Over the Rainbow won the Oscar for Best Original Song – the movie was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, losing the award to Gone With The Wind.

Dorothy’s ruby slippers initially were silver, changed by costume designer Adrian – a pair sold at auction in 2000 for $660,000.

Victor Fleming received credit as the director before David O. Selznick recruited him to take over Gone With The Wind from George Cukor, who was having tiffs with Clark Gable.  There are five uncredited directors, and three screenwriters are credited for adapting the Frank Baum novel, while seventeen writers are uncredited, including the film’s stars Bert Lahr and Jack Haley.

Premiering on August 15, 1939 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Wizard of Oz grossed $3 million (around $50 million today) against production and distribution costs of $2.8 million ($47 million today).   The Library of Congress lists it as the most-watched picture in motion picture history.

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