December 12, 1957|
Los Angeles, California,
|Died||November 11, 1975
Los Angeles, California,
|Notable role||Dog in Petticoat Junction
Benji in Benji
Higgins (December 12, 1957 – November 11, 1975) was one of the best-known dog actors of the 1960s – 1970s. Most people remember him either as "Dog" or as "Benji," two of the most popular roles he played during a 14-year career in show business.
The animal trainer Frank Inn found the famous canine at the Burbank Animal Shelter as a puppy. A fluffy black-and-tan mixed breed dog, he was marked like a Border Terrier and Inn believed him to be a mix of Miniature Poodle, Cocker Spaniel, and Schnauzer.
Higgins's career was facilitated by Frank Inn, who also trained Arnold Ziffel (the pig) and all the other animals used on the Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres sitcoms. His on-set assistant trainers included Gerry Warshauer and Karl Miller.
As an actor, he first came to national attention as the uncredited dog who played the character of "Dog" in the television sitcom Petticoat Junction for six of the show's seven seasons, from 1964 to 1970 appearing in 163 episodes. He guest-appeared on the television sitcom Green Acres with Eva Gabor in 1965 and also made a guest appearance on the television sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. He won a Patsy Award in 1967 and he was cover-featured on an issue of TV Guide magazine.
Higgins had an extraordinary ability to convey a broad range of emotions through his facial expressions. Inn, who trained thousands of animals of all species during his lifetime, told reporters that Higgins was the smartest dog he had ever worked with, and noted that during his prime years in television, he learned one new trick or routine per week, and that he retained these routines from year to year, making it possible for him to take on increasingly varied and complex roles. Higgins's special tricks included climbing ladders, opening a mailbox and removing a letter, yawning, and sneezing on cue.
In 1971, Higgins starred in the film Mooch Goes to Hollywood with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Vincent Price. He came out from retirement at an estimated age of 14 to star in the 1974 feature film Benji, which was his greatest commercial success.
Higgins had a close rapport with the actor Edgar Buchanan, who played Uncle Joe Carson on Petticoat Junction. In the official cast pictures taken each year during the run of Petticoat Junction, it is Buchanan who is shown holding or petting Higgins. Buchanan guest-starred on 17 episodes of the sitcom Green Acres, and it was in one of these appearances that Higgins guest-starred as well. Buchanan's last film was Benji, which was also the last film that Higgins made. The two actors had an obvious fondness for one another, which is especially clear in Benji, because the movie's naturalistic pacing allowed them to interact as friends rather than requiring that Higgins perform a specific trick for Buchanan to react to.
Frank Inn and Higgins were very close in real life as well as on the job. Inn even wrote a poem about Higgins called My Little Brown Dog.
Higgins's progeny carried on his work in a continuing series of movies and television series featuring the Benji character, beginning with For the Love of Benji in 1977, which starred his daughter Benjean.
Benjean, who was also trained by Frank Inn, starred in more Benji movies than Higgins did because she was younger when she first took on the role. Benjean can be differentiated from Higgins by the fact that she was a female with no visible genitalia, and she had a large patch of white hairs on her muzzle around her nose, whereas Higgins was mostly black around his nose. In addition, Higgins’ bark was a deep, froggy sound, while Benjean had a higher pitched, more traditional sounding yelp. This is readily apparent when comparing Benji and For the Love of Benji.
Confusion between the two animals was increased when various editions of the first Benji movie were released with pictures of Benjean on the cover.
When Higgins died at the age of 17, Inn had the dog's body cremated and saved the ashes in an urn on his mantelpiece. He then wrote a sweetly sentimental Christian poem in memory of Higgins called My Gift to Jesus. Inn died in 2002, and according his request, Higgins's ashes were buried in his coffin with him.
- "On stage at the Patsy Awards - Sunday May 7, 1967" (Retrieved Nov. 27. 2007.)
- "Season 2 Cast Photo, 1964-1965"(Retrieved Nov. 27. 2007.)
- "Season 3 Cast Photo, 1965-1966"(Retrieved Nov. 27. 2007.)
- "Season 5 Cast Photo, 1967-1968"(Retrieved Nov. 27. 2007.)
- My Little Brown Dog by Frank Inn at the Hooterville Petticoat Junction fan site
- My Gift to Jesus by Frank Inn at the Hooterville Petticoat Junction fan site
- "Frank Inn, Who Trained Lassie and Benji, Is Dead at 86" by Douglas Martin, New York Times newspaper, August 4, 2002