Category Archives: animal actors

The Highest Paid Animal Actors

Rin Tin Tin in the 1929 film Frozen River

By Langley Cornwell

Animals don’t really care about money, but nevertheless, when it comes to animal actors, they do indeed get paid. Some animal actors receive a hefty fee for their performances, and that pay would make any human drool. Who are the highest paid animal actors? Check these out.

Rin Tin Tin the Dog 

This beloved pooch starred in 26 films for Warner Brothers and commanded a cool $6,000 each week. In today’s money, that would equal $78,000 per week! With that income, he could feed himself and thousands of his friends a healthy diet of CANIDAE dog food. Rin Tin Tin earned Warner Brothers so much money, in fact, that he was responsible for bringing the studio back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1930. Rin Tin Tin was a German shepherd dog that was rescued from a battlefield during World War I by an American soldier named Lee Duncan. Duncan trained “Rinty,” his pet name for his dog. Rin Tin Tin became a beloved movie icon and was rumored to have received the most votes for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929, but the Academy would only give the award to a human. The original Rin Tin Tin died in 1932. (Read more about this famous animal actor in The True Story of Rin Tin Tin).

Keiko the Whale

This killer whale made a killing financially, thanks to his depiction of Willy in the Free Willy films. He earned a grand total of over $36 million for his role! Eventually, Keiko gained his own freedom in 2002, as he was returned to the open ocean. Sadly, Keiko died in 2003 in Norway from a bout with pneumonia, but his work lives on after his passing.

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Cats in Commercials

By Julia Williams

It used to be that the only time you’d ever see a cat in a TV commercial was when they were advertising some cat food or other. One finicky cat even became a household name as a result of those ads, but felines doing things on cue besides eating? That was rare back in the day.

Dogs on the other hand, were seen in television ads a lot more frequently. I’m guessing this was partly because dogs are typically easier to train than cats and therefore easier to “direct” in the commercials, and also to portray the “man’s best friend” motto.

Nowadays, cats in commercials are just as prevalent as dogs. Yay for the kitties! It’s about time cats got equal ad time on the boob tube.

Here are a few of my favorite TV commercials featuring cats.

Cats in TV Commercials 

The Cat’s Pride Fresh and Light kitty litter commercial elicits a giggle every time I watch the “kitty masseuse” karate chop the girl’s back, and when they both relax after the massage with cucumber slices over their eyes, I just lose it.

Fresh and Light also has another hilarious commercial featuring a cat who keels over from the smell of the litter box. A feline friend administers CPR, and all ends well in kitty litter land.

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The PATSY Awards for Animal Actors

By Langley Cornwell

Actors who give an especially great performance in a movie or television series are usually awarded with an Oscar or an Emmy. That’s all well and good, but what about those actors from the animal world? Animal actors are just as deserving of awards for exceptional performance so in 1939, the PATSY Awards were created to do just that.

What are the PATSY Awards?

Created by the Hollywood office of the American Humane Association, PATSY was originally an acronym for Picture Animal Top Star of the Year. In 1958, the PATSY Awards were expanded to include television performers and the acronym Performing Animal Television Star of the Year was added.

The PATSY Awards were originally created with the intent to honor animal performers after a horse was killed during the filming of the movie “Jessie James,” starring Tyrone Powers.

The first actual recipient of a PATSY came in 1951 when Francis the Talking Mule was honored. Who presented Francis with the first PATSY? None other than Ronald Reagan himself, the actor-turned-President who was known for his work with a chimpanzee in the Bonzo movies.

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Animal Actor Higgins, of Petticoat Junction and Benji Fame

By Langley Cornwell

One of the most beloved and well known animal actors during the 1960s and 1970s was a scruffy little shelter dog named Higgins. This pup played all sorts of roles, but is probably best known as the dog on the Petticoat Junction TV show and as the title role in the movie Benji. As a kid, I was crazy about every show and movie that had a prominent animal actor, but the movie Benji was a particular favorite. I’m certain this movie was a contributing factor in establishing my lifelong passion for animals.

Higgins was discovered by Frank Inn, a Hollywood animal trainer and true animal lover. Inn was known to visit animal shelters and take home all the healthy pets because he couldn’t stand for them to be euthanized. He kept and trained the ones that he thought had potential as an animal actor and he found loving homes for the rest. There was a time when Inn and his assistants had over 1,000 animals in their care.  

It was during one of Inn’s shelter sweeps at the Burbank Animal Shelter when he found a special little tan-and-black mixed breed puppy. Inn believed this little pup was a combination of Border Terrier, Cocker Spaniel, Miniature Poodle and Schnauzer. With Frank Inn’s incredible talent as a dog trainer and this puppy’s natural abilities, the dog went on to become what some people consider the best animal actor of our times.

Higgins first major national role was of the dog (creatively called Dog or sometimes called Boy, as in “Here, Boy”) in Petticoat Junction. Higgins appeared in 163 episodes from 1964 to 1970, and even though he was un-credited in this role, it introduced him to millions of fans. During that time, he also made guest appearances on Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies. Even though he was from Burbank, California, Higgins must have had a southern accent.

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