Walk of Fame: It is not surprising that several dogs have squares along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. They’ve thrilled audiences across the globe and some were the most popular stars of their day. People may not expect such success and professionalism from a canine but the fact is names like Lassie, Benji, and Rin Tin Tin are household names, and have been for decades. There is no sure way to determine how it is that these dogs have been able to capture the hearts of so many, but they have. Perhaps, the only way to explain their success is to say that these pups are intelligent, charming animals, with real talent and an extraordinary desire to please people.
Trailblazers: One of the first big canine stars was Strongheart, a German Shepherd. He was originally trained as a police dog but was brought to the states by his trainers. He made a name for himself in several silent films, the most popular of which was White Fang in 1925. He was quite the celebrity in his day and did much to pave the way for future stars
The most famous of these future stars was very likely Rin Tin Tin (he always credited Strongheart with his success). He was discovered in Lorraine, France two months before the end of World War I by an American serviceman, Lee Duncan. The dog had been abandoned in a bombed-out dog kennel, and was all alone, so Duncan took the dog back to his home in California. An intelligent dog, it quickly learned tricks and soon caught the attention of the movie producer Charles Jones. His first big hit was Where The North Begins (1923), and is often credited with saving Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. He appeared in several films and even had his own television and radio series. Since his death,10 other German Shepherds have continued the role of Rin Tin Tin. The famous dog continues to work today. There are even rumors of a new biography coming out, but the dog isn’t say much.
In the 1970s and 1980s a lovable mutt named Benji dominated the world of dog cinema. Discovered in an animal shelter in California, Benji, whose real name was Higgins, first starred in the 1974 film Benji. The dog had an amazing ability to find himself in the most unusual situations, and, through cleverness and determination, was always able to find a way out. On the way, he also found time to help lonesome characters down on their luck. Benji starred in about ten films, mostly recently the 2004 film Benji, Off the Leash.
Another famous dog was Toto from The Wizard of Oz. The writer L. Frank Baum never mentions what breed Toto was, but in the film he's played by a black Cairn Terrier named Terry. For her services, she received $125 a week, which was more than many of the human actors. Her career almost ended early though when an actor accidentally stepped on her foot and broke it. A replacement was called in and the film was completed. Later, Higgins, who actually legally changed her name to Toto after the film, went on to star in 13 films.
There were many other dogs who made a name for themselves in film. There was Beethoven, the St. Bernard hero of the Beethoven movies as well as Missy, his girlfriend; Einstein and Copernicus from Back to the Future; Frank, the alien dog in Men in Black; and, of course, Old Yeller (1957), a children's film.