The Barking 20’s
The “Roaring 20’s” was a period in the USA’s history where the economy was booming more than it had ever in the history of the USA and quite possibly of the world. “The Great War” was over and Europe was on the road to recovery while the USA was isolated enough from the war that it was able to continue on with the new advances the war brought. With good times, people want to be entertained and this decade “moving pictures” really took off. Films were no longer short films (10-20 minutes) but actual films (60+ minutes) and a new form of moving picture called a “talkie” (movie with sound) was emerging thus solidifying the moving picture’s place in modern society.
Jean proved that dogs could gather crowds to go see movies. Strongheart proved that dogs could not only be an action hero but the star of the film deserving of “above title” billing (name above the film’s title in the credits). Rin Tin Tin proved that Jean and Strongheart were not just a fluke nor was their success solely responsible to Laurence Trimble and Vitagraph. It didn’t take long for other companies to try to cash in on the pioneering trio’s success. Hence, “The Barking 20’s” was born.
Above is a picture of MGM’s “Flash” with Johnny Mach Brown (holding a rooster). Unfortunately I cannot find a film where the two starred together but flash was in 9 films (including 4 shorts) staring in 1925’s “His Master’s Voice” as a puppy and then “Shadows of the Night” (1928), “Honeymoon” (1928), “The Flaming Signal” (1933), “Crack-Up” (short – 1934), “Death Fangs” (short – 1934), “Wild Waters” (short – 1935), “Timberesque” (short – 1935), and finally in “Call of the Mesquiteers” (1938). Not much is known about Flash (who his owner was, birth date, death date etc.) but he did have a long lasting career.
To the right is another star from MGM, even though he had a short career of only 3 films, was Napoleon. Like MGM’s other dog actor, nor much is known about Napoleon other than he was in 3 films with MGM, “Peacock Alley” (1922), “The Silent Hero” (1927), and “The Thirteenth Hour” (1927).
To the left we have Dynamite. This stunning yet very classic (even for 1920s when the breed was only 20-30 years old) German Shepherd looking dog did his acting for Universal Studios. They dubbed him “The Dog Star King” and he was in 6 films with Universal. “Wolf’s Trail” (1927), “Fangs of Destiny” (1927), “The Call of the Heart” (1928), “The Four-Footed Ranger” (1928), “The Hound of Silver Creek” (1928), and “The Indians are Coming” (1930). It is believed that Dynamite’s success helped save Universal from bankruptcy much like Rin Tin Tin saved Warner Brothers from a similar fate.
Another dog star out of the 1920’s was Peter the Great (pictured to the right) who, like Strongheart, was a former German police dog who required a lot of training before his public debut. Peter the Great also worked for MGM and was in 6 films. “Little Red Riding Hood” (short – 1922), “Aggravatin’ Papa” (short – 1924), “The Silent Accuser” (1924 as a police dog), “Wild Justice” (1925), “The Sign of the Claw” (1926), and “King of the Pack” (1926). Sadly, after filming for his final film ended Peter the Great was shot and killed on June 10, 1926 in a possible alcohol related dispute between his owner and another dog fancier. Peter’s owner was later awarded by a jury $100,000 plus $25,000 in punitive damages (a record at the time for killing a dog – the owner initially asked for $250,000). Unfortunately in 1931 another jury ruled that “no dog can be considered in the same category as a human” and declared the 1927 ruling “grossly excessive”.
These dogs’ success stories continued the momentum set up by Jean, Strongheart, and Rin Tin Tin that we still see today with the amount of animal films in our theaters. It is also believed that the German Shepherd’s popularity in the USA can also be partially credited to the fact that most of the pioneer dog stars were all German Shepherds (with the exception of Jean who was a border collie).