HomeCultureFilm & TV

A brief history of movie animals in photos

BY Anna Walker

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

A brief history of movie animals in photos

They say you should never work with animals or children, but these critters often outshined their human costars. Here's a brief history of animals in the movies, from 1918 to the present day. 

Rin Tin Tin, 1918

Rin Tin Tin
Image via Oscars

Nicknamed Rinty, Rin Tin Tin appeared in 27 films throughout his Hollywood career. His popularity even led to a surge in the amount of German Shepherds kept as pets.

Rinty came to Hollywood after being rescued from the battlefield and trained by an American soldier named Lee Duncan during the Second World War.

In 1929, it is rumoured that the German Shepherd received the most votes for the first Academy Award for Best Actor, but it was ultimately decided that the award should go to a human.

Rin Tin Tin was honoured in many ways both in life and after his death. The Mayor of New York gave him a key to the city, he has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, his descendants were owned by Greta Garbo, W K Kellogg and Jean Harlow and his rescuer Lee Duncan wrote a poem about his attachment to his canine companion.


Jimmy, 1934

Jimmy the Raven
Image via It's a Wonderful Life

Though he was often credited as Jimmy the Crow, Jimmy was actually a raven who appeared in over 1,000 films during his 15-year career.

From 1938 onwards, Jimmy appeared in every film Frank Capra ever made. You might recognise him in particular from It’s a Wonderful Life.

Jimmy was a highly intelligent bird and could perform a number of tricks including typing, opening letters and even riding a miniature motorcycle. He could also understand around hundreds of words and his trainer claimed that he could perform any task that an 8-year-old child could.

While filming It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart claimed that the raven was “the smartest actor on the set…when they call Jimmy we both answer”.

The bird’s biggest achievement however, was the Red Cross gold medal that he received in recognition for the 200 hours he spent entertaining veterans after the war.


Pal, 1940

Pal the dog lassie
Image via Plexidor

Born in June 1940, Pal the dog was the first animal actor to play Lassie, in the feature film Lassie Come Home. Pal’s ancestry can be traced all the way back to England’s first great collie, Old Cockie.

1,500 dogs auditioned for the role of Lassie, and Pal was originally rejected because he was male, his eyes were too big and a big white blaze ran straight down his forehead. A female prize-winning collie was selected instead, and Pal kept on as a stunt dog.

Whilst filming a scene in which Lassie had to swim a flooded river, haul himself out, lie down without shaking his coat, attempt to crawl on his side and finally lay motionless and exhausted, Pal impressed. He completed the incredibly demanding scene in just one take. From that moment on, he was top dog.

When Pal died of old age in 1958, his trainer Rudd Weatherwax was distraught. He slipped in and out of depression, and his son recalled that he would often return to visit the grave he had dug for Pal in a special spot on his ranch. He went on to write a book about Pal’s life entitled The Story of Lassie. Truly man's best friend!


Hercules the Bear, 1975

Hercules the bear
Image via News AU

Owned by wrestler Andy Robin and his wife, Hercules was originally purchased as a cub. Robin had previously wrestled a bear, and thought in purchasing Hercules he could raise a wrestling star. In just one year, the bear had grown to weigh 30 stone.

While filming a Kleenex advert in 1980, Hercules managed to escape and was missing for a total of 24 days. Hundreds of volunteers and well-wishers joined the search for the bear. When he was found, he had lost almost half his body weight. The star of Octopussy was so used to eating cooked meals that he had lost his hunter’s instinct.


Orangey, 1950

Orangey the cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Image via Breakfast at Tiffany's

This notorious ginger tom is the only cat to have won the PATSY award (Picture Animal Top Star of the Year) twice.

Best known for his role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Orangey was once called “the world’s meanest cat” by a studio executive. His reputation certainly isn’t a good one. Orangey was known to bite and scratch his costars as well as spontaneously flee the set, following which production would have to be shut down until he was found.

Eventually, guard dogs were used to keep Orangey from fleeing his duties. He was trained by prolific animal trainer Frank Inn, who was also the lead trainer on the Benji movies.


Keiko, 1976

Keiko the Killer Whale
Image via Orca Research Trust

Keiko the killer whale was known for his roles in the Free Willy films. His name is Japanese for “lucky one”.

This magnificent creature was living in an amusement park in Mexico when he was cast in Free Willy. The publicity from his role led to Warner Brothers finding him a new, more suitable home.

Using $7million of public donations, the majority of which came from school children, the Oregon Coast Aquarium constructed facilities to return Keiko to health with a view to releasing him back into the wild. During his time in Oregon, the killer whale gained over a tonne.

When he was finally released in 2002, he struggled to adjust to the wild. At one point he was discovered in a Norwegian fjord, seemingly seeking contact with people and allowing children to ride on his back.

Keiko died in 2003 at around 26 years old. A memorial was set up to him in Halsa, Norway and tourists continue to visit his resting place to pay their respects.


Moose, 1990

Moose the dog
Image via First Entertainment

After training in animal acting for just six months, Moose the Jack Russell terrier earned the role of Eddie on Frasier.

During his time on the show, Moose received more fan mail than any of his costars. During filming, the crew would put liver pâté behind the actors ears in order to get Moose to nuzzle them, or sardine oil on their faces to get him to lick them.  

Moose appeared in seven seasons of the show before letting his son Enzo take over. He passed away in 2006 aged 15 of natural causes.

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.