Since the creation of the motion picture, technology has evolved. Decency codes have changed. Extra dimensions now accompany action-packed blockbusters. Yet in almost a century of cinematic history, certain truths remain constant.
People love dogs.
People love movies.
Thus, people love dogs in movies.
At this weekend’s Oscars, one dog is set to become top dog amidst the multitude of breeds that have graced the screen since collies immortalized Lassie and solidified their dominance as the divas of cinematic canines.
The Jack Russell terrier, a small English hunting dog bred for digging holes and capturing vermin, emerged victorious on the big screen this year, barking occasionally in “The Artist” and licking Christopher Plummer’s bacon-greased face in “Beginners.”
There are many reasons why this smart and agile breed of dog has surpassed Pomeranians, Poodles and even the all-American Golden Retriever (the dumb blonde of dog actors) to star in not one, but two Oscar-nominated films this year.
For one, they’re unhappily unemployed.
Jack Russells were historically bred for the British tradition of fox hunting, but that sport isn’t in high demand in the United States. Since these diligent hunting dogs are born to work long hours, go weeks without food and do exactly what their masters tell them to do, it was only natural for them to make the leap from hunting to acting, where the beautiful and tenacious succeed with the right training.
“Jack Russells are highly intelligent dogs, and they’re bred to work,” said Catherine Brown, chairwoman of the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America and author of three books on the breed. “They’re very willful, and have a lot of drive. Once they’re trained, which can be difficult, they’re very loyal and hardworking if there’s something in it for them.”
Like hot dogs. Bacon. The simple pleasures, really. Which is why on “Ellen,” for instance, the delightful Uggie from “The Artist” didn’t mind skateboarding across stage in exchange for a whopping seven pieces of vegan cheese for just two minutes of performing.
Alongside Uggie, Cosmo of “Beginners” became the scene-stealing sidekick of cinema this season, helping his two-legged friend Christopher Plummer win the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Both pups helped solidify Oscar nominations for their films, making these Jacks so popular that their human colleagues even manufactured a Team Jacob-v.-Edward-style feud between the duo.
“They are great performance dogs,” Brown said. “They have a sense of humor and need mental exercise. They don’t like to be bored and they’re fiercely loyal to their owners.”
And that loyalty shows on screen. Moose, the Jack who played Frasier’s father’s beloved dog, Eddie, in the eponymous sitcom, won the part after only six months of training and became one of the enduring stars of the show. He became so popular he even received his own cover story on Entertainment Weekly in 1993.
But as with all Hollywood stars there are perks and nepotism. Moose is the father of Enzo, the star of “My Dog Skip,” who stole hearts co-starring with a young Frankie Munoz. Moose, who died in 2006, spent the last six years of his life in retirement with another screen starlet, Jill, the Brussels Griffon from “As Good As It Gets,” proving that it’s good to be top dog in Hollywood.