We’ve been filming animals as long as we’ve been filming ourselves. The first movie to star an animal as the protagonist was Rover to the Rescue, all the way back in 1905. Rover to the Rescue was a British silent drama directed by Cecil Hepworth, the owner of its star Blair, a male collie. The story is about a heroic dog named Rover who rescues the family’s baby (played by Hepworth’s daughter) that was kidnapped from her nanny. Most of the footage is devoted to the dog’s journey in finding the baby then leading his master (played by Hepworth) to the baby. Hepworth’s wife wrote the scenario and also acted as the mother in the film. The film became so popular that Hepworth had to re-shoot the entire film twice to keep up with demand — so many prints were sold that the negatives wore out requiring the film to be re-shot. It was after this film that the previously-uncommon name of Rover became one of the most recognized names for dogs in the English speaking world.
The title of best-known movie dog is probably shared by Rin Tin Tin and Lassie (with an honorable mention for Benji; I am an 80’s baby after all). The first ‘Rin Tin Tin was discovered during World War I, in a bombed out kennel in Lorraine, France by US Air Corporal Lee Duncan. Duncan found a mother German Shepherd Dog and her litter of five scrawny pups, only two of whom would survive. He named them ‘Rin Tin Tin’ and ‘Nannette’ after little puppet characters that French children would give to the GI’s for luck. When the war ended, Duncan made special arrangements to take his puppies back home to Los Angeles, but Nannette sadly became ill and died. In 1922, Duncan and Rin Tin Tin, or Rinty as Duncan called him, attended an LA dog show, with Rinty performing for the crowd by jumping over 13ft/4m. Following the show, producer Darryl Zanuck asked Duncan if he could try out his new ‘moving pictures’ camera on the dog and paid $350 to film Rinty in action. Contacting every studio in Hollywood with a Rin Tin Tin -starring script “Where The North Begins”, Duncan came across a Warner Bros film crew having difficulty shooting a scene with a wolf. Duncan quickly approached the director and told them that Rinty could do the scene in one take. True to his word, Duncan’s ‘wonder’ dog did the scene in one take and both were hired for the entire shoot of “Man From Hells River”. German Shepherds were not a well-known breed in the US at the time, so I guess Rinty could have passed for a wolf with people who had never seen one before. The film was a hit and Rin Tin Tin was a sensation, making 26 pictures for Warner Bros while starring in his own live 1930s radio show “The Wonder Dog”. Rin Tin Tin’s expressive face was the equal of any human actor in the silent era. At the peak of his popularity, Warner Bros maintained 18 trained stand-ins to reduce any stress on their star, while providing Rinty with a private chef who prepared daily lunches of tenderloin, which he ate while listening to live classical music to aid his digestion. Rinty also made more than many of his human co-stars. In the 1924 film “Lighthouse by the Sea,” Rinty earned $1k a week while the leading man, William Collier Jr, only got $150 a week. (The same thing would happen with 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, where Toto was paid twice as much as any of the Little People.) Rin Tin Tin died in 1932 at the age of 14 and was returned to France to be buried in “The Cimetière des Chiens (et Autres Animaux Domestiques),” the cemetery of dogs of other domestic animals. Today, Rin Tin Tin’s continuous bloodline carries on at a Texas kennel, where one litter of puppies are born each year. When asked if she ever felt a sibling rivalry with Rin Tin Tin, Duncan’s daughter Caroline told author Susan Orlean, “There was never any rivalry. The dogs came first.”
Bonus fact: There is a persistent urban legend that Rin Tin Tin had gotten the most votes for lead actor for the first Academy Awards, but that the Academy put the kibosh on it in hopes of being taken seriously. What had actually happened was that screenwriter Frank Woods had been pushing for an award given to entertainers by entertainers to no avail. He tried to solicit the help of WB exec Darryl Zanuck, who thought the idea was ludicrous. Zanuck wrote Woods a jeering letter in which he previewed his own ballot if the industry ever tried to give itself awards. All of his votes were for Warner Bros. films, including the Best Actor contest, in which he cast his vote for Rin Tin Tin. He must have told somebody who told somebody else and that’s how the story got started. The 1928 Oscar ballots were stored in an archive and they contain not one vote for Rin Tin Tin.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, Rudd Weatherwax ran a kennel that not only supplied movie dogs, but taught regular dogs obedience. In his care was a collie named Pal who had several bad habits, like constant barking and chasing motorcycles. After a while, Pal’s owner decided he didn’t want the dog back, so he gave Pal to Weatherwax in lieu of paying his bill. (Weatherwax managed to get Pal to stop barking constantly, but never did break him of chasing motorcycles.) Pal’s ancestry can be traced all the way back to England’s first great collie, Old Cockie. 1,500 dogs auditioned for the role of Lassie in Lassie Come Home. Pal was originally rejected because he was male and because Lassie was described in the original book as a tricolor collie with a black mask, while Pal had lots of white markings, including the white blaze down his nose. A female prize-winning collie was selected instead, and Pal kept on as a stunt dog. While filming a scene in which Lassie had to swim a flooded river, haul himself out, lie down *without shaking his coat, attempt to crawl on his side, and finally lay motionless and exhausted, the female dog refused to even get in the water, but Pal hit all of the marks and in just one take. The rest, as they say, is history. You might have picked up on the fact that Lassie the character was a girl, but Pal was a boy. In fact, all nine dogs who have played Lassie have been male, even when she supposedly had puppies and was shown “nursing” them. Weatherwax continued to use male collies because while both sexes shed or blow out their coats in the summer, when most movies and television shows traditionally film, the male has thicker fur, so the dog wouldn’t look as scrawny during filming. Fans also thought of Lassie as a “big heroic dog” and males are 15 pounds heavier than females. Female collies were not ignored completely; some of Lassie’s stunt doubles have been females. Pal didn’t always play “Lassie” in his movies. In Courage of Lassie he was “Bill,” in The Painted Hills he was “Shep,” and, in the oddest bit of casting, in Son of Lassie, Lassie’s son Laddie while Lassie is played by another dog. When Pal died of old age in 1958, Weatherwax was distraught. He would often visit the grave he had dug for Pal in a special spot on his ranch and could never again bring himself to watch a Lassie movie.
While top dogs usually get top billing, it’s actually horses that have had the most prolific, and most difficult, time in Tinseltown. Early Hollywood was an anarchic world, with upstart production companies launching whatever grandiose project had sprung to mind. Beginning in the 1920’s, as the motion-picture industry boomed, you could do almost anything to an animal (or an actor, for that matter). As many as 100 horses died in the making of the original 1926 version of “Ben Hur.” With the advent of talkies in 1927 profits came the studio system, which concentrated filmmaking into a few corporate dictatorships to churn out movies as quickly as possible. Dramas, comedies, adventure stories, musicals, biographies – all would use animals, but the genre that used the most was the western. Westerns were a staple in ’20s and ’30s then boomed in the 1940s. In the early days, when the motor car was still new, people were more familiar with handling horses and being mindful of the inherent dangers, like runaway wagon teams or the horse and rider falling. But directors loved to show lots of falls. They would used pitfalls or tripwires to make horses fall, though there were also some stunt horses, who would fall at a signal. Trained horses jumped through windows or through flames. They leapt over wagons. They rampaged through saloons. Safety was rarely much of a concern.
Sometimes individual horses became famous in their own right or be loved enough by a famous human actor and would fare better. Western star William S. Hart had a famous pinto, Fritz, who would fall on command, lie down to act as a shield in a gunfight, and even play scenes opposite a monkey. The 1924 movie “Singer Jim McKee” had a scene in which Hart was supposed to ride Fritz off a cliff into a gorge. Hart didn’t want to risk Fritz or a stunt horse, so a fake Fritz was built. Hart was filmed galloping Fritz to the edge of the cliff, at which point, on cue, Fritz fell to one side. The cameras cut and the fake Fritz, held up with wire, was brought in and Hart climbed aboard. When the wires were cut, the two toppled into the gorge. Hart was badly shaken by the fall but once edited, the footage of falling man and “horse” was highly realistic for its day, so much so that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Organization, aka the Hays Office, called Hart in to explain why he had been so cruel to Fritz. More about the Hays office later.
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Fritz was the exception rather than the rule. In 1939 two horses were killed in the filming of “Northwest Mounted Police” and two more died in “Jesse James.” The horses in “Jesse James” were wearing blinkers, a type of blinder that fit directly over the eye, with eyes painted on them. The horses were unable to see and had no idea they were running off a 75-foot cliff over white water until it was too late. The footage was impressive, the stuntman was well-paid, and the horses were dead. Their deaths were not in vain, though. This was the single biggest turning point in the history of Hollywood’s treatment of animals. Word about the deaths got out and, in reaction to the outcry, the Hays Office worked with the American Humane Association to write guidelines for animal performances.
The AHA, who are the people who monitor the conditions for animals when filming and approve the “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” message in the credits, is not the same as the Humane Society, thought they are like-minded in many ways. American Humane began on October 9, 1877, with the amalgamation of 27 organizations from across the United States, whose first meeting was to discuss the mistreatment of farm animals during transport across the country. The following year, they also began efforts to protect abused children. Child cruelty laws had been around since colonial times, but where they existed, were broadly written and rarely enforced. Across the board, stricter laws protecting animals were put in place before strict laws to protect children. American Humane exposed unsanitary and inhumane conditions in slaughterhouses, promoted the passage of the first Cruelty to Children Act, proposed legislation to protect child stage performers and called for federal legislation to ban “frequent, large, and deep branding” of livestock, opposed corporal punishment in schools, and fought against the practive of vivisection, or live disection, which was used in schools and by scientists, and that was just their first twenty years.
Starting in 1940, after the filming of Jesse James, the AHA was granted access to movie sets by the Screen Actors Guild, though the Guild has no jurisdiction over non-American or non-union productions. Apparent animal cruelty was also banned by the Hays Office. You heard about the Hays Code in episode #40, Words You Can’t Say On TV or Radio, which featured special guest Jo Christie of the upcoming podcast Rock History with Jo Christie. The Hays Code demanded that marital bedrooms feature two twin beds, that Betty Boop dress more modestly, and that no one make fun of the clergy in any way ever. Films had to be submitted to the office before release to get a certificate of approval and changes were often demanded before a certificate was issued.
In 1968 the Hays Code was dropped, so movie characters could be as satirical, wanton, profance, or queer as they wanted. But it also meant American Humane’s access to some sets was diminished and their jurisdiction to act weakened. It was another era of “anything goes” in the New Hollywood. Younger filmmakers were creating realistic and daring movies, with more subtlety and less dependence on formula, contributing to a cinematic renaissance and a move toward realism and location shooting. All that cinema verity was bad for animals.
“Through the final days of the ’60s and then into the ’70s, it was bleak,” says Karen Rosa, vice-president of the AHA’s Film & TV Unit. “We were banned from film sets. There was a push for a gritty realism in those days in filmmaking. And they didn’t like to be told they could or could not do something with animals.” Because the AHA wasn’t on set, they could neither confirm nor refute that two mules were killed on the set of “Patton” (1970), in a scene in which Gen.Patton shoots two mules blocking a bridge. In “Apocalypse Now” (1979), a real water buffalo was slaughtered with a machete, their defense being that it was going to be slaughtered that way anyway. Before it was released in the U.K., the RSPCA protested that it violated the Cinematograph (Animals) Act. The list of cruelty they could prove in that decade included “animals killed for entertainment,” “horses wire tripped,” and “live snake sliced into pieces.” I didn’t google that last one, and by listening to this podcast you indemnify me from any psychological harm if you do.
It took another crisis to push things back in the right direction, that being 1980’s “Heaven’s Gate,” a spectacular flop so expensive that it put United Artists out of business. Chickens died in staged cockfights. One horse was killed in an explosion, others were injured or killed in a battle scene. It was claimed that cattle were slaughtered and gutted so their innards could double for the innards of human actors. The AHA, which hadn’t been allowed on the set, led picket lines and a boycott of the film, which were taken up by humane groups across the country. Unlike with Apocalypse Now, there were no good reviews to distract people and public anger once again led to sweeping changes. AHA monitors came back on sets through a contract with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The “No animals were harmed …” disclaimer came into being. It was first granted to a movie called The Doberman Gang, in which a man trains six dogs to rob a bank for him. In 1988 the AHA published a set of guidelines for film and TV production. Since then, they say, the incidence of accidents, illnesses and deaths of animals on sets has sharply declined, although there are still occasional violators, especially when filming takes place overseas. American Humane currently monitors 70% of known animal action in film and television, starting in pre-production by reviewing the script. They don’t just safeguard mammals, either; AHA even ensures decent treatment for insects and fish.
Bonus fact: In the credits for the Silence of the Lambs, is Ray Mendez, moth wrangler and stylist. There were not enough death’s head hawkmoths to be found and no time to breed them, so Mendez took another species of moth and dressed it in a little costume. He painted a death’s head onto a fake press-on fingernail and used a special glue to affix it to a moth in a way that wouldn’t harm it. That’s the kind of interesting extra content you can get –and share– in our fb group, url. For sometime really special, head to patreon for the the pilot of Spot the Lie, where myself and three other podcast hosts try to figure out whose tantalizing tidbit of obscure knowledge is actually made up. This is a patreon exclusive, at all levels, even the $2/mo level, which is less than $.7/day to help support the show.
American Humane is not without controversy, though. In the late 1980s, American Humane was accused by Bob Barker and the United Activists for Animal Rights of condoning animal cruelty on the set of Project X, the Matthew Broderick movie about chimps being taught to fly planes. Barker et al claimed that a cattle prod and a gun were being used on set, and a chimp was rumored to have been beaten. American Humane responded by launching a $10 million suit for libel, slander and invasion of privacy against Barker, and putting out ads that stated that the allegations were made based on insufficient and misleading information. The suit was eventually settled by Barker’s insurance company, in American Humane’s favor for $300,000. In 2001, Los Angeles Times claimed the American Humane Film Unit “has been slow to criticize cases of animal mistreatment, yet quick to defend the big-budget studios it is supposed to police.” In late 2013, The Hollywood Reporter ran a story which implicated American Humane in turning a blind eye to and underreporting incidents of animal abuse on television and movie sets. One conspicuous example was the *27 animals who died during the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, even though the movie received a “no animals were harmed” disclaimer. The tiger from Life of Pi nearly drowned and 14 horses were injured during filming of Prince Caspian, but they got the seal too.
Jumping back in time and to cleanse the palette with a more pleasant tone, in 1939, after the “Jesse James” debacle, American Humane created the Patsy award to honor animal performers. It originally stood for Picture Animal Top Star of the Year before being changed to Performing Animal Television Star of the Year. The very first recipient of a PATSY was Francis the Talking Mule in 1951, in a ceremony hosted by Ronald Reagan. The award later covered both film and television and was separated into four categories: canine, equine, wild and special, which included Arnold from Green Acres, twice. Arnold’s trainer, Frank Inn, was the proud owner of over 40 PATSY awards. Lassie got so many PATSY awards that they put her in the Hall of Fame to take her out of the running. By the 1970s, the awards were being presented in a televised ceremony, with animal recipients selected by the general public who voted in ballots which appeared in Associated Press newspapers. The awards ended in 1986 due to lack of funding. That year, the Genesis Awards were created by the Humane Society of the United States to honor individuals in the major news and entertainment media for producing outstanding works which raise public awareness of animal issues. In 2011, the American Humane announced the creation of the Pawscars, described as “an unofficial, animal-centric spin on the Oscars.” They have categories like best young animal performers, best aquatic performance, and best supporting equine.
Remember that second dark period for animal actors? It turns out the 70’s could be even more dangerous for the people… assuming you are dumb enough to invite dozens lions into your house with no professional training and just trust your luck. That was apparently the plan for filmmaker Noel Marshall and his wife actress Tippi Hedren, yes, the one from The Birds, in creating their movie Roar. The concept came to them while they were in Africa for Hedren to film the movie “Satan’s Harvest.” While out sightseeing, they found an abandoned house that had been taken over by lions. They decided to make a movie about lions that would be entertaining, but have a message of conservation, and they conscripted Marshalls three sons and Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith. They decided to raise some of the animals themselves. They acquired a number of big cats from zoos, pet shops, circuses, private homes, and animal control officers especially for the making of this movie, their very first being a three month old lion cub. They bought a ranch they named Shambala after neighbors began to complain and did their best to make it look like Africa. No one would invest in the project, which got more expensive and the cats started breeding, so they had to finance it themselves. This movie featured over 150 animals, most of them big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, cougars and jaguars. In ideal, or even correct, conditions, you would have two handlers per large animal. They definitely did *not have 300 handlers working on this movie. They had two, total.
Marshall’s concept for the movie was to allow the cats to do pretty much do what they wanted and film it, to get the most natural and truest expression of their personality and behavior. According to his son Marshall’s John, as director, Marshall often refused to call “cut,” even when the actors (mostly family members) cried out for help. He never wanted to lose a take. He also couldn’t show any weakness in front of the animals. This movie took *eleven years to get from script concept to distribution. The script was first started around the end of 1969. Actual filming began in 1974 and it would take four years to complete principal photography, a far cry from the six months they originally estimated. The movie was finally edited and released in 1981.
This was Hedren’s first major movie with her daughter Melanie Griffith. Griffith left production for a while for fear of, “coming out of this with half a face.” The role then went to a friend of hers, who the lions were used to, and whose face Griffith was apparently not as worried about. The understudy filmed a number of scenes, then Griffith changed her mind and they had to reshoot. She should have gone with her first instinct; one of the lions did try to take her face off, requiring her to have reconstructive surgery.
Cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped, requiring 220 stitches. This was his first major movie.;
Assistant Director Doron Kauper was attacked and mauled by a lion during production filming of this picture. He had his throat bitten open, his jaw was bitten, and one of the lions attempted to rip an ear off. He was also injured in the head, chest, and thigh.;
Hedren suffered a fractured leg when she was thrown from an elephant’s back and multiple scalp wounds from the cats;
Marshall’s son John required 56 stitches to repair his bite wound;
Marshall himself was wounded so many times that he was hospitalized with gangrene. The only person who escaped unharmed was Kenyan-born actor Geea’lo Mtibo, who had sworn off getting too cozy with the animals from day one.
In 1978, a flood from a dam break killed many lions in the film, washed away the set and destroyed nearly everything, the house, the trees, their personal possessions, film sets, editing equipment, and completed footage. Deputy Sheriffs had to shoot three lions who escaped during the flood, including Robbie, a unique black-maned Rhodesian lion and the king lion of the picture. The picture was set back *years and the damage done amounted to over $4.5 million. Hedron sold her costume from The Birds and all of her jewelry and Marshall bankrupted his ad agency to get production started again. A year later, a bushfire threatened the ranch. All the animals were evacuated to safety, though Marshall was clawed by a cheetah while trying to protect it.
When it was all over, Hedren said that what they had done was incredibly stupid and should never be attempted again. They almost couldn’t find a distributor, because everyone they spoke to wanted a hefty chunk of the profits, but the family badly needed to recoup their losses. In the end, they couldn’t release the film in the US anyway, due to pending lawsuits from their creditors. The $17 million film only made $2 million internationally. It was also the death knell for Hedren and Marshall’s marriage; they divorced the next year. The other crazy thing about Roar is the marketing. The same cut of the film has been advertised as “a furr-ocious family comedy,” a horror comedy, and a flat-out horror movie.
And that’s… There were a bright side to the whole Roar experience. Tippi Hedren kept the Shambala ranch and established the Roar Foundation to care for big cats who were seized by law enforcement, surrendered by private owners, or were born in captivity. This included Michael Jackson’s two bengal tigers when he closed the Neverland Ranch Zoo and the largest bull elephant ever recorded in captivity. While Shambala welcomes all volunteers, only trained professionals are allowed to work directly with the animals. The title for today was… so look for the children chapter next week. Thanks…