Down through the decades there have been many animal stars that have captured our cinematic hearts. Lassie, the collie, Rin-Tin-Tin, the German shepherd and Asta, the wire-haired terrier were movie stars in their own right with their paw prints immortalized on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. The following is a tribute to three amazing dogs that live on today in celluloid glory along with their colorful co-stars.
The subject of many books, movies (Lassie Come Home) and television shows, Lassie is one of the most famous dog movie stars that ever lived. First appearing in a 1938 short story written by Eric Knight in the Saturday Evening Post, this famous collie was the subject of a novel written in 1940.
Several dog actors have played the part of Lassie over the years but the first and probably best of the bunch was Pal, a female collie who was trained by Rudd Weatherwax and starred in the 1943 movie. All of the other Lassies were male dogs descended from Pal. Easily the most recognized animal star of the 1940s and 50s, Pal earned up to $4,000 every week, which is equivalent to nearly $51,000 in today’s dollars.
An American pilot named Lee Duncan discovered one of the nation’s earliest canine movie stars in a bombed out German War Dog Kennel near Lorraine, France, in September of 1918. There were two puppies, a male and a female, which he kept and brought to America. He named them Rin-Tin-Tin (Rinty) and Nanette after a pair of small French dolls French children often gave to American soldiers.
The female puppy died and Duncan focused on training the male for movies. Soon Rinty stamped his paw-print into history with a starring role in the silent film, Where the North Begins, in 1923. It was a huge success. The dog’s popularity saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy and promoted the success of producer, Darryl F. Zanuck. Rin-Tin-Tin, the dog so affectionately known as “the mortgage lifter,” went on to make 25 films, sign his own contracts with a paw print, and was Warner Brother’s shining star, earning approximately $5 million in his lifetime. He crossed the rainbow bridge in 1932.
Born into the business as Skippy, the dog first appeared in the movies as a six-month-old pup with the Three Stooges. True fame came a bit later in 1934 with the debut of The Thin Man, which ran until 1947. Loosely based on characters created by Dashiell Hammet, the series starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, both of whom shared the spotlight with the irrepressible Asta whom the audiences loved.
Asta’s popularity gave birth to a national craze for his breed and his career spanned a decade and nine feature films, costarring with other film legends such as Katherine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, and Cary Grant. No one knows exactly when he died as the studio kept it a secret, but it is known his son appeared in the last two Thin Man movies.
Asta, Lassie, and Rin-Tin-Tin left their mark both on the world of cinema and in the hearts of their countless fans. They live on for those who wish to enjoy their daring and adorable antics for all time.