From 1974 to 2000 there was a series of movies starring a small yet lovable mixed breed dog named Benji. While each movie was unique, they all had a similar theme – the dog was always at the right place at the right time (to save people, set things right, and so on).
The first Benji was discovered in an animal shelter in Burbank, CA by trainer Frank Inn, named Higgins. He was allegedly a miniature poodle, miniature schnauzer, and cocker spaniel mix. When the movie was cast Higgins had already established himself as a dog actor. In the mid-1960s Higgins had roles in Petticoat Junction and Green Mile TV series. In 1971 he starred in the film, “Mooch Goes to Hollywood”. Frank Inn was convinced to bring Higgins out of retirement for the 1974 film, Benji when Higgins was 15 years old but that didn’t stop old Higins from doing all of his own stunts. Higgins died on November 11, 1975 and his ashes are buried with his owner, Frank Inn.
The sequel to Benji, “For the Love of Benji” starred Higgin’s daughter, Benjean (later renamed Benji). She continued to carry on the Benji spirit in the films “Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story” (1987 – TV movie), “Oh Heavenly Dog” (1980), and “Benji the Hunted” (1987). She also starred in the children’s TV show, “Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince” (1983). In 1980 Benji also starrted (as herself) in the behind the scene’s featurette, “Benji at Work”.
Almost 25 years after the initial film, the creator of Benji, Joe Camp, held a nationwide search for a new “Benji”. He found what he was looking for in a humane society shelter in Gulfport, Mississippi. She was found wandering the streets of Pass Christian in coastal Mississippi. Another dog was adopted out of a shelter in Chicago to play her side-kick, “Lizard Tongue”. A third was adopted out of a shelter in Los Angeles to be a back up but later was adopted (and now lives with) the film’s co-producer Margaret Loesch. Benji and Lizard Tongue both live with Joe Camp. During this hunt, over one million dogs were adopted by ASPCA animal shelters as people hoped to find the next Benji.
Benji and Lizard Tongue starred in the 2004 film, “Benji: Off the Leash” and have their own podcast, “Benji Movie Memories”.