EVER HEAR the one about the kangaroo and the National Lampoon? A few years ago, editors there deicided to shoot a cover photo showing a kangaroo stepping up to a bar, before a stupefied bartender. Bars and bartenders were easy to find in New York. Kangaroos were another matter. But a quick call to "Animal Talent Scouts" and the professional marsupial arrived at a 12th Street tavern, complete with trainer and restraining chain which would be airbrushed out of the final product.
For Skippy the kangaroo it was just another day's $400 fee.
Until 1950, on the East Coast, if you wanted a dog for TV you had to be satisfied with Uncle Norton's. If you wanted a kangaroo, that was your problem. Two people changed that. Lorraine D'Essen was fashion model and animal lover. Advertising agencies were always asking her to help find animals. Her husband Bernard was a PR man who knew a good idea for a business when he saw it. West Coast animal agencies were already servicing the movies in California. The D'Essens started Animal Talent Enterprises.
In those days TV was live, not taped and animals didn't get a second chance if they performed badly. One of the first jobs involved using a Great Dane named Dicky on the "Jackie Gleason Show." Soon the part-time business was a thriving concern.
The demand has grown ever since. No one in the industry know exactly how many millions are spent each year on performing animals, but almost every "Aida" needs its camel, every "Annie" its Sandy. More than $155 million was spent just on pet food advertising in 1978. All those ads need animals. Also, a wealthier middle class has meant more chimpanzees at bar mitzvahs. The Benjis and Morrises of the business can earn thousands a year: $4,000 or $5,000 has been spent on single commercials for animal work alone.
Want to rent an elephant? It'll probably cost about $1,500 a day. Pigs? Pigs cost $600 a day apiece in a 1976 Keep America Clean ad. Just trying out a dog for a commercial cost at least $25. Rates vary and are based on the animal use, training involved and outfit used, but a camel for a cocktail party might run $850. Training the rats who chewed through a door in the movie "Willard" cost $30,000 says their trainer, Moe DISesso. Muffin, whose earnings as the family dog in the soap opera "Summerset" go to Chateau Theatrical Animals, makes about $150 an appearnace, says Owner Gloria McGill.
Special animals earn more. Vladimir is a European Red Deer better known as the symbol of the Hartford Insurance Group. After a nationwide search, it was decided that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the stag in "The the Monarch of the Glen," a painting which Hartford adopted in 1859. Vladimir can only be filmed during the rutting season, when his horns are full, when his neck swells up and when "stags will challenge anything," according to Jay Bottomly of the McCaffrey & McCall agency, which handles the Hartford account.
Hartford spends approximately $5,000 for Vladimir per commerical, says a company official. But a recent ad featuring the stag, an unrelated doe and fawn (his family) meant months of training and cost $25,000 just for the animal work.
"If you want talent, you pay," says Reid Taube, advertising director for Hartford. "Then again, animals don't earn residuals."
Animals that appear in Washington productions often come from out of town. Ruth, a dog who works for the Dawn Animal Agency, was flown here specially for a scene in the Suzanne Somers movie "Nothing Personal." She arrived on the set in a limousine. Crowds were waiting to see who came out. Ruth's job was to walk across the street while a car sped toward her.
Marvin Himelfarb of the Wasington adversiting agency of Abramson-Himelfarb Inc. recalls that a few years ago when the agency did a commecial for the National Education Association, a turtle was used from a Virginia petting farm, but otherwise he knows of no local animal agencies.
"Come in, come in. I'm trying to get a chimp out to Long Island."
High above Manhattans 57th street, Linda Hanrahan opens the door of "All Tame Animals Inc.," one of the five major animal talent agencies in New York. She's in a small room equipped with phones and plastered with animal adverstisements. For Smirnoff Vodka, there's a camel on Madison Avenue. Sheep stand atop a penthouse on a New York Magazine cover. Tarzan and Jane flank a chimp on a plane. "Olympic now flies to Nariobi." There's an alligator in a bathtub, an elephant on a luggage cart. There are lots and lots of pet food adds.
"Hello? Aldo? Did Doug talk to you about the snake? It was supposed to bite a hand on camera but this has been scotched. Now it's just supposed to slither in. Do you have anything big and lethal looking?"
The reptile request has come from a soap opera. Also in demand today: a bull frog and a leopard. Calls come any time of the day in a seven-day-a-week business, and owners might have to dash across town with a llama in a cab, stand around in a studio throwing butterflies into the air, or field requests from psychology professors looking for gorillas to teach class. All Tame Animals has filkes of animal owners, private zoos and herptologists like Aldo, who generally provide the goods.
"Is there such a thing as a defanged water moccasin? There's no actor on the set but there's a cameraman. I . . . he . . . how big a rattlesnake? But would it bite the cameraman? Oh My God!"
Why rent animals instead of using pets? "If you're an animal just used to hanging out and watching the clouds go by, this is a rather intimidating industry," says Barbara Austin, partner in the Dawn Agency, which owns a 40-acre farm in New Jersey stocked with more than 600 animals, including elephants, llamas and big cats. Some animals work. They support others, strays or njured animals which can't. Dawn did over 300 commercials last year, Austin says, as well as 12 films, including "Going In Style." Two hundred pigeons were provided for that one.
"People laugh," Austin says, "but if you went there the wild pigeons are and plopped down 200 people and actors and a filming crew they'd all fly off to another building and have a bird's-eye view of the whole mess and think, 'Not on my life will I go down there.'"
The film industry learned this the hard way. "I got a call from 'Naked City once," says Len Brooks, another Dawn parntner. "They needed a cat and had sent a production assistant to pick one up on the Bowery. First it wouldn't stay still. Then it scratched the assistant. Finally it sprayed the whole set.
"When you have all these poeople sitting around waiting for the animal to perform, it costs a lot of money."
"Frankie, my boy, you're on!"
Twelve stories above Manhattan, in the studio of commercial photographer Frank Cowan, Frankie the bulldog fidgets on a tree stump beside 13-year-old Sandra Jean Suchar, a model in roller skates and Levi jeans.
Frankie, Sandra and especially the jeans will shortly spearhead a Levis advertising campaign in Good Housekeeping, Redboodk, McCalls, Family Circle Parents and True Story.
Also present, trying to get Frankie to look at the camera, are Levi Strauss & Co. Advertising and marketing people, as well as representatives from the San Francisco agency of Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig.
"Fraaaaannkiee! Fraaaaannkieeee! Boof Boof! Moooooo! Squeak, whistle! Look Frankie! Fraaaankieeeeee!"
"You can make work an enjoyable experience for an animal," says Barbara Austin. "It has all these people telling it it's terrific. It has favorite person petting it. It has its favorite treat. Wouldn't you like that in your office?"
This time it works. Other times, an animal has its own idea of what constitutes the "treat."
"Years ago, I was with a production company that shot a commecial for a maple syrup," says Jim Carroll, head of production for the Kenyon & Eckhardt agency. "A bear was supposed to go to the syrup and lick it. We shot at night in a supermarket and hired a state trooper with a gun to stand by. The cameraman was on a dolly. The bear was supposed to wander down the aisle and stop at the syrup."
The way Carroll tells it, the bear -- lurching like Frankstenstein -- started coming down the aisle. The cameraman, eye to the camera, said, "Good, right, good." He added "Uh oh." The bear was still coming.
"Turned out the bear liked beer and the cameraman had an open can on the dolly," Carroll says. "The bear didn't like syrup. They had to sprinkle the syrup bottles with beer.
This culinary training theory was also used by Moe DiSesso, the California trainer who got 600 rats to chew through a door, allegedly after Ernest Borgnine, in "Willard." In reality, the rats were under the impression that there was food in the door, since DiSesso had been placing it there for months.
Barbara Austin explains Dawn's rules for working with animals. "First, a shooting isn't an office outing. It's distracting for an animal to have people talking and rustling. Second, most big cats regard small children as prey, so no small children. When any animals needs a rest, he gets it immediately. He may tell you only by the way he's holding his ears or tail, but his only method of protecting himself is defensive. You never want to set up a situation where he feels he has to protect himself."
"If an animal stalks it prey, never have the model walk in front of it," says Morton Dubin of Iris Films, the production company which recently shot a Yves. St Laurent jeans series with big cats supplied by Dawn.
"And let the animal know its environment. Sometimes a big cat will be brought in early and will urinate in the four corners. Make sure natural enemies aren't brought in one after the other. They smell each other. And make sure the model isn't afraid of animals."
One prime difference between human and animal actors is that humans do not require permits. One of the biggest gripes from the booking agencies concern endangered-species laws, which prohibit sale of certain animals, like jaguars, leopards or tigers, and specify that endangered species can't be brought into the state, even for allowed educational and zoological purposes, within a permit.
"Right now nothing's being brought in from Australia," laments Gloria McGill of Chateau Theatrical Animals, another N.Y. agency. "Animal dealers are going out of business. People don't own exotic pets anymore and those who do are afraid to come forward."
State officials say that permits can be granted on a yearly basis and that once an animal is given one, base on a predicted itinerary, a simply phone call will allow legal entrance of the animal into the state if the intinearary is changed.
"I got two macaws going out to the Waldorf tomorrow. Chimps? I can get 'em. Plenty of chimps. Gorilla? Can't get a gorilla, but nobody ever had a fully trained gorilla. We have the Hush Puppy basset hound. We provided the scotties for Black and White Scotch. pWe did the nativity scene at Radio City Music Hall and were with the Met opera for 16 years -- birds monkeys, dogs, camels. Yeah, we did 'Aida.'"
As owner of Animal Talent Scouts, the oldest animal talent agency in New York, Patricia Poleskie has heard plenty of strange requests, but the most memorable occurred when she was asked to help with David Frost's "Guinness Book of World Records" special a few years back.
First we had to herd 20 sheep across the stage while the world's fastest knitter knitted. We had one lead sheep on that one. Millie. She was highly experienced. It's a flock mentality. What got ridiculous was the flea-jumping contest. They built this totally closed plexiglass container. We broiugh a flea-ridden cat and I was picking these fleas off the cat in the studio, next to the world's tallest man. I decided I'd passed into funny land."
"We were called by a professor who wanted a gorilla to teach his psychology class," says Steve McAuliff of Animal Actors Inc. "We didn't have one." c
"A man phoned who wanted an elephant to ride from his home in Brooklyn to a wedding on Staten Island," says Gloria McGill. "I said it was too far."
"We got a call from a doctor once," says Linda Hanrahan. "He wanted to know if we had a monkey who could deliver an envelope. The monkey was supposed to ring a bell band hand an envelope to a lady. We asked the doctor not to put anything metal in the envelope. The monkey might put the envelope in his mouth, might chew up what was inside. The doctor said, "Oh well, if that happens I can always write another one."
"Marriage proposal," says Hanrahan.
"The lady said yes." CAPTION: Picture, For Skippy, posing for a magazine cover was just another day's $400 fee.