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Famous and Infamous Animals In the Movies

Updated on December 27, 2013
A Norway Lemming.
A Norway Lemming. | Source

Animal Stars

Many animals have been used in the cinima since the first black and white silent films began, but they reached a star quality in the "talkies", sometimes becoming more popular than their human costars.

In the 21st Century, greater measures are taken to protect animals from harm in the making of films and television episodes, while he exploits of the first animals on film were sometimes inhumane and brutal. Sometimes, these portrayals were erroneous and led to Urban Legends, as depicted in one of the descriptions below.

While it is not workable to feature all animal stars in a single Hub, we;ll look at a few here. Hopefully, they will being back some fond memories for some readers and give a first-time look to other generations. I hope other Hubbers will fill in the history with Hubs featuring some of the other animal stars of yesterday and today.

Francis the Talking Mule

I have only seen a segment of one of the Francis the Talking Mule series of films that debuted after World War II, but I have talked with some folks that have seen them all and can provide a little information here. One thing I learned is that the animal starred in a series of comic books as well as films. Most of the films centered on US military life at the end of WWII and afterward.

Francis was the actual star of these films, with humans as sidekicks, except perhaps for the last production.

  1. FRANCIS (1949 - 1950) - This is all a little like Mr. Ed! On a WWII mission behind enemy lines in a part of Asia, soldier Peter (Donald O'Connor) is rescued by a talking mule named Francis.
  2. FRANCIS GOES TO THE RACES (1951)- Peter takes Francis home to a horse breeding form with him when his US Army service is over. Francis finds a long lost relative among the horses and saves the farm from bankruptcy.
  3. FRANCIS GOES TO WEST POINT (1952) - Peter goes to West Point, and stops radical saboteurs from destroying a nuclear plant with the help of Francis.
  4. FRANCIS COVERS THE BIG TOWN (1953) - Peter becomes a newsman, but Francis comes up with the stories.
  5. FRANCIS JOINS THE WACs (1954)- Peter returns to the military in the Women's Army Corps by mistake! HE takes Francis, of course.
  6. FRANCIS IN THE NAVY (1955) - Peter and Francis join the US Navy. Clint Eastwood is also in this one.
  7. FRANCIS IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1956) - Francis makes some new friends in Mickey Rooney (David Prescott) and some other stars. This is in the same league as Dracula Meets Abbot and Costello or the Three Stooges (I think he may have met both.). A different man voices the mule in this film from the first six (done by Chill Wills) and no additional films were made in the series.

The Lemming, an Artic Animal Star

  • White Wilderness
  • Water Birds
  • Beaver Valley
  • Prowlers of the Everglades
  • Mysteries of the Deep
  • Wonders of the Water Worlds
  • The Crisler Story

...The Real Lemmings

The Walt Disney company created a documentary film in 1958 called White Wilderness. Int he 1960s, the film was rebroadcast on the Wonderful World of Disney Sunday night television show on ABC.

Filmed in the Province of Alberta, Canada; the location had no lemmings and no sea.

The lemmings, which are in fact, Artic animals, were brought in by the Disney crews from elsewhere, probably Inuits in the farther North. Staged migration scenes were filmed with a few dozen animals and then they were shipped to a river, where they were herded over a cliff whiel cameras rolled.

In this partially accurate documentary, the Disney film crew provoked or persuaded a large group of lemmings to run off a cliff into the sea, staging what looked like a mass suicide that controlled population growth each year. The truth is that, during times when operpopulation depletes local recources, lemmings migrate as other animals and humans do and some of the lemmings fall off cliffs or drown in bodies of water. Some animals die on the journey of migration of any species every year. The film crew needed it to happen on demand, perhaps to save time and to create amore powerful impact on viewers.

Learn more at the coverage of this fable and a university page on the animal and its habits.

An early naturalist's sketches of Norway Lemmings. They are pretty cute.
An early naturalist's sketches of Norway Lemmings. They are pretty cute. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
One of the chimps who likely portrayed Cheeta.
One of the chimps who likely portrayed Cheeta.
One of the chimps who likely portrayed Cheeta. | Source

Cheeta the Chimpanzee

Cheeta the chimpanzee may come to mind first as an animal film star, especially to those that have enjoyed Tarzan films of the 1930s. Sidekick animal stars like Cheetah may have provided and added impetus to the Disney company's use of animal companions in many of their children's films.

The first chimp to play Cheeta was Jiggs, who was followed by a long line of other chimpanzees. However, one website maintains that the original Cheeta played in all Tarzan films (see link below) and is still alive today - doing art projects and seeking a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Horse Golden Cloud

This name sounds like a Native American pony, doesn't it? Instead, it belongs to a Golden Palomino that you might recognize and can likely still see today.

This famous horse lived from 1938 - 1965 and was then mounted (via professional taxidermy) and placed into a large glass showcase by his owner.

Golden Cloud first appeared in film The Adventures of Robin Hood, but became famous for his acting in Under Western Stars back in 1938. He became known as perhaps the smartest horse in film. He was chosen personally by Roy Rogers to become his Trigger in 1938. Rogers, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio; purchased the horse for about $2,500 in those days and was never sorry he did. He and his wife, Dale Evans, even when they came out onto the stage in wheelchairs on TV to sing and talk on TBN telecasts in their last years, they spoke of Trigger.

Unfortunately, the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum moved from their home to Branson, Missouri and then closed in December, 2009. However, you can still visit the website at the link. Check out Memory Lane for pictures of Trigger and look at links for Roy Rogers Jr. and his career.

Terry the Cairn Terrier (1933 - 1944)

Terry acted some time before any of the Lassies began to act. Terry first appeared on screen in 1934 in Ready to Love and with Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes.

She continued to act, but all always be most rememberd for her role as Toto in MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939). She reportedly earned over $100 per week and out-earend several human actors on the project. In her 11-year life, she made 13 movies.


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    • celebritie profile image

      celebritie 6 years ago

      Animal stars are so cool.

    • Moulik Mistry profile image

      Moulik Mistry 8 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

      Great hub - very interesting and informative...

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Great hub on these celebrity animals.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 8 years ago from Great Britain

      Great stuff!! as always , Patty. x

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thansk for all the new comments!

      I think you're all right, that Mr. Ed must have directly coppied Francis, coz I can't find any other explantation so far :) The two series and characters are too similar for the similarity to be conicidence. I'll keep looking! Thanks again.

      Yes, poor lemmings!

    • ChristyJC profile image

      ChristyJC 8 years ago from Texas

      Very nice! It was really neat to see all of these celebrities! Bravo! :)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I reember some of the Francis movies, I think with Donald O'Conner. I always thought that Mr Ed was an imitation of it.

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 8 years ago from Florida

      I feel bad for the poor lemmings, ripped from their homes, forced march, suicide mission. Sounds like a military engagement and they are so cute.

      Wonderful Hub. I remember all of these animals as I was born in '61. I had no idea of the history!

    • Beth100 profile image

      Beth100 8 years ago from Canada

      Interesting animal celebraties! I remember watching a few of these, and can still remember the lemming show. If they wanted to leave an impact, it certainly did for me!! Thank you for listing these talented celebraties!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for all the comments -

      caretakerray - I'll look up more soon, especially to see which led to cartoons - Betty Boop started out as a cartoon dog, for instance.

      The comparison of the older Francis series with the newer Mr. Ed series with emphasis on younger readers' esperiences is a literary device proper for the popular genre; it would be disallowed in a scholarly article, which would be longer and have references, footnotes, etc. I'm sorry now I did not do one - it would be more interesting perhaps! :)

    • profile image

      caretakerray 8 years ago

      Patty Inglish, MS:

      Awesome hub Patty. I have always enjoyed animal stars but never knew much about the animals themselves. Thanx for the education, :)

      By the by Mr. Ed is like Francis, not the other way around.


    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      The first celebrity animal comes to my mind is "Mr. Ed' the talking horse...Great Hub!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for this bunch of great comments!

      Sabreblade - I wonder the same thing, now that you mention it. I'll look around and see what I find.

      Jyoti Kothari - I just used to watch a bunch of old movies on Saturday afternoons when I was a teenager, and read a lot! (still do)

      dingdong! - I hope other Hubbers write about some other animal stars as well. Thanks fo rasking the question. :)

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 8 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi Patty,

      Where from do you collect all these? Awesome!

      Thanks and thumbs up!

      Jyoti Kothari

    • dingdong profile image

      dingdong 8 years ago from South India

      Nicely done. Thanks for answering my request :)

    • sabrebIade profile image

      sabrebIade 8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wow...I hadn't though about Francis the Talking Mule in ages! It's hard to believe she "co-starred" with Donald O'Connor.

      I wonder if that's where they got the idea for Mr Ed?

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      Lovely hub about all these famous animals. Thank you.