Television’s 15 Most Famous Dogs8
By Jojo Balogh
Television’s 15 Most Famous Dogs
My best friend Eden can be such a bitch. I mean, I love her and all, but we often want to do different things at the same time. She wants to go for long walks in the park stopping frequently for bathroom breaks. I want to curl up with a good book or catch up on hours of DVR’ed reality television. She’s also a mooch. I have to share nearly everything I eat with her, but she never reciprocates. One thing for certain, she’s the most loyal friend I’ve ever had… unconditional love in its purest form: my dog.
We have become a pet-obsessed nation, with more than 73 million of us having canine companions. With the average marriage lasting only three and a half years, our dogs are some of the longest relationships we have – often outlasting marriages. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the family pet was often kept outdoors and treated like, well, an animal. Today 42% of them share our beds. We put them on special diets and clothe them, spending exorbitant amounts of money on their well-being. We have doggy day care lest they be lonely, dog hotels, dog therapists. Scholars and scientists alike have done studies on why we love our dogs. No deep psychological conclusions here. The consensus seems to be that we love them simply because they love us back.
Another reason we love our dogs is that they can provide us with countless hours of entertainment. Search for “funny dog videos” on YouTube and 711,000 results appear. I have cried watching clips of dogs reactions to their masters returning home from war. I have laughed watching them skateboard and surf. Since the days of early television, dogs have become stars with huge followings, sometimes stealing the show from their human counterparts. Here we pay homage to what are arguably the biggest of those stars, starting with the pioneers.
1. Lassie – Lassie
Lassie first appeared in a 1943 novel, Lassie Come Home. Though the character of Lassie was a female Collie, she was always played by male dogs descending from the original “Pal.” Rudd Weatherwax, Pal’s longtime trainer, trademarked the Lassie name from MGM studios, and reigned over the empire that included radio, television, film, toys, comic books. Lassie ran in various forms until 1974 with 600 episodes being produced. The two most memorable incarnations both featured young boys as Lassie’s master, both living on farms. The first was Jeff, played by Tommy Rettig. Then in 1957 in a special transition episode, Lassie was passed from the Miller family to the Martins. Jon Provost played Timmy Martin. Cloris Leachman was his mother, Ruth, during 1957. June Lockhart then took over as Ruth for the duration of the Lassie/Timmy years. In both, the super smart canine always outwitted the humans, sensing danger and helping both her masters and others out of many a scrape. To this day, many of us still think of Lassie and hear the distinct, almost haunting whistling of the show’s theme song when seeing a collie.
2. Rin Tin Tin – Rin Tin TIn
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie both came to network television in 1954, and in both, the dog was the main hero. In both programs a boy was the dog’s best friend and vice versa. Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd, and Lassie was a Long-Haired (Rough) Collie.
The original Rin Tin Tin was rescued by an American serviceman from a bombed out kennel at the end of World War I, entering show business upon returning to the U.S. His first appearance was in a 1922 silent film, The Man from Hell’s River. All subsequent dogs who played the part were direct descendants of the original. By the time he came to television, Rin Tin Tin (aka Rinty) already had an illustrious career in radio and film. The stories followed Rusty, a boy orphaned in a massacre and raised by soldiers, and Rinty, as they established order in the Old West in a series of action packed adventures, with the steadfast dog always saving the day. ABC ran 166 black and white episodes between 1954 and 1959.
3. Petey – The Little Rascals
Our Gang was a series of comedy short films produced by Hal Roach about the adventures of a group of poor, depression era children and their dog Petey. 220 short films were eventually produced featuring over 41 child actors. In 1955, 80 of the shorts were syndicated for television as The Little Rascals. Pete the Pup, otherwise known as “Pete, the Dog With the Ring Around His Eye,” or simply “Petey,” was famous for having a circled eye that was added by Hollywood make-up artist Max Factor. The original Pete, an American Pit Bull Terrier named Pal the Wonder Dog, had a natural ring almost completely around his eye; dye was used to finish it off. When he was recruited to appear in the Our Gang series, the director left the eye as it was, creating one of the most recognizable dogs in history, and Pete became as famous as the kids in the gang. Even though it was lauded for its more “natural” use of children as actors rather than precocious little adults, The Little Rascals eventually came under fire for what is now perceived as racial stereotypes. We miss you, Spanky, Alfalfa and Buckwheat!
4. Spuds MacKenzie – The Bud Light Dog
While he shares a ringed eye and related breed with Petey, the similarities end there.
Spuds may have been the hippest dog to ever grace the small screen. Better known as “the original party dog,” Spuds Mackenzie made his debut during a 1987 Super Bowl commercial and became hugely popular almost as fast as you can say “This Spud’s for you!” Nearly every time you turned on your TV, there was Spuds enjoying some event or activity, always surrounded by a bevy of beauties. Instantly recognizable, he was so popular that his image was everywhere from t-shirts to posters, stuffed animals to mugs. But as is the nature of fame, there was scandal in Spuds’ life too – turns out Spuds’ real name was Honey Tree Evil. Female. Bitch. Forced into retirement.
She died in 1993. We’ll always remember her for having taught us all about the real meaning of being a party animal! RIP, Spuds.
5. Gidget – The Taco Bell Chihuahua
Never fear, Spuds. Your life was not in vain. You paved the way for future stars like Gidget. Long associated with Mexico, what better breed to represent a Mexican fast food joint than a chihuahua? First appearing in Taco Bell commercial ads in 1997, Gidget had a voice using special effects and a voice actor named Carlos Alazraqui. Sometimes dressed as a Mexican revolutionary or a bandito in a sombrero, the pup was known for the catchphrase “Yo Quiero Taco Bell,” or I want Taco Bell. Like his predecessor, Spuds, the Taco Bell chihuahua became a pop culture icon, featured on shirts and other marketing tools such as stuffed animals. Eventually, Hispanic advocacy groups lobbied for an end to the ad campaign that some saw as a cultural stereotype. Gidget’s death from a stroke in 2009 was almost as highly publicized as her character was. Buenas noches pequeño perro.
6. Snoopy – Peanuts
With his alter egos as a novelist, World War I flying ace, and all-around Joe Cool, Snoopy is the most identifiable cartoon character in the world. Snoopy loves root beer and pizza, hates coconut candy, gets claustrophobia in tall weeds, and is deathly afraid of icicles dangling over his doghouse. One of his hobbies is reading Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, War and Peace, at the rate of “a word a day.”
As drawn by Charles Schulz, the Beagle belonging to Charlie Brown first appeared in the Peanuts comic strip in 1950 but didn’t appear on television until 1965 in the first Peanut’s gang special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. This special is the longest running animated cartoon special in TV history – having been repeated every year since its first, and winning a Peabody Award and an Emmy for outstanding children’s programming. It was directed by Bill Melendez, who still supplies the voice of Snoopy. In addition to the thirty-plus animated specials, The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, a Saturday-morning TV series, which debuted on CBS in 1983, lasted for three seasons.
More than just a cartoon character, Snoopy has become a cultural icon. In 1990, the “Snoopy in Fashion” exhibit opened at the Louvre in Paris and in 1992 the “Snoopy, The Masterpiece” exhibit opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. Insurer MetLife has used Snoopy as its worldwide symbol since 1985, and the Peanut’s licensed merchandising unit has annual sales of more than two billion dollars, making Snoopy’s Joe very cool, indeed.
7. Astro –The Jetson’s
8. Scooby-Doo – Scooby Doo
Anyone know why these two are grouped together? Both are Great Danes; but did you know they were voiced by the same actor? Did you ever notice that Scooby’s characteristic speech patterns bear a striking resemblance to those of Astro?
The Jetsons were the space-age answer to the prehistoric Flintstones. The original 24 episodes aired on ABC on Sunday nights between 1962-63. It was the first program ever to be broadcast in color on that network. Astro was the pooch pal of the family’s dad, George, a loving but often befuddled father and husband. As Astro begins every word with the consonant “R,” he became famous for his affectionate catchphrase, “Ri Ruv Roo, Reorge!” A running joke at the end of each of the early episodes shows George walking Astro on a treadmill-like automatic dog walker. Astro chases a cat, causing George to let go of the leash and run uncontrollably while yelling his most famous line to the family matriarch Jane, “Stop this crazy thing!!!”
There have been several animated series starring Astro’s doppelganger, Scooby, beginning in 1969 with Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Scoobert (his real name) “Scooby”-Doo. His misfit gang of characters came together every episode to solve spooky mysteries. Scooby and his master, and best friend, Shaggy, share several traits, particularly cowardice and perpetual munchies. Much has been written suggesting they’re stoners, and quite frankly, nobody seems to know what they do in the back of that van they travel in.
There have been spinoffs, reruns and revivals, and Scooby-Doo still maintains a significant fan base. TV Guide ranked Scooby and his gang 22nd on their list of the 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. Me? Team Astro, definitely.
9. Buck – Married With Children
While I’m sure many more of you watched MWC for the Bundy family’s semi-slutty daughter Kelly, played by Christina Applegate, Buck was a canine comic tour de force in his own right. Married with Children, a domestic comedy about a dysfunctional marriage and family, featured a shaggy Briard Sheep dog whose real name was Mike.
In the opening credits of each episode, the family, including Buck, lined up with open palms waiting for a cash infusion from patriarch Al Bundy, the former high school football star turned shoe salesman. In several episodes, we hear the Bundy’s wisecracking dog’s insulting thoughts about his family. The series ran for eleven years on Fox, with Buck retiring after nine years of service. The series killed him off, and Buck was reincarnated in the form of a Cocker Spaniel named Lucky who ends up back in the Bundy household. His last episode ended with the following on-screen message: “Dedicated to Buck the Dog who with this episode begins a well earned retirement and hopefully a nice gig as stud. We’ll miss you, Buddy. Lift a leg. – The Producers.”
10. / 11. Meaty and Beefy – Rob and Big / Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory
Rob Dyrdek, the pro-skateboarder who has become a self-promoting marketer to rival Madonna, can also be called a reality TV star, a filmmaker, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He is also an animal lover, owning two English bulldogs, Meaty and Beefy who he features prominently in his two MTV series, Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, and his previous show, Rob and Big. Meaty is a male, and a skateboarding star in his own right, while Beefy is a female. Both came from the same California breeder. Not that Rob’s series need it, but the scene-stealing pups add comic relief to every scene they are in!
12. Eddie – Frasier
When you hear the term “veteran actor,” it is most likely NOT a dog that comes to mind; but Moose and his son Enzo, who both played Eddie on the long running hit sitcom Frasier, fit the bill perfectly. The Jack Russell Terriers also played the title character in the film, My Dog Skip.
Moose started life in Florida as a terror of a terrier that couldn’t be housebroken and that chewed and barked a lot. His owner gave the puppy to the manager of a company that trained animals for TV and film roles and, as they say in Hollywood, the rest is history. Frasier, the enormously popular show that lasted eleven seasons on NBC, introduced Eddie Crane as the pet of Frasier’s father Martin, a retired cop coming to live with his son, a Seattle psychiatrist and intellectual bon vivant. Moose was a fine actor with the ability to fix a long hard stare on the title character, and that became a running sight gag. During the height of Frasier’s popularity, Moose received more fan mail than any of his human counterparts. As it became apparent that the highly rated show was going to have a long run, Moose’s owners started the breeding process in hopes of siring a similar offspring. They hit the jackpot with Enzo, who took over the role from his aging father eight years into the series. Moose spent the last six years of his life in retirement before dying of natural causes in 2006. Enzo joined his dad in doggy heaven in July of this year.
13. Triumph The Insult Comic Dog – Late Night with Conan O’Brien
If Miss Piggy and Lamb Chop can be considered animal actors, than so can Triumph. This puppet is definitely not for the kids, being best known for his juvenile, often scatological humor, most of which won’t be repeated here. Robert Smigel, the comedian who is the hand behind the sock, was best known as a writer for Saturday Night Live. Often smoking a cigar, Triumph debuted in 1997 on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and appeared regularly there.
Triumph has appeared in Las Vegas, the 2007 Tony Awards, on Hollywood Squares and Comedy Central as well as many others programs. One year, he appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards, and in an exchange with Jennifer Lopez asked her for permission to sniff her butt, because, “for a dog it’s like climbing Mt. Everest.” The exchange was cut from future rebroadcasts. Triumph has his own website, a DVD, and a 2003 album.
14. Duke – Bush’s Baked Beans Commercials
Bush’s Original Baked Beans is just one of the products that Bush Brother and Company sell, but it is the only one associated with Duke, the golden retriever who stars in the clever commercials. Bush’s bean products have become the nation’s number one selling baked bean brand, in no small part due to the ads, which feature company spokesman Jay Bush and Duke, who offers to sell the closely guarded, secret family recipe. While Jay really does have a family pet with that name, they hired a professionally trained dog to portray Duke in the spots. Duke’s catchphrase? “Roll that beautiful bean footage!”
15. Brian Griffin – Family Guy
Brian Griffin is by far the hippest, wittiest and most urbane dog on this list, and dare I say, my favorite. Voiced by series creator Seth McFarlane, Brian is an 8-year-old talking white (mystery breed) dog who has lived with the Griffin family since Peter picked him up as a stray after being abandoned by his mother. He is vastly more intelligent than his best friend, Family Guy’s Peter Griffin.
He loves opera and jazz, speaks French and Spanish, is a member of Mensa who used to write for The New Yorker, and is working on a novel. He is also a smoker, an alcoholic who used to have a cocaine addiction stemming from his abandonment issues, for which he was in therapy. Brian is attracted to human women and is in love with the family gal, Peter’s wife Lois. Brian is better fleshed out than most human characters. He delivers some of the show’s classic lines like, “Hey Bartender, who do I have to hump to get a dry martini around here?” How can you not love that?
Yes, we all love our dogs, including many TV entertainers who avidly support canine causes. Among them are Betty White, Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper, and Bob Barker who famously signed off every episode of The Price is Right by saying, “Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered.” Ellen Degeneres has long been an advocate on behalf of animals and is a staunch supporter of organizations such as The Humane Society, and the ASPCA. There are millions of dogs in rescue shelters, with no aspirations of TV fame, simply waiting for the opportunity to do one thing… love you. If you or someone you know is thinking about adding a pet to the family, please consider a rescue!
Jojo Balogh is something of a pop culture legend in her own mind, and those of her friends. She was number one on their lists of people to use as phone-a-friends on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. In addition to her now defunct personal blog, she also wrote training materials for recruiters and headhunters, as well as love letters, and emails to school teachers and administrators regarding her teenage son in an effort to encourage them not to charge him with truancy.