Much has been said about the lifestyles of the rich and famous celebrities of Hollywood — the two-legged variety, that is. How much do you know about the earning power of the four-legged kind?
Determining the earning hierarchy of animal celebrities is complex, due to the length of acting career, royalty deals, and availability of data, but there can be no question that these seven command respect at the bank, as well as the box office.
Rin Tin Tin
Among the first big time animal stars was Rin Tin Tin. This box office bow wow was given a second chance at life when he was found on a World War I battlefield by a
n American soldier and adopted. He ended up starring in 27 films between 1922 and 1931. His salary was $6,000 per week, which works out to $93,500 when adjusted for inflation.
Unquestionably one of the most beloved of animal actors was Pal, who will forever be recognized as the first actor to portray Lassie. He almost missed his chance and was originally cast merely as a stunt double for the 1943 film Lassie Comes Home. Pal soon proved himself to be a much faster learner of the scenes, however, and before long Pal was recast as the leading role. Pal’s box office appeal soon commanded a whopping $4,000 per week (almost $55,000 in 2015 dollars). His legacy continued even after his death in 1958 at the age of 18. His son, Lassie Junior and grandson Spook and Baby worked on the Lassie television series. Ironically, all of these actors who portrayed the female character Lassie were male.
Rescued from a Burbank, California animal shelter, the mixed-breek miniature poodle/cocker spaniel/schnauzer named Higgins became famous in an untitled role on the television series Petticoat Junction, appearing in 149 episodes from 1964 to 1970. It was as the title role in the movie Benji, however, that Higgins became an international superstar. This canine sensation turned a $500,000-budget film into one that grossed $45 million. Higgins was no pup at the time; he came out of retirement to do the film at the age of 14 — roughly the equivalent of 72 years for a person. Higgins lived until just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday.
Born in 1933 the Cairn Terrier dog Terry starred in 16 movies throughout her 11-year life. It was only in the film The Wizard of Oz that she was named in the credits. It was that film, however, that immortalized this Chicago, Illinois native as Toto — Dorothy’s faithful companion. Terry earned $125 per week ($2,131.45 in 2015 dollars) during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. This made her one of the highest-paid actors in the movie. She continued to draw this salary for the two weeks she spent at Judy Garland’s residence, recuperating from a broken foot that occurred when one of the actors accidentally stepped on her. Her role in The Wizard of Oz became so identified with her that her name was legally changed to Toto in 1942.
This Jack Russell Terrier won the enduring role of Eddie in the television series Frasier after only six months of training. The training was not inspired by any motivation to enter into acting. Instead, it was out of an attempt to address some out-of-control behavior exhibited by the two-year-old Moose. Chasing cats, digging up his owners’ yard, incessant barking, and multiple escapes compelled Moose’s owners to seek help. When they determined that he was untrainable, they gave Moose to the manager of a company that trains animals for entertainment roles. She saw promise in this troubled pooch and was able to help him repent of his misbehaving past. It paid off. Not only did Moose earn the princely sum of $10,000 per episode of Frasier, but he received more fan mail than the other actors of the show. When he retired after the 7th season, his son Enzo took over the role of Eddie.
As every actor eventually learns, good looks alone are insufficient to guarantee success. True talent is essential, and it can even make an otherwise-unattractive actor into a box office sensation. No one understood that better than Mushu, a Pug Terrier who definitely did not have a pretty face going for him. Bought for “just a few hundred dollars” by his owner, Mushu earned that price countless times over. After having a relatively-minor role in Men in Black as Frank the Pug, Mushu was so popular with the fans that he had a central role in the sequel, Men in Black II — a film that went on to gross over $440 million. Mushu passed away before Men in Black 3 could be made, and his owner is silent about just how much earning power Mushu commanded, but she did admit, “To me, he’s priceless.”
The internet age has sparked a whole new line of canine celebrities. Leading the way is a Pomeranian named Boo. Dubbed as “The Cutest Dog in the World,” Boo has gained over 17 million fans on Facebook. This worldwide following prompted a book contract, and in 2011 Boo: The Life of the World’s Cutest Dog was published, eventually released in 10 languages. The book was so popular that it prompted a sequel, Boo: Little Dog in the Big City and a calendar and plans for additional cut-out books. Other marketing ventures include a life-like stuffed toy and serving as spokesdog for Virgin Airlines’ promotional material about how to travel with animals.