After it’s release, the 2011 French film The Artist began receiving rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, and went on to win a number of awards including Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. But perhaps the most popular star of the film in the hearts of many was not an Oscar recipient, despite numerous campaigns and petitions – Uggie, the dog, was ineligible. This was far from the first time a furry (or feathered, or finned) actor stole scenes and delighted audiences, as animal actors have been enjoying the spotlight for decades. Below are a few famous animal actors that have delighted audiences and become film icons in their own right.
Uggie – Though not eligible for an Academy Award, Uggie, a Jack Russell Terrier, did go on to win the coveted “Palm Dog Award” at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which annually recognizes the best canine actors (real or animated) of the year. A rescue dog who was on his way to the pound before being adopted by his current family, Uggie’s first major role came in 2011’s Water for Elephants, and he currently serves as official spokes-dog for Nintendo.
Pal (“Lassie”) – Though the title role of 1943’s Lassie Come Home is a female collie, the part was played by a male dog named Pal, who was originally turned down for the role but won the part when the first dog struggled with a water scene. Pal then
went on to reprise his role as Lassie in six more films through the early 1950s. He shot to stardom, and toured the country at various fairs and rodeos under his stage name, “Lassie”. When plans were underway for the television series Lassie, Pal filmed the first two pilot episodes and was even given final choice in the actor who would play the role of Timmy. Pal officially retired before the show began, however, and the lead role of “Lassie” went to his son, Lassie Junior.
Winter – Proclaimed an “inspiration” by many, Winter the dolphin’s story began with a tragic accident that resulted in an amputated tail. Her rescue and recovery, which included a custom-made prosthetic tail, brought her international fame – and eventually a starring role as herself in the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale. Though filmmakers worried that Winter, a wild animal rather than one raised in captivity and trained for show business, would struggle as an actress, she quickly took to the bustle of the set and embraced her role.
Terry (“Toto”) – Dorothy may have had plenty of sidekicks in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, but perhaps none as loyal and close to her as her Cairn Terrier, Toto, The role was played by a dog by the name of Terry, though a stand-in was used for a some scenes after an actor accidentally stepped on and broke Terry’s paw. Terry was undeniably a star on the set; not only did she make more than many of the human actors at $125 per week, she also spent weeks living with Judy Garland so that the two could bond before filming began. Though “Toto” was her only credited role, Terry performed in numerous other films alongside stars like Spencer Tracy and Shirley Temple.
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