Around the same time Terry the Terrier made film appearances, another pup from the terrier gene pool made waves in the film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s famous detective Thin Man series alongside Hollywood greats William Powell and Myrna Loy. Skippy, the Wire Fox Terrier, starred as Asta the detective dog of Nick and Nora Charles. Though Skippy would only appear in two of the Thin Man films, other Wire Fox Terriers would replace him in the role. There is a rumour that the role of Asta caused an upsurge of Wire Fox Terrier breeding which actually became a problem in the 1930s and 40s!
While Terry charmed our hearts as Toto, Skippy was a comedian at heart. The team of Nick and Nora was so strong, I feel like Asta was their second banana and through training techniques (as well as editing techniques) some of the Thin Man’s charm and hilarity is owed to Skippy. There is something witty about a dog, a creature believed to be of “lesser” intelligence than humans, putting its owner or other characters to shame. Though he will always be most commonly remembered for his acting chops and humour in the Thin Man series, Skippy starred in other screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and The Awful Truth (1937) and ultimately retired in 1939.
In contemporary film, you might be familiar with, yet another, terrier. Uggie the Jack Russell Terrier (like my Rufus!) stole scene after scene in the 2011 silent film The Artist. I’d like to think of him as a Toto/Asta hybrid — pathos mixed with comedy. He is simply listed as “The Dog” in the credits, but I think it’s safe to say Uggie’s acting capabilities make him seem more than “The Dog” and akin humanlike behaviour. My heart often felt more for Uggie than I felt for George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and he definitely made me laugh the most.
In the scene where George threatens to take his own life, Uggie pleads with his best friend to be sensible through the grandest gestures he can muster up. At this moment, it was evident to me that this dog needed an Oscar. Maybe even more than Anne Hathaway needed an Oscar in 2012. (He had more onscreen time, for sure.) This scene reminded me of my own dog when our canary died. My mom was so heartbroken and Rufus had never seen her cry. He tried nudging her with his nose and when that didn’t work, he just barked at her until she stopped. George’s dog cared for him in the only way he knew how and I believe he felt just as helpless as a human does in a dire situation.
We live in the age of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Marmaduke on film, but… let’s not forget the true dog actors of the past and present like Terry, Skippy, and Uggie. Terriers, I’m tellin’ ya, they’re the way to go! I’ve only scratched the surface of pets onscreen. Let’s see, there’s Lassie, Old Yeller, Petey, Daisy (from the Blondie films), Eddie (Frasier fame), and the list goes on…