For National Dress Up Your Pet Day, DMG would like to salute Animal Stars that have captivated movie-goers for generations. Spanning species from equine to avian, some of these animal actors are famous for one iconic role, while others played enchanting animal sidekicks, scenery and sub-plots in dozens of films and TV shows. These 10 Animal Stars prove no matter what your size, stature or even species may be, the silver screen is the ultimate equalizer
1. Bamboo Harvester (Mister Ed)
Name: Bamboo Harvester Animal Species: Horse – Palomino Age: 20-21 (1949 – 1970)
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course…” For the ’60s generation of American kids, MR. ED was a staple of primetime TV viewing. Starring Bamboo Harvester as the titular talking equine, the hit CBS sitcom ran for 5 years, during which Harvester, as his friends called him, proved himself to be one smart horse. One of the few animal actors to star in his own show, Harvester was trained by Les Hilton and had a naturally gentle temperament and learned fast. Human co-star Alan Young tells the tale of how Harvester learned to move his lips without the aid of a nylon string, the technique typically used, on cue from his trainer. “In fact, he soon learned to do it when I stopped talking during a scene! Ed was very smart,” said Young. Like all many human stars, there is mystery and drugs surrounding his death in 1970. Conflicting stories have Mr. Ed suffering from numerous maladies and being euthanized and buried in Oklahoma or dying from an accidental overdose of tranquilizers given by a temporary caretaker in California where he lived with his trainer, his ashes scattered at an unknown location.
2. Terry (Toto)
Name: Terry Animal Species: Dog – Cairn Terrier Age: 11 (1933 – 1945)
Terry was a talented animal star who featured in a wide variety of films during the 1930s and 1940s. But Terry is best known for her role of Toto, Dorothy’s lovable sidekick in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Terry was paid $125 a week for playing Toto, earning more than some of the human actors. Trained by her owner Carl Spitz, she received her first feature film debut in Shirley Temple’s BRIGHT EYES and went on to be featured in over a dozen films including THE DARK ANGEL, FURY, STABLEMATES, and SON OF THE NAVY. Although Terry passed away in 1945, a memorial was dedicated to her at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in June 2011.
3. Pal (Lassie)
Name: Pal Animal Species: Dog – Rough Collie Age: 17-18 (1940 – 1958)
The character of Lassie has been played by several dog actors over the decades, but the first and arguably the best Lassie was Pal. A female collie playing against-gender for the male Lassie, Pal trained with famed Hollywood trainer Rudd Weatherwax, who help land her the breakthrough lead in MGM’s LASSIE COME HOME in 1943. The movie was a smash hit; Pal continued to portray Lassie in all of the early sound films and his descendants played Lassie in the TV series and in most Lassie films and TV appearances since. Easily the most recognized animal star of the 1940s and ’50s, Pal earned up to $4,000 every week, nearly $51,000 in today’s dollars. Pal’s trainer Weatherwax worked with numerous other animal stars, but he always had a special place for Pal, when she died he dedicated much of the rest of his life preserving her memory, such as co-writing a doggie biography.
4. Rin Tin Tin (Rinty)
Name: Rin Tin Tin Animal Species: Dog – German Shepherd Age: 13 (1918 – 1932)
Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a damaged French dog kennel and smuggled back to the United States after WWI by US soldier Lee Duncan. Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin for feature films and during the 1920s and ’30s, the dog was one of the most famous actors in the world. Rin Tin Tin’s first big screen role was in 1922’s THE MAN FROM HELL’S RIVER. Rinty went on to act in 26 films, including WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS. THE LIGHTENING WARRIOR, THE LONE DEFENDER, CLASH OF THE WOLVES, and THE LIGHTHOUSE BY THE SEA. Rin Tin Tin’s film success resulted in his own television series THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN. The series lasted for five seasons and was a beloved favorite of kids across the country. Warner Brothers Studios paid Rin Tin Tin $6,000 a week, equating to roughly $78,000 in present day value. Rin Tin Tin’s fame was so overwhelming that the dog received the most votes for the 1929 Academy Award’s Best Actor award, however Academy rules said they had to present the award to a human. After Rin Tin Tin’s death, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5. Keiko (Willy)
Name: Keiko Animal Species: Whale – Orcinus Orca Age: 27 (1976 – 2003)
Keiko, whose name means “lucky one”, was trained at Marineland in Ontario and Reino Aventura in Mexico City. It was here that Keiko’s landed his first role in the television series QUINCEAÑERA. Shortly after Keiko’s television debut, Hollywood stardom came knocking on his tank as he landed the starring role in 1993’s FREE WILLY. The movie was a smash hit with young and old audiences leading to two successful sequels starring Keiko. By the end of the decade, Warner Bros. led an effort to move Keiko to a better home in Oregon with an eventual goal of returning him to the wild. Keiko’s onscreen plight turned into his real-world situation, with thousands of people donating money to Free Keiko. After an extensive international effort, Keiko was finally released back into Icelandic waters in August 2002 but never successfully rejoined wild orcas. After Keiko passed away in a Norwegian fjord with his long-time caretakers, a memorial was erected for him in Halsa, Norway.
Name: Crystal Animal Species: Monkey – Capuchin Age: 20 (1994 – Present)
Crystal is a playful and funny animal star that has been stealing the spotlight since 1997. Tom Gunderson, an employee at Universal Studio Florida’s Animal Actor stage show, purchased and trained Crystal for eight years. Although she started as a animal stage performer, Crystal received her first big break in the Brandon Fraser movie GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. Crystal went on to star in numerous television shows, such as DR. DOLITTLE, the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM series and most notable THE HANGOVER 2. While acting in the television series ANIMAL PRACTICE, Crystal received $12,000 per episode. Crystal has been crowned “The Most Powerful Pet in Hollywood” by The Los Angeles Times and “Hollywood’s Hottest Monkey” by USA Today because in just five of her movies, she holds a box office gross of over US$1.5 Billion.
Name: Bart (Bart the Bear) Animal Species: Bear – Alaskan Kodiak Bear Age: 23 (1977 – 2000)
Bart was a big hearted bear actor who starred with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars during the 1980s and 1990s. Trained by animal trainers Doug and Lynne Seus, Bart’s domineering presence shined onscreen next to the likes of Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Ethan Hawke, Alec Baldwin and twice with Anthony Hopkins (who’s starring in DMG’s upcoming thrill ride AUTOBAHN). Bart starred in over a dozen films, including THE BEAR, LEGENDS OF THE FALL, THE EDGE, WINDWALKER, THE GIANT OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN, and HOMEWARD BOUND 2. Directors Jean-Jacques Annaud and Lee Tamahori, who often worked with Bart, nicknamed him “The John Wayne of Bears”.
Name: Jimmy (Jimmy the Raven, Jimmy the Crow) Animal Species: Bird – Raven Age: 20 (1934 – 1954 est)
Jimmy the Raven was a veteran of over 1,000 motion pictures spanning a 20 year career in Hollywood. Trained by Hollywood animal trainer Curley Tiwford, Jimmy’s feature length film debut was Frank Capra’s YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Jimmy went on to play in some of the most iconic movies in cinema history, including IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, THE WIZARD OF OZ, SON OF DRACULA and 3 RING CIRCUS. As Jimmy’s film appearances continued to grow, MGM insured him for $10,000, equivalent to over $160,000 today. One of the smartest animal stars, Jimmy could perform an assortment of tricks, such as typing, opening letters, and even riding a tiny motorcycle. Jimmy could understand several hundred words and his trainer claimed that Jimmy could perform any task that an 8-year-old child could. Jimmy also contributed off screen as well, volunteering with war veterans which earned him a gold medal from the Red Cross.
Name: Tai Animal Species: Elephant – Asian elephant Age: 45 (1968 – Present)
Tai is a multitalented performing elephant which has been working since the 1990s. Owned and trained by the Have Trunk Will Travel Inc. company, Tai has been involved in films, commercials, live shows, and events. Tai’s first appearance on screen was Disney’s live action RUDYARD KIPLING’S THE JUNGLE BOOK. Tai went on to star in the features OPERATION DUMBO DROP, LARGER THAN LIFE, GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, VANITY FAIR, CIRCUS, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Although memorable in all her screen appearances, Tai was heavily praised for her performance in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Empire magazine stated Tai was “the real star as the most moving and only joyful presence in sight”.
Name: Uggie Animal Species: Dog – Jack Russell Terrier Age: 12 (2002 – Present)
Uggie is a mesmerizing dog actor who represents the new breed of animal star. Rejected by his first family, animal trainer Omar Von Muller adopted and trained Uggie., whose energy and wit landed him his first acting job in 2005’s WHAT’S UP, SCARLET?. While Uggie has only been in half a dozen films, including MR. FIX IT, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and THE CAMPAIGN, Uggie received international fame for his charming performance in THE ARTIST. Uggie won the Palm Dog Award in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, The Golden Collar Award from Dog News Daily, and had his paws imprinted on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fans from around the world even tried to help Uggie receive an honorary Oscar nomination, however this initiative was shut down by the Academy.