The old saying goes… “Never work with animals or children”. It’s one of the oldest mottos in Hollywood and is attributed to American comedian and actor W.C. Fields. Whilst many believe it warns against the unpredictable nature of movie making with either group.
In truth, W.C. Fields was referring to their uncanny ability to steal scenes from even the most accomplished actor. With that in mind, we decided to look at five occasions when Hollywood’s royalty got upstaged by ‘dumb’ animals.
The 1944 film National Velvet was expected to launch the career of Elizabeth Taylor. The movie was based on a successful book about a young girl who wins a horse in local town raffle and then enters him into England’s most prestigious horse race – The Grand National.
At the time of filming Liz Taylor was just12-years-old. Although this movie did introduce Taylor to the world it was the horse which won the hearts of the audience.
In the film the spirited steed was named ‘The Pie’. In real life, the horse was called ‘King Charles’ and was the grandson of the legendary racehorse ‘Man-O’-War’. The horse was reputedly very aggressive to everyone on set, apart from Taylor.
Curiously, King Charles was not a trained racehorse. His owner had intended to use him for show jumping. Ironically, this is often the reverse career path for Grand National runners.
During filming Elizabeth Taylor fell from the horse, breaking her back. She recovered quickly but later in life she suffered from chronic back pain. After the filming finished the studio gifted ‘The Pie’ to Taylor and she kept the horse for the rest of his life.
Talking at her Foundation some years later Taylor said: “He was given to me on the last day of shooting and it is a memory that I cherish. There never was a sweeter, more noble animal, and caring for him was a great source of responsibility and happiness. We trusted each other. We loved each other.”
Clint Eastwood starred as a tough trucker Philo Beddoe in this 1978 action/comedy film. His co-star in the movie was an 180 pound Orangutan named Clyde!
Adjusted for inflation, the movie provided Clint with the biggest box office success of his career. Audiences flocked to the cinema to watch the comic duo. According to the book ‘Clint Eastwood: Hollywood’s Loner’, Eastwood said the Orangutan was “One of the most natural actors I ever worked with! But you had to get him on the first take because his boredom level was very limited”.
Manis, was the Orangutans real name. During filming, he once got so upset with Clint Eastwood that he grabbed the star, almost caused him to crash the truck he was driving. The pairing proved so successful that the studio made a sequel called “Any Which Way You Can”.
However, Manis didn’t star in the follow-up movie. Unfortunately, he’d grown too big and had to be replaced by C.J the Orangutan. C.J. went on to star in ‘The Fall Guy’ and ‘The Love Boat’. Like many an ageing actor, Manis finished his career in Las Vegas.
Toto who starred in the Wizard Of Oz is probably the most famous dog in the world. The four legged star appeared in nearly every scene of the classic movie. It’s arguable that Toto is more loved than Judy Garland who played Dorothy in the 1939 movie. The dog even has a statue dedicated to her memory in Hollywood! Along with an autobiography which is still in print.
Many of the film’s most memorable lines center around the lovable canine. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” and who can forget the Wicked Witch of the West screaming “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!”
Toto was the last member cast by the studio for the film. Terry, the brindle Cairn Terrier frequently steals scenes from Dorothy during the movie. It’s widely believed that Toto earned more for the movie than Garland. However, that is not true. Although, the dog did earn more than the Munchkins!
The second horse on our list is the legendary steed ‘Trigger’. Roy Rogers’ beautiful Golden Palomino stallion, and co-star with Roy in 100s of his movies and TV shows.
At one time Trigger was so popular that he even had his own fan club. The horse was often billed as “the smartest horse in the movies”.
Reportedly the horse could perform over 100 separate tricks, including walking on his hind legs, bowing on command, lying down and covering himself with a blanket. And he could even sign X with a pencil!
The importance of Trigger was not lost on Roy Rogers, who kept the horse for his whole career. When Trigger died, Roy had him stuffed and displayed in a museum. In 2010 Trigger came up at auction in New York. The TV channel RFD-TV paid over $250,000 for the famous horse.
The 2000 movie ‘Meet The Parents’ teamed up movie icon Robert De Niro with a cat called Mr. Jinx. The Himalayan cat who’s real name is “Mishka” provides many of the film’s most memorable moments.
In one scene, De Niro recalls how he taught Mr. Jinx to use the bathroom. Of course, this was completely fictional. Nevertheless, the story inspired a real toilet-training product called ‘Litter Kwitter’, which went on to sell seven hundred and fifty thousand units.
Reportedly De Niro fell in love with the Focker family cat “Mr. Jinx,” on set and wanted him to appear in more scenes than originally written.
It’s fair to say Mr. Jinx is one of the most memorable cat actors in modern film history and easily outshines seven-time Oscar-nominated De Nero in this movie.