Dog stories is the January theme for Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups, the read aloud program I do on Wednesdays at lunch-time every other week. (I promise to read cat stories later this year in rebuttal.) As I researched the stories I wanted to read, two things became clear: there are a lot of heart-warming stories about dogs, and many of those stories have been made into films. Most of the stories I chose to read were selected from the book The Best Dog Stories.
The first story I chose is a classic, if not the classic, heart-warming dog story, Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. Lassie, a tri-color rough collie or long-haired collie born and raised in Yorkshire, is a come-home dog. The Great Depression has forced her master’s family to sell her to the Duke of Rudling, but she keeps running home to her master, Young Joe. The Duke decides to make sure this does not happen again by sending her to his estate in the Scottish highlands, hundreds of miles away. After all, it's impossible for a dog to find her way back home alone over that many miles. However, Lassie somehow manages to do exactly that in order to be with her beloved master.
The short story was first published December 17, 1938 in the Saturday Evening Post and expanded to novel-length in 1940. The full text of the short story from the 1938 Saturday Evening Post issue is available online in pdf format through the Academic Search Premier database from the Library's website, with original illustrations. The full-length novel is also available at various NYPL locations, as well as the illustrated children's version, written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers.
The novel was made into the movie Lassie Come Home by MGM in 1943 with Roddy McDowall playing Young Joe. It was the first in a series of seven MGM films starring Lassie, the first four of which are available at NYPL. A British remake of the film was released in 2005. Several television series were also based on Lassie — the first and most popular series began in 1954 on CBS and ran for 17 seasons.
Trivia: The role of “Lassie” was always played by a male dog, starting with a stunt dog named Pal, owned and trained by Rudd Weatherwax. The role of the Duke of Rudling’s granddaughter a was played in the first movie by Elizabeth Taylor. Elsa Lanchester played Young Joe’s mother in the film.
The second story I chose is from the autobiography of well-known movie critic Roger Ebert, who shares his memories from 60 years ago of the dog he never stopped loving. Ebert was born in 1942 in Urbana, Illinois. He became interested in journalism through writing for his high school newspaper. He began his film critic career in 1967 at the Chicago Sun-Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for film criticism. He is probably best known for the program he and Gene Siskel began co-hosting in 1975, a weekly film review show called Sneak Previews for the Chicago Public Broadcasting System. PBS began broadcasting it nationally in 1978. Siskel and Ebert hosted this type of program for 23 years until Siskel’s death in 1999. In 2006, Ebert lost his voice after surgery for thyroid cancer. Ebert's recent autobiography provides details of his early life, his career, and his recent illness.
In honor of Ebert and his beloved Blackie, I've compiled a list of 25 popular films about dogs, listed in chronological order by release date. It's not meant to be an exhaustive list, just some of the most well-known films, beginning with Lassie Come Home, released in1943, and ending with Hachi: A Dog's Tale, released in 2009. Let me know which is your favorite or if I left your favorite film off the list. Personally, hopeless romantic that I am, my favorite film about dogs is Lady and the Tramp. I'll work on a list of favorite books about dogs for my next blog post.
- Lassie Come Home (1943). This film about a beloved collie is the first movie of the series of seven MGM films based on Eric Knight's novel.
- The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (TV series) (1954). Although the original Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd pup rescued from a WWI battlefield, was a movie star in silent films beginning in 1922, most of us are more familiar with the popular TV western series from the 50s, starring Rin Tin Tin IV. In 2011, Susan Orlean published a biography about "Rinty."
- Lady and the Tramp (1955). This animated Disney film about a cocker spaniel and a mutt spawned a sequel and a cartoon strip. It was the first animated film done in Cinemascope. Singer Peggy Lee composed the songs along with Sonny Burke and also voiced one of the characters. The American Film Institute ranks it 95 in its list of the "100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time."
- Old Yeller (1957). This live-action film about a boy and a stray dog that he befriends is set in post-Civil War Texas and is based on the book by Fred Gipson. A sequel based on another Gipson book called Savage Sam was released in 1963.
- 101 Dalmatians (1961). The original animated Disney film based on the book by Dodie Smith was followed by a popular live-action feature film of the same name released in 1996 with Glenn Close in the role of Cruella de Vil and many, many dalmatians in the title role. A second animated film, 102 Dalmatians, was released in 2000.
- The Incredible Journey (1963). The original live-action film about the travels of a Bull terrier, a Labrador Retriever, and a Siamese cat is based on the book of the same name by Sheila Burnford. It was remade in 1993 as Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, but the main characters were changed to an American Bulldog, a Golden Retriever, and a Himalayan cat.
- The Call of the Wild (1972). The first film version based on the book by Jack London was released in 1935 and starred Clark Gable and Loretta Young, but the 1972 version starring Charlton Heston focuses more on the relationship between the German Shepherd dog Buck and his master. There have been other live-action remakes since 1972, the most recent in 1992 with Rick Schroder.
- Sounder (1972). This live-action film is based on the 1970 Newbery Medal-winning novel of the same name by William H. Armstrong. It was nominated for four Academy Awards. The story is about a poor black sharecropper family living in the rural South during the Depression and their dog, Sounder.
- Benji (1974). This live-action film about a mixed breed stray dog in a small Texas town was the first in a series of nine. One sequel, Benji Off the Leash!, is available at NYPL.
- Cujo (1983). Not all dog stories or films are heartwarming. This horror film about a St. Bernard who suffers a behavior change due to being infected with rabies is based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. It is an atypical entry on this list. Bad dog!
- All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). This animated film starred the voices of Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise and generated several sequels. It was directed by Don Bluth, who also directed the successful animated films An American Tail and The Land Before Time.
- K-9 (1989). This film, starring James Belushi as a retired police detective and his faithful German Shepherd canine companion, was released around the same time as Turner and Hooch (see below). Although K-9 got better reviews, Turner and Hooch was more popular with home video viewers.
- Turner and Hooch (1989). Tom Hanks stars in this comedy about a policeman, Scott Turner, and a dog named Hooch. Turner initially acquires Hooch to help him solve a murder, but the dog ends up turning Turner's well-ordered life upside down. Hooch is played by Beasley the Dog, a Dogue de Bordeaux or French mastiff.
- White Fang (1991). Jack London wrote Call of the Wild and White Fang, both wonderful dog stories that were adapted to film. White Fang is actually part wolf and part dog. This film version stars Ethan Hawke and Klaus Maria Brandauer. A sequel was released in 1992 called White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf.
- Beethoven (1992). This live-action comedy about a lovable St. Bernard puppy who grows up to be a lot bigger than his family expected also generated many sequels. Yes, one of them was called Beethoven's Fifth.
- Shiloh (1996). This live-action movie about a beagle who has been abused is the first in the series of three based on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's novels. The first novel, Shiloh, won a Newbery Medal in 1992.
- Air Bud (1997). This is the first film about Buddy, a sports-playing Golden Retriever. It generated four sequels and a spin-off series called Air Buddies about Buddy's puppies.
- Best in Show (2000). This award-winning comedy is a pseudo-documentary following five owners and their dogs at the fictitious annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. The movie is unusual in that most of the dialog was improvised. The five dogs (after, all, they are the most important characters for purposes of this list) are a Norwich Terrier, a Weimaraner, a Bloodhound, a standard poodle, and a Shih Tzu.
- My Dog Skip (2000). This live-action film is based on an autobiographical book by Willie Morris called My Dog Skip, about a nine-year-old boy growing up in a small Mississippi town during the Depression and WWII, and what he learned from his dog. Skip in the movie is a Jack Russell Terrier, although the original Skip was a fox terrier.
- Cats & Dogs (2001). This live-action action comedy film (with talking animals voiced by a host of Hollywood stars, including Charlton Heston) is about the secret war between cats and dogs (think The Man From Uncle or any 007 film where MI6 is battling the Russians and the dogs are the good guys). The sequel, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, was released in 2010.
- Eight Below (2006). This live-action adventure film is about eight sled dogs in Antarctica, played by two Alaskan Malamutes and six Siberian Huskies. After rescuing their master, he reluctantly abandons them due to weather conditions. Later, overcome with remorse, he mounts a rescue attempt, while out in the wilderness the dogs are struggling against the harsh environment and trying to survive. The movie is based on an incident that occurred in a 1958 Japanese expedition to Antarctica where fifteen Sakahalin Husky sled dogs had to be abandoned.
- Marley and Me (2008). This live-action film is based on the best-selling book Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog. It is the story of the 13 years he and his family lived with their yellow Labrador Retriever. The film stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson and 22 different dogs who played Marley at various stages of his life.
- Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008). This film is a live-action comedy about a Chihuahua named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Chloe gets dognapped in Mexico and sent to the dog fights, but with the help of two new friends, a German Shepherd named Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia) and a hyperactive, love-smitten male Chihuahua named Papi (voiced by George Lopez), she escapes the evil Doberman Pinscher El Diablo (voiced by Edward James Olmos) and returns to Beverly Hills. The sequel, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, was released in 2011.
- Wendy and Lucy (2008). This live-action critically acclaimed film is based on a short story called "Train Choir" by Jon Raymond. Wendy is driving to Alaska to start a new life with her dog, Lucy, but her car breaks down in Oregon, she gets arrested for shoplifting, and Lucy disappears while she is in jail. The film stars Michelle Williams and Will Patton. The dog Lucy is played by director Kelly Reichardt's dog Lucy, a tan mutt.
- Hachi: A Dog’s Tale or Hachiko: A Dog’s Story (2009). This live-action film is based on a true story about an Akita named Hachi-Ko. It is a remake of the 1987 Japanese movie Hachi-ko. The real Hachi-ko was born in 1923 and returned to the train station every day for nine years after his master died.
Next Story Time: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m., Mid-Manhattan Library, first floor.
In "The Coward" by Albert Payson Terhune, Laund is a six-month old collie puppy who shows a natural talent for herding sheep. He is so good, his owner wants to enter him in the annual field trials competition held by the National Collie Association. Then Laund is savagely attacked and wounded by a hawk and apparently loses his nerve.
In "The Mixer" by P.G. Wodehouse, the dog himself tells the story of how he unwittingly gets involved in an attempted burglary.