By Langley Cornwell
Who was Toto? Fans of The Wizard of Oz movie are likely very familiar with this loveable little dog whose real name was “Terry.” Toto is one of the most beloved and well-known dogs in film history, and this dog paved the way for many great dog actors in show biz.
There were other famous dogs of that era: Prince Carl, the Great Dane appearing in Wuthering Heights (1939); Buck, the Saint Bernard who co-starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young in Call of the Wild (1935); Musty (Swiss Family Robinson); Mr. Binkie (The Lights that Failed) and Promise (The Biscuit Eater) were all very well-known. But Toto, Dorothy’s adorable little sidekick, warmed the hearts of many and remained a fan favorite.
There is a lot more to Toto than you think. First, he was actually a she, and her story is a canine “rags to riches” tale.
Terry was a purebred Cairn Terrier who was born in 1933 in Alta Dena, California, according to her biography. She was taken in by a married couple with no children, and they named her Terry. The couple had problems house training Terry so they sent her to Carl Spitz’s dog training school in the San Fernando Valley for help.
Spitz put her through his usual training process and in just a few weeks, she was no longer wetting the carpet. However, the owners had then become late on the kennel board fees and when he attempted to contact them, their phone had been disconnected. They never came back to retrieve Terry, so Spitz and his wife decided to keep her.
But there would be many great things in Terry’s future. For one, she grew up in a home where she was loved. One day Clark Gable and Hedda Hopper stopped by the kennel to help build publicity about Gable’s new film, The Call of the Wild because Buck, the St. Bernard who starred in the film, was one of Spitz’s dogs. On that day, Terry made friends with Gable and Hopper, and made herself known to the Hollywood elite.
The next day, Spitz took Terry to Fox Studios to audition for a part in the Shirley Temple film “Bright Eyes” (1934). Terry played dead, hopped over a leash, barked on command and showed off as Spitz had taught her, and then she was taken in to meet Shirley herself for the final say. The story is that when Terry played and got along with Shirley’s own dog, Ching-Ching, Shirley was sold and Terry got the part!
This would be her first film role but not her last. Later that year she did “Ready for Love” (1934) at Paramount and then appeared in “The Dark Angel” (1935) with Fredric March and Merle Oberon. She was on the road to becoming a canine superstar. Next she did “Fury” (1936) with Spencer Tracy; “The Buccaneer” (1938) for director Cecil B. DeMille and an uncredited part in “Stablemates” (1938) with Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney.
All of these were good dog parts but it was when Spitz got word that there would be a film made of the famous classic book The Wizard of Oz that Spitz knew Terry’s true calling. She was a spitting image of the dog, Toto, from the drawings in the book. Spitz began teaching her all the tricks from the book and when the call came for an audition, Terry was destined to get the part. She appeared in somewhere around 15 films in her lifetime, but Toto was her most famous role.
Around 1958, the Ventura Freeway was being built through the San Fernando Valley and the route went through Spitz’s school, forcing him to relocate and unfortunately, covering Toto’s grave on the property. When word got out that she did not have a proper marker and burial, a group of people set out to establish a Toto memorial marker.
Steve Goldstein posted an Interview with Carl Spitz, Jr. which has great info about Carl’s memories of his famous dog and what happened to the remains of Terry after she passed. This was all part of the efforts to build a proper memorial for Toto/Terry, beloved dog actor and star.
• Toto really was a female Cairn Terrier named Terry.
• She broke her leg during filming, when a Winkie guard stepped on her.
• She was paid more than the Munchkins!
Do you have memories of Toto or Terry in some of her other films? Do you have a favorite canine movie star?
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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