Skippy portraying "Asta" in
After the Thin Man (1936)
|Species||Canis lupus familiaris|
|Breed||Wire Fox Terrier|
|Notable role||Asta in The Thin Man
Mr. Smith in The Awful Truth
George in Bringing Up Baby
Mr. Atlas in Topper Takes a Trip
|Owner||Henry East and Gale Henry|
Skippy aka Asta (born 1931 or 1932; retired 1939) was a Wire Fox Terrier dog actor who appeared in dozens of movies during the 1930s.
Skippy is best known for the role of the pet dog "Asta" in the 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Skippy's name was changed to Asta after the first Thin Man film was released and he was listed under the name Asta in the Thin Man sequels he appeared in.
In 1936, Skippy and several other movie dogs were profiled in the book Dog Stars of Hollywood by Gertrude Orr. At the time Skippy was said to be four and a half years old, giving him a birth year of 1931–32. He was said to be one of the most intelligent of animal stars then working in pictures. In addition to verbal commands, he also worked to hand cues, essential for a dog performing in sound films. According to Orr, his training began when he was three months old, and he made his first professional film appearances at the age of one year, in 1932–1933, as a bit player providing "atmosphere." In Orr's book Skippy was shown in a series of photo stills from otherwise unidentified 20th Century Fox films starring Mae Clarke and Mary Carlisle, as well as publicity shots with Wendy Barrie from It's a Small World and Myrna Loy from The Thin Man.
Skippy also made a hit as "Mr. Smith" in the 1937 film The Awful Truth, where his character was the subject of a custody dispute between characters portrayed by Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. (In an interesting gaffe, at one point when Cary Grant wrestles and plays with "Mr. Smith," he can be heard distinctly calling him "Skippy.")
The American Magazine detailed Skippy's professional life in an August 1938 profile of the East kennels, titled "A Dog's Life in Hollywood":
- Movie actresses stroke Skippy lovingly. They coo at him and murmur endearing terms in his ears. He takes it all in his stride, because, what with contracts, options, and exacting work before the movie cameras, he hasn't much time for the attentions of Hollywood's most beautiful stars. But if he's paid for it and given the proper cue he will snuggle in the arms of the loveliest of stars, gaze into her limpid eyes, and, if necessary—howl.
- Skippy, a smart little wire-haired terrier, is one of the leading stars in pictures. He leads a glamorous life—a dog's life de luxe. He is rated as one of the smartest dogs in the world, and when contracts are signed for his appearance in a picture he gets $200 a week for putting his paw-print on the dotted line. His trainer gets a mere $60.
- His owner is Mrs. Gale Henry East, once a prominent movie comedienne. ... "When Skippy has to drink water in a scene, the first time he does it he really drinks. If there are retakes and he's had all the water he can drink, he'll go through the scene just as enthusiastically as though his throat were parched, but he'll fake it. If you watch closely you'll see he's just going through the motions of lapping and isn't really picking up water at all. And, because he has a sense of humor, he loves it when you laugh and tell him you've caught him faking but that it's all right with you.
- "Treat a dog kindly and he'll do anything in the world for you."
At a time when most canine actors in Hollywood films earned $3.50 a day, Skippy's weekly salary was $250.00.
The Thin Man
As a character in the movie The Thin Man, Asta was the playful pet dog of Nick and Nora Charles, tugging them around town on his walks, hiding from danger, and sniffing out corpses. ("Asta, you're not a terrier, you're a police dog," Nick tells him.) The character later appeared in the sequels After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Song of the Thin Man, as well as the 1950s television show The Thin Man.
The original character of Asta in Dashiell Hammett's book of The Thin Man was not a male Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, but a female Schnauzer. Due to the enormous popularity of the Asta character as played by Skippy, interest in pet terriers skyrocketed. Asta's enduring fame is such that the name is a frequent answer in The New York Times crossword puzzles (crosswordese), in response to clues such as "Thin Man dog" or "Dog star."
Although Skippy played Asta in the first two Thin Man films, other terriers, trained by the Weatherwax family and by Frank Inn, took on the role in subsequent films of the series, and in the television show.
Films starring Skippy
- The Thin Man (1934) as Asta (credited as Asta)
- The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935) (uncredited)
- The Lottery Lover (1935) as Pom Pom, A Dog (credited as Skippy)
- It's a Small World (1935)
- The Daring Young Man (a.k.a. Man Proposes, 1935)
- After the Thin Man (1936) as Asta (credited as Asta)
- Sea Racketeers (1937) as Skipper (credited as Skippy)
- The Awful Truth (1937) as Mr. Smith (uncredited)
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) as George, The Dog (credited as Asta)
- I Am the Law (1938) as Habeas (credited as Asta)
- Topper Takes a Trip (1939) as Mr. Atlas (credited as Skippy)
Later films starring Skippy lookalikes as Asta
- Another Thin Man (1939)
- I'm Still Alive (1940) uncredited, but called "Skippy" at 12:30 into the film
- Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
- The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)
- Song of the Thin Man (1947)
- The Thin Man TV series (1950s)
Other films possibly starring Skippy
- Fog Over Frisco (1934) as Ragzy (uncredited)
- I Love Asta - The Official Fan Site of Asta the Dog - All About Asta
- Orr, Gertrude (1936). Dog Stars of Hollywood. Akron, Ohio: The Saalfield Publishing Company. OCLC 14234925.
- Griswold, J.B., "A Dog's Life in Hollywood"; The American Magazine, August 1938, pp. 16 and 62
- Turner Classic Movies web site, accessed December 19, 2008.
- Famous Movie Dogs at the Internet Movie Database
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