Laurence Trimble

Jean, the Vitagraph DogAround the age of 19 Laurence Trimble moved to New York City with his trusty companion, Jean (a border collie) to start a career as a reporter. During 1908 he sold an animal based story to a New York City based magazine. The magazine then hired him to write an article about the new “motion picture” industry that was growing, mainly about the Vitagraph company. The decision to bring his dog would literally set the stage for animal actors.

While writing his story the studio needed a dog to play opposite Florence Turner (“the Vitagraph girl”) and Laurence volunteered Jean to play the role. The relationships went so well that Vitagraph that they asked Laurence to sign on as Vitagraph’s leading canine star. Laurence stayed on as a director for several films from 1908 on including 18 films starring Jean. The audiences loved Jean and thus the first canine movie star was born.

In 1913 Laurence moved to England to start his own movie production company but his plans were quickly halted with the outbreak of World War I. In 1916 Laurence moved back to the USA (California where Vitagraph had relocated) to continue working with them. Sadly, Jean died in 1916. While Vitagraph tried to resurrect Jeans fame with Shep, the Vitagraph dog, his popularity never even came close to Jean’s.

Strongheart, canine star of silent cinema.In 1920 Laurence headed over to Germany to find the next canine star when he came across a “military attack” German shepherd named Etzel von Oeringen. Accoridng to Laurence, the dog “had never played with a child, had never known the fun of retrieving a ball or a stick, had never been petted, in short, had never been a dog.” Laurence brought him back to the USA and changed his name to “Strongheart”.

While Jean played the role of a companion in his films, Strongheart was the canine hero. Strongheart starred in 7 films between 1921 and 1927 until his career was cut short when he fell against a hot stage light. Within a few weeks a tumor had formed and Strongheart died. Trimble was able to breed him to Lady Jule where they had many puppies, many of which followed in their father’s footsteps.

In 1925 Laurence officially retired from the motion picture industry but being a pioneer in one industry wasn’t enough for him. Not much is known about his post-retirement life but it is known that he dedicated himself to train seeing-eye dogs. In 1941 he married Marion Constance Blackton (daughter of the Vitagraph Comapny’s co-owner J. Stuart Blackton). On February 8, 1954 Laurence died leaving behind a large catalog of films, many of which have been lost in time.

Laurence was the pioneer of the dog star (and animal star) community. His legacy proved that humans weren’t the only stars people wanted to see in movies and paved the way for stars like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and even Benji.

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