Saturday, March 27, 2010


Syn, a seal point siamese, starred in two films: The Incredible Journey (1963) and That Darn Cat (1965).

Syn was owned by long time siamese cat breeder Edith Williams. Syn was a traditional or "old style" Siamese, as opposed to the more dainty, long and tubular modern Siamese show cats.

Syn was trained for both movies by Bill Koehler.

In The Incredible Journey (1963) Syn played Tao. Tao and two dogs (Luath and Bodger) travel 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness searching for their beloved masters.

Bill Koehler used a large swinging sheep bell to prompt Syn to perform tricks and stunts in The Incredible Journey.

In 1965, Syn starred as D.C. (Darn Cat) in That Darn Cat (1965). D.C. is an adventurous Siamese tomcat who lives with two young sisters Ingrid (Dorothy Provine) and Patti Randall (Hayley Mills), who becomes involved with a kidnapping and bank robbers.

For That Darn Cat, Bill Koehler used a tape recording of a bell broadcast with meat smeared on the speaker, which was placed through out the set, under clothing, behind and under furniture to cue Syn to perform.

Syn and Haley Mills bonded, during rehearsals, she cradle the cat in her lap, Syn responded by kneading her, licking her wrist and head bonks.

Syn won a PATSY Award in 1966 for his work on That Darn Cat.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sammy's Shadow

In 1958, Walt Disney productions was making its first live-action feature comedy based on the novel The Hound of Florence (1930) by Felix Salten (most famous for writing Bambi).

In the novel, a young Austrian, yearning for immortality as an artist, is granted a wish that turns him onto a dog, enabling him to make the journey to Italy in pursuit of his dream.

In the movie, Wilby Daniels, a teenage boy is transformed into a Old English Sheepdog by a spelled ring of the Borgias.

Disney productions needed an english sheep dog to play the old english sheep dog. Sammy's Shadow won the part. Sammy's Shadow was an English Sheep Dog born to Ch Norval Pride King (sire) and Ch Lillibrad Lindy Lou (Dam).

Now that they had their english sheep dog. Disney needed a trainer They turned to William Koehler. This would be the beginning of a long association between Disney and Koehler.

Koehler developed the Koehler Method of Dog Training, a training approach based on the premise that dogs will make their own decisions. This training method is used frequently by law enforcement and the military.

William Koehler had been a dog trainer during World War II. He trained more than 25,000 dogs for the war.

William Koehler trained animals for Disney productions during the 1950s and 1960s. He worked with animals on films such as The Incredible Journey (1963) Big Red (1962), That Darn Cat (1965), and The Ugly Dachshund (1966).

Sammy's Shadow only appeared in one movie but he became an instant star. In 1959, he was voted top movie animal star of the year. He also won the PATSY award for his performance.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blair, The first Canine Movie Star

Before there was Lassie, there was Blair, a collie owned by British director Cecil Hepworth.

Man's best friend has been a part of films for over 100 years with Blair's debut in 1905.

According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the very first movie starring a canine was in 1905.

In 1905, Blair became the very first canine to star in a movie. Blair played Rover in Rescued by Rover.

In Rescued by Rover (1905) saves a baby (played by Cecil's daughter Barbara) from thieving gypsies but also brings the wrongdoer to justice.

This movie began the trend toward telling stories of canine heroism. It also began the trend of naming dogs Rover, which until this movie was an uncommon name for a dog.

Blair next appeared in The Dog Outwits the Kidnappers (1908). In this film, the story is essentially the same story as Rescued by Rover but this time, a car is involved and the dog drives it.

Blair paved the way for Jean, the Vitagraph Dog (the United States first canine movie star), Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin and most notably Lassie.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bruno The Bear

Bruno was a black bear orphaned as a cub along with his brother Smokey in Lake White, Wisconsin. They were rescued and made there home at Africa, USA, an affection training animal compound in Los Angeles found by animal trainer Ralph Helfer and producer Ivan Tors.

Bruno made his film debut in 1965 in Zebra in the Kitchen.

Bruno's next film was Gentle Giant (1967) starring Clint Howard. Bruno won a PATSY award for his performance.

The success of Gentle Giant and the appeal of Bruno led to a televison series entitled Gentle Benn (1967-1969).

Although bears usually tend to be shy, Bruno was extremely friendly. In fact, Bruno's claim to fame was his gentleness.

Bruno tipped the scales at nearly 650 pounds. Bruno loved bread, carrots, apples and oranges. Bruno was also addicted to sweets especially soft drinks and doughnuts. He also had a passion for lemon drops.

Bruno's best friend was Mitzi (Flipper) and the two enjoyed swimming together.

Bruno was trained by Monty Cox. Cox's only complaint was that Bruno never stayed on his side of the bed.

In 1969, a flood destroyed the ranch. Bruno was found alive and safe two miles down the canyon but covered with mud and weighing a few pounds less. Another time, a runaway locomotive fell off its track and crushed Bruno's cage. Luckily, the bear had vacated the cage to go walking with his trainer.

Bruno was one spoiled bear.