By Langley Cornwell
This guy is such an inspiration to me! I’d love to have a chat with him, but since he died in 2002 at the age of 86, I’ll have to settle for reading and writing about him. To catch you up, here are a few facts about Frank Inn:
He was a pioneering animal trainer who turned shelter pets into movie stars.
The animals that Frank Inn trained won 40 PATSY Awards, which is the animal kingdom’s equivalent of the Oscar. Three of the animals he trained won the award multiple times.
This legendary animal trainer was the first inductee into the International Association of Canine Professionals’ Hall of Fame.
One of the most recognized 4-legged movie stars that Inn created was Higgins, of Petticoat Junction and Benji fame. Other animals he trained included:
• Francis the Talking Mule
• Orangey the Cat (Rhubarb in Rhubarb, and Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
• Bernadette the Dog (Cleopatra on Jackie Cooper’s TV series The People’s Choice
• Arnold Ziffel, the pig on Green Acres
• All of Elly Mae Clampett’s animals on The Beverly Hillbillies
• The chimpanzees that starred in the children’s TV show Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp
Frank Inn was known to visit animal shelters and take home healthy pets to keep them from being euthanized. There was a time when Inn and his assistants had over 1,000 animals in their care. The feeding bills alone came to more than $400 per day.
Although Inn is most known for the amazing things he could train animals to do, his own life story is incredible in itself. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in show business. When he was just a teenager, he hitchhiked from his hometown of Mooresville, Indiana to Los Angeles. He quickly found a job at MGM studios as a maintenance man but soon after he started working, Inn was hit by a drunk driver. He was pronounced dead and transported to the morgue.
It just so happens that students were at the morgue learning embalming techniques. Fortunately, one of the students noticed that Frank Inn’s “corpse” was still warm. He was not dead!
Inn was seriously injured and had a long recovery time. To help him pass the time, a friend gave him a puppy named Jeep. Because Inn was in a wheelchair, he trained Jeep to do everyday chores for him like get the newspaper and find his slippers. Dog training came naturally to Inn, and his friends believed that Inn could talk to the dog and Jeep literally understood.
When he was fully recovered, Inn went back to his job as a maintenance man. Like all good Hollywood scripts, one day Inn was sweeping the floors of the MGM studio when he noticed a dog trainer who couldn’t get a dog to perform a trick. So the next day he brought Jeep to work with him and showed how easily it was to teach a dog to do tricks. The story goes that Inn held up a ball and said “speak” and when Jeep barked, the trainer asked Inn if he wanted a job.
According to a story NPR ran about Frank Inn, Joe Camp (writer and director of the 1974 film Benji) recollects that Jeep was the first animal Frank Inn ever trained. That one incident led to an animal-training career that lasted over 50 years. During that time, Inn trained not only domesticated animals but also pigs, snakes, camels, monkeys and more. He had a way of getting animals to do things that most people couldn’t believe – like training a pig to play the piano or a dog to climb a ladder. His daughter believed he had a telepathic communication with animals and could get them to do things just by talking to them.
Throughout his long and successful career, Frank Inn knew how to forge remarkable connections with animals. He also taught his assistants how to empathetically communicate with animals instead of just making them perform stunts. Most of the working animal trainers today either worked for Inn himself or were trained by people who worked for him. What a legacy!
Photo courtesy of Kathleen Copson
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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