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Animal Movie Star Trivia
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Animal Movie Star Trivia

Here are some fun tidbits about a few of the famous animal stars in our film festival:

FRANCIS, The Talking Mule

- Francis was actually a mule named Molly who was selected after a nationwide search for the starring role of Francis (1949).
- Les Hilton, Francis's trainer, would later work with the horse Bamboo Harvester who was the star of the "Mister Ed" TV series.
- Molly starred in a total of seven FRANCIS movies.
- Molly gained 200 pounds after her screen debut and had to be put on a diet before making her second film. She lost the weight by eating alfalfa instead of oat hay and regular use of a sweatbox.
- The voice of Francis was supplied by actor Chill Wills who was later replaced by Paul Frees in Francis in the Haunted House (1956).
- Francis was the first animal star to win a PATSY (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) Award from the American Humane Association in 1951 which was the year the award was first created.

LASSIE

- The collie that appeared in seven MGM movies starting with Lassie Come Home in 1943 was actually a male dog named Pal.
- Pal was trained by Rudd Weatherwax who also worked with Asta, the terrier star of The Thin Man movie series.
- The other six Lassie films starring Pal besides Lassie Come Home are Son of Lassie (1945), Courage of Lassie (1946), Hills of Home(1948), The Sun Comes Up (1949), Challenge to Lassie (1949) & The Painted Hills (1951).
- For the popular TV series "Lassie" which first aired in 1954, Pal's son was featured in the lead. He was called Lassie in honor of his father's most famous role.
- During the 20 year broadcast of the "Lassie" TV series, Various descendants of Pal were used in the title role.

BENJI
- Benji was a mixed breed dog (part schnauzer, part cocker spaniel, part poodle) who was found by trainer Frank Inn at the Burbank Animal Shelter in the early sixties.
- Benji's real name was Higgins and he first appeared on the TV series "Petticoat Junction" in 1963 as the Bradley family's pet.
- Higgins was almost 14 years old when "Petticoat Junction" went off the air in 1970 and his trainer decided it was time for him to retire. However, independent filmmaker Joe Camp visited Frank Inn at his dog training center, saw Higgins, and became convinced he would be ideal as the star of his new animal film, Benji (1974).
- Higgins was too old to star in the 1977 sequel, For the Love of Benji so his daughter Benjean was cast in the title role instead.
- Higgins won a PATSY Award for his work in "Petticoat Junction" in 1966 and was, at the time, the only other dog honoree besides Lassie.

THE PIE in National Velvet

- The horse that played The Pie in National Velvet (1944) was named King Charles and was the grandson of Man O'War, a champion racehorse.
- The Pie was a particularly gifted horse and had the ability to jump over automobiles.
- Elizabeth Taylor was so fond of The Pie that she begged Pandro S. Berman, the producer of National Velvet, to let her keep the horse after the film was completed and her request was granted.
- For the steeplechase scenes in National Velvet, stuntman Billy Cartlidge doubled for Elizabeth Taylor on The Pie and was injured during filming when the horse threw him.
- For the "National Velvet" TV series in 1960 a horse named King played The Pie and after the series ended in 1962 was retired to a farm for underprivileged children.

ASTA in The Thin Man

- The wire-haired terrier scene-stealer from The Thin Man (1934) and the first sequel, After the Thin Man (1936) belonged to a special effects technican at MGM and went by the name of Skippy.
- Skippy was trained by MGM property master Henry East who would not allow the film's stars, Myrna Loy and William Powell, to play with the dog offscreen for fear it would ruin his concentration on camera.
- Skippy also made a memorable appearance as George, the trouble causing dog in Bringing Up Baby (1938) alongside Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
- Compared to other canine actors in Hollywood that earned $3.50 a day, Skippy was the top breadwinner with a weekly salary of $250.00.
- - Henry East was joined by fellow trainers Rudd Weatherwax and Frank Inn in working with other Astas besides Skippy in the additional Thin Man features such as The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) and Song of the Thin Man (1947).

WILLY

- The star of the 1993 surprise hit Free Willy was a killer whale named Keiko.
- Keiko was captured at sea by a herring boat captain in 1979 when he was barely two years ago and placed in an aquarium in Iceland.
- Marineland in Ontario, Canada later purchased Keiko and trained him with six other whales but because he was the youngest of the group, he was often bullied by his tank mates. Eventually he was sold to Reino Aventura, an amusement park in Mexico City in 1985 where he became the star attraction.
- Following the success of the film Free Willy, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation was formed which raised enough money to relocate Keiko to a new facility (the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport) where he would be rehabilited and released back into the wild.

SOURCES:
Amazing Animal Actors by Pauline Bartel (Taylor Publishing)
Hollywood Hoofbeats by Petrine Day Mitchum with Audrey Pavia (Bowtie Press)