Let’s face it: In most films about animals, the animals die. I still meet adults who recall the trauma they felt when Bambi’s mother died in 1942’s animated Bambi. Film and television shows that involve animals work well because they touch our hearts and teach us about life, nature and ourselves.
It seems that the first animal to be featured in a film was Jean, a female border collie, in The Vitagraph Dog, circa 1906. Jean made $25 a week and starred in several short films. All of Jean’s films are said to be lost.
After Jean came Strongheart, a German shepherd and police dog from Germany. Strongheart appeared in the first film adaptation of Jack London’s novel White Fang in 1925. The Return of Boston Blackie seems to be the canine’s only film still in existence.
A producer discovered a German shepherd named Rin Tin Tin, a performer in a dog show. The producer convinced the owner, who had brought the dog back from France at the end of World War I, that “Rinty” could be the next Strongheart. Rinty’s first role was as a dog raised by wolves and turned into man’s best friend in Where the North Begins in 1923. And the dog, as a loyal hero, is movie history.