An Inside View of Hollywood’s Most Famous Fur-Babies; Offers Insights on AHA Initiatives
I always wondered what ‘Hachi’ was like in real life after I cried my way through that movie a million times (thank you very much Stephen P. Lindsey, screenwriter). I’ve also noticed that, when I see them on TV, I find myself asking how in the hell they got the cute little monkey in “Night at the Museum” to do all the funky feisty tricks he does, particularly at Ben Stiller’s expense.
Well, thankfully, I found my long-awaited answers. I recently read a complimentary review copy of an awesome new book written by Robin Ganzert, CEO of American Humane Association (AHA), “Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors.” Now, obviously, the book, co-written by Linda and Allen Anderson, was written with the intent to educate the American public not only about the absolute ‘adorableness’ of animals (did I just make that word up?), the intelligence and intuition of animal actors, and the amazing interactions between humans and these gorgeous creatures, but also to draw attention to what has become an historic, landmark, one-of-a-kind campaign in the world of animal welfare: AHA’s “No Animals Were Harmed”® Campaign.
What campaign, you ask? DUH! Did you know that for nearly 75 years, AHA has been the sole sanctioned voice of animal stars? Well, with its well-established filmmaking guidelines, detailed production reviews, certified safety reps and much more on-set and off, the AHA keeps the animals safe while cameras roll. The L.A.-based film and TV unit is the film and television industry’s only officially sanctioned animal monitoring program. It’s kinda important. (Sarcasm… you know you love it.)
But back to the book for a minute. You guys have gotta’ read this: it’s like one of those books that you start reading and suddenly it’s 1:12 a.m. and your light is still on because you can’t put it down. There are even professional animal training tips – good ones, usable ones, applicable stories — at the end of each chapter. “Animal Stars” is also chockfull of incredible true stories of the trainers, actors, directors, and the dogs, cats, horses, (diva) bears, penguins and hundreds of wild animal actors in their behind-the-scenes glory. Ever wonder how Mr. Jinx (aka Charlie) learned to miraculously flush a toilet in “Meet the Fockers?”(Jinxy was found wandering the streets of Ontario and is a purebred Himalayan by the way…) Did you ever wonder how the actors and film crew dealt with snakes on a little airplane (yes, 300 of those were real – I know, EWWWWA)? From Joey the horse in “War Horse” to the beautiful wolves in “Game of Thrones,” what the public sees on-screen is just the beginning. “Animal Stars” is Ganzert’s (et. al.) take on all things furry in Hollywood – and was written with love, compassion, humor, interspecies respect, and an obvious admiration for all things 4-legged (or more, whatever).
Among the famous furballs you’ll read about:
-Jinxy the toilet-flushing cat from “Meet the Fockers.” Real name: Charlie
-Hachi, the ever-loyal, always-sweet Akita in the movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.” Real name: Chico.
-The Taco Bell dog. Yes, the flippin’ Taco Bell Chihuahua is in this book! HA! Real name: Gidget
-Sam the other always-loyal German Shepherd from “I Am Legend.” Real name: Abbey
-The penguins from “ Popper’s Penguins.” Yes, they trained penguins.
-Crystal the Capuchin Monkey in “Night at the Museum.”
-Crookshanks, Hermione’s cat in the Harry Potter films. Real name: Crackerjack
-“The Horse with an Actor’s Equity Card,” Hightower, from “The Horse Whisperer” and “Runaway Bride.”
-Blackie, the horse from “True Grit.” Real name: Cimarron
Pretty sweet, right? Well I chatted a little bit with Ganzert (okay, I talked her ear off), who holds a Ph.D., and I found some additional details that are equally, well, cool… Here are some quid pro quos for ya’:
-AHA got its start in Hollywood in 1940 after a 1939 Jesse James film required that a large number of horses jump off a cliff and break their necks. Production knew they would die, but they went ahead filming anyhow. Americans started protesting for animals after this. Shortly thereafter, in 1940, AHA opened its first office in Hollywood. According to Ganzert, AHA was there to keep them (the filming industry) accountable. “The US needed a powerful voice that was able to make change and eventually the industry started to work alongside us,” she said of the incident. No Animals Were Harmed® was created shortly afterwards.
-Robin Williams, the beloved late actor and comedian, spent his last birthday with and wrote his last-ever social media post about “Crystal,” his much-loved monkey co-star in the first “Night at the Museum” movie. Crystal is a rescue; she was not taken from the wild. She was taken from a breeding facility and currently has 22 major movie credits to her name.
-A whopping 85% of animals in show business are rescues. I know – WHOA!! Where do we sign up, right?
-When asked what is the most crucial thing about AHA for people to know, Ganzert responded with this: “What we bring to table… we are moderates, we’re science-based, (and we) bring practical solutions to make sure the voice (sic) of our most precious are heard. We are hence both timely and timeless.” Damn straight! She ended that thought by telling me that the power of the human-animal bond is underscored yet so significant.
-The book includes dozens of quotes & endorsements from celebs like Steven Spielberg, Scarlett Johansson and Julia Roberts.
Now I can tell you one last little detail, too. Ganzert said she had two major inspirations for/in writing “Animal Stars.” The first? Her love of animals in childhood and seeing all the animals in Disney movies. (MOL, BOL). Her second? HER LOVE OF THE MOVIE “Hachi!” She said that when her family watched it, even her son was crying. “Hachi’s love went above and beyond anything,” she emoted, practically through tears just from thinking about it. She then admitted that Hachi is one of her all-time fave animal stars. (We are two peas in a pod!) And I learned that Hachi was the trainer’s most challenging dog ever. He, at first, was a dog that did not respond to training techniques, and was, “just not that into you… or treats, or praise, or affection.” (He later became one of “the most honest dogs” the trainer ever worked with, and exuded patience and took affection well.) I finally know what real Hachi the Akita is like. Yay!
So go out and get this book guys, like, stat. It’s entertaining, fun, interesting, educational, and an all-around good read that you’ll want to share with the book club, with relatives, and will all of your fur-loving friends. And while you’re at it, give some mad props out to all those astonishing rescue animal actors… And in the meantime, follow AHA on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.