Movies and television have featured animal actors for nearly a century. Moviegoers and television programming fans alike respond to animals in the roles of their favorite movies. Equines, felines and even a special killer whale have reached our hearts and homes through the big and small screen, but no animal has had as much impact on Hollywood as the dog. The Cairn Terrier in particular has been used for many roles, including one that has often resulted in its canine actor being referred to as the most famous dog in the world.
That role was the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz, released in the 1930s. Toto was played by Terry the Cairn Terrier and starred alongside the infamous Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy. Although they had both acted before, Garland and Terry shot to fame because of the movie. Although Terry was managed by her owner (and, coincidentally, rescuer) Carl Spitz, she spent a good portion of the filming program living with Garland. This living arrangement was used so that Terry and Garland could have enough time to bond, and so that their affection for each other was efficiently translated into the film.
In the 1930s, the budget for movies was vastly different than it is today, even taking inflation into account. During the time the film was produced, Terry and his owner’s weekly salary was more than double that of the extras who played the Munchkins.
While The Wizard of Oz was undoubtedly Terry and Carl Spitz’s biggest and most famous role, it was neither the first nor the last movie in which he appeared! Several years before filming The Wizard of Oz, Terry made his debut in Bright Eyes, starring Shirley Temple. In addition to Bright Eyes and The Wizard of Oz, Terry appeared in more than a dozen films during his lifetime. After his passing in the mid-1940s, his biography “Yo, Toto” was released to the public. While she was already famous, this biography further solidified her role in Hollywood history.
Although Terry the Cairn Terrier is obviously the most famous Cairn Terrier actor in history, many other movies have featured the breed. Unfortunately, Hollywood has only recently agreed to recognize these canine actors in the credits or billing of movies or TV shows. In the past, the trainer and / or the handler were the only ones to receive mention or credit for the films that these dogs starred in.
The height of the Cairn Terrier’s popularity on the silver and small screen was from the late 1930s through the 1940s, due in large part to Terry’s role as Toto in The Wizard of Oz. However, the use of Cairn Terriers as the breed of choice for dog acting has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s, with the dogs appearing as featured roles in nearly ten different films.
The best-known small screen role for a Cairn Terrier would undoubtedly have to be that of the canine actor “Fred,” a Cairn Terrier who played Lucy’s pet character Ricardo on various seasons of I Love Lucy.