Few things can make a movie more delightful than a cute animal, as either the star or a supporting character.
Last year a cat played himself as the star and the hero of A Street Cat Named Bob, based on James Bowen’s best-selling book about an animal transforming the life of a recovering drug addict.
A few years back, a Golden Retriever named Marly also showed how an animal can play an integral part in a human’s life, and in 1998, the piglet Babe proved that mud-clad farm animals can be pretty cute too. Who can forget the cute and cuddly, unexpectedly huge St. Bernard named Beethoven? Or Lassie for that matter, who completely stole the show, as well as our hearts, and remains the most prominent star in “Pet Hollywood.”
Yet, there’s one charming little Cairn Terrier and the stardom she obtained is considered the gold standard for animals on screen. Terry, the dog who walked an actual golden road (well, yellow brick road) on screen, got a salary bigger than most members of the human cast that performed alongside her in The Wizard of Oz.
Before being cast in Viktor Fleming’s 1939 musical film adaptation of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Terry was already a movie star. Born during the Great Depression, her first ever film appearance was in Ready for Love. This was released on November 30, 1934, no more than a month before her first major film appearance with Shirley Temple in 1934’s Bright Eyes as the dog Rags.
Owned by Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz, Terry was cast as Toto in part due to her previous experience on screen; she could easily follow the instruction given to her by Spitz while filming took place. He used silent hand signals to direct her.
Her exquisite training also meant that she could do her own stunts. Amazed by what they saw, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producers offered her owner a contractual agreement that included a salary of $125 per week for the services of his dog, which Spitz gladly accepted.
The contract meant that his dog, now assigned to portray a character important to Dorothy, as well as the story as a whole, would earn much, much more than most of the human actors. For instance, the actors who played the Munchkins, even the three from the Lollipop Guild, reportedly received $50 to $100 a week. Only the main cast of Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Berth Lar, and Jack Haley received a bigger salary than Terry. This also meant that a dog was paid more than many working Americans at the time, which was still during the Great Depression.
As the contract stipulated, she performed her own stunts during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, at least up until one scene, when one of the Winkie guards accidentally stepped on her and everyone thought that she lost her life. Fortunately, Terry turned out okay with only one foot broken. She had to recover for a couple of weeks, so the production hired a second dog as her replacement until she healed.
She spent the next two weeks recuperating at Judy Garland’s residence, during which she and Garland developed an even closer friendship. After the recovery Terry hit the screen again alongside her new friend Garland, who allegedly tried to adopt her, but Spitz refused.
Due to the popularity of the movie and her rise to fame, her owner and trainer changed her official name to Toto. She attended the premiere of The Wizard of Oz at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Terry, as her owner envisioned, came to have an illustrious career, starring in a total of 16 film appearances. Three of these were playing in theaters at the same time in the fall of 1939: The Wizard of Oz, The Women, and Bad Little Angel. Nonetheless, Toto remains the role she is most remembered by.
In her last film, Tortilla Flat (1942), she was reunited with Oz director Victor Fleming, and with Frank Morgan who had played the Wizard. Three years later, she died at the age of 11.
Carl Spitz buried her on his estate in Studio City, California. However, the construction of the Ventura Freeway in 1958 destroyed her grave site. Years later, on June 18, 2011, a permanent memorial for Terry was dedicated at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.