The Cairn Terrier in Hollywood

Movies and television have featured animal actors for close to a century now. Moviegoers and television programming fans alike respond to animals in roles in their favorite movies. Equines, felines, and even one special killer wale have made it into our hearts and homes via the big and small screen, but no animal has made such an impact on Hollywood as the dog. The Cairn Terrier in particular has been used for many roles, including one that has often resulted in its canine actor being referred to as the most famous dog in the world.

That role was the role of Toto in the Wizard of Oz, released in the 1930s. Toto was played by Terry, the Cairn Terrier and acted opposite the infamous Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy. Though both had acted before, Garland and Terry were both skyrocketed to fame because of the film. Though Terry was handled by her owner (and, coincidentally, rescuer) Carl Spitz, she spent a good portion of the shooting schedule actually living with Garland. This living arrangement was used so that Terry and Garland could have adequate time to bond, and so that their affection for one another would be translated efficiently in the film.

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In the 1930s, budgeting for movies was far different from what it is today, even taking inflation into consideration. For the time in which the film was produced, Terry and her owner’s pay for the week was more than double that of what the extras playing the Munchkins made!

While The Wizard of Oz was undoubtedly Terry and Carl Spitz’s largest and most famous role, it was not the first or the last film she appeared in! Several years prior to filming The Wizard of Oz, Terry made her debut in Bright Eyes, starring Shirley Temple. Besides Bright Eyes and The Wizard of Oz, Terry appeared in over a dozen other movies during her lifetime. After she passed away in the mid-1940s, her biography “I, Toto” was released to the public. While already famous, this biography solidified her role in Hollywood history even moreso.

Though Terry the Cairn Terrier is obviously the most famous Cairn Terrier actor in history, many other movies have featured the breed. Unfortunately, Hollywood has only recently taken to acknowledging these canine actors in the credits or billing of movies or television programs. In the past, the trainer and/or handler were the only ones to receive mention or credit for the films these dogs starred in.

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The height of the Cairn Terrier’s popularity on the silver and small screen was in the late 1930s through the 1940s, due in no small part to Terry’s role as Toto in The Wizard of Oz. However, using Cairn Terriers as a chosen breed for canine acting has experienced a resurgence of popularity since the 1990s, with the dogs appearing as featured roles in nearly ten different films.

The most well-known small screen role for a Cairn Terrier would undoubtedly have to be the canine actor “Fred”, a Cairn Terrier who portrayed the character of Lucy Ricardo’s pet in several seasons of I Love Lucy.


by John P Jackson