The Hollywood Hat: An Autographed Hat Holds the History of Early Hollywood
By Joe Biltman
“Can I have your autograph?”
The streets of Hollywood have teemed with autograph hunters for a century now. Brandishing an autograph book or scrap of paper, these collectors good-naturedly accost stars wherever they find them — on the street, in restaurants, at the supermarket, at gas stations, in elevators, in their cars when stopped at red lights, and even in restrooms.
Fans of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz will celebrate the dedication of a full size bronze memorial sculpture of Toto, Dorothy’s beloved dog on Saturday, June 18 at 11 a.m. at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd. To commemorate the event, following is a biography of Toto.
By Allan R. Ellenberger
The most indulged of all the spoiled lovelies of Hollywood during the Golden Age were the canine actors who worked in films. They had their own hotel—The Hollywood Dog Training School—where at one time, seventy-five of the best known dogs of the screen lived in tranquil comfort.
The school was set on a pleasant ten-acre site, covered with oaks and willows, near Laurel Canyon Boulevard five miles north of Hollywood. Three hundred feet back from the road stood a cream colored frame house and back of it were two kennels, each 150 feet long. It featured southern exposure, long runs to each kennel, a large grass playground, showers in each section, and several porcelain bathtubs with hot and cold water, an electric drier and a special kitchen where, every day, a tempting cauldron full of vegetable and beef bone soup was cooked for dinners of the distinguished boarders.
Carl Spitz with dogs from his training school
The dogs, like all other actors, employed a manager—the amiable Carl Spitz—who drove as hard a bargain for his clients as any other agent in Hollywood. The German-born Spitz first took up the work of schooling dogs in Heidelberg where his father and grandfather were dog trainers. Spitz trained dogs for military and police service in World War days. He saw Red Cross dogs search for dying men in no man’s land—and he devoted his life to educating man’s best friend.
Leaving Germany, Spitz arrived in New York in 1926, moved briefly to Chicago and soon found himself in Los Angeles, where, the following year he opened his first dog training school at 12239 Ventura Boulevard. Sometime around 1935 he moved the facilities one mile north to a ten-acre spot at 12350 Riverside Drive, where he remained for almost twenty years. “This is a school, where dogs go to classes just like children,” Spitz said. “We have grammar school, high school and college.
Above is the location of Carl Spitz’s first dog training school at 12239 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA
Advertisement for Spitz’s school at his new location on Riverside Drive
At first his services were for the public but soon the movies came calling. The transition to sound films required Spitz to drop his verbal commands and develop a series of soundless visual hand signals.
His first sound film was Big Boy (1930) starring Al Jolson in which he trained two Great Danes. This one was followed by the John Barrymore classic, Moby Dick (1930). It was too expensive for studios to create their own specially trained dogs so Spitz suddenly found himself in big demand.
Canine stars soon began to emerge such as Prince Carl, the Great Dane appearing in Wuthering Heights (1939). The first big dog star to appear from Spitz’s stable was Buck the Saint Bernard who co-starred with Clark Gable and Loretta Young in Call of the Wild (1935). Others included Musty (Swiss Family Robinson), Mr. Binkie (The Lights that Failed) and Promise (The Biscuit Eater). However, probably the best known dog star to emerge from the Spitz kennel that is known today is arguably Toto from The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Clark Gable with Buck in Call of the Wild (1935)
Toto, a purebred Cairn Terrier, was born in 1933 in Alta Dena, California. She soon was taken in by a married couple without children in nearby Pasadena—they named her Terry. It soon became apparent that Terry had a problem with wetting the rug, and her new owners had very little patience with her. It wasn’t long before they sought the services of Carl Spitz’s dog training school in the nearby San Fernando Valley. Spitz put her through the usual training and in a few weeks she was no longer watering the carpet.
However, by the time her training was completed, Terry’s owners were late on the kennel board. Spitz attempted to contact them but their telephone had been disconnected. With nothing else to do, Carl’s wife suggested that they keep her.
Terry sort of became the family pet until one day Clark Gable and Hedda Hopper stopped by the kennel for some publicity on Gable’s new film, Call of the Wild. One of Carl’s dogs, Buck the St. Bernard, had a large role in the film and Hedda wanted some photos of him with Gable. That day Terry made himself known to the Hollywood people and Carl took note and the next day took her to Fox Studios to audition for a part in the new Shirley Temple film, Bright Eyes (1934).
Jane Withers and Shirley Temple with Terry in Bright Eyes (1934)
Spitz put her through her paces—playing dead, leaping over a leash, barking on command—for the executives and was then presented to Shirley for the final say. Terry was placed next to a Pomeranian named Ching-Ching, who wasn’t part of the film but was Shirley’s own dog. Terry stood there for a moment, while Ching-Ching looked at her. Finally Terry rolled over, was sniffed and both dogs began running around Shirley’s dressing room. At last, Shirley picked up Terry and handed her to Spitz, grabbed her dog and skipped to the door. “She’s hired,” Shirley giggled as she left the room. Bright Eyes, which co-starred Jane Withers, would be Terry’s first film.
That same year Terry made another film, Ready for Love (1934) at Paramount. Next she appeared in The Dark Angel (1935) with Fredric March and Merle Oberon. Other films followed including Fury (1936) with Spencer Tracy; The Buccaneer (1938) for director Cecil B. DeMille and an uncredited part in Stablemates (1938) with Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney.
Franciska Gaal with Terry in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Buccaneer (1938)
One day it was announced that MGM was going to produce L. Frank Baum’s children classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” Spitz knew that Terry was a mirror-image for Dorothy’s dog, Toto based on sketches throughout the book. So he began teaching her all the tricks from the book, and sure enough, in two months, he received a call from MGM for an audition.
Spitz and Terry met with the producer, Mervyn LeRoy who had been inspecting an average of 100 dogs daily for the past week. “Here’s your dog, all up in the part,” Spitz said to LeRoy when he submitted Terry for scrutiny. Terry could already fight, chase a witch, sit up, speak, catch an apple thrown from a tree, and took an immediate liking to Judy Garland. Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley and the rest of the cast were accepted on first acquaintance with the dog. On November 1, 1938, Terry won the role of Toto without a test.
Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” to Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Terry received a weekly salary of $125, which was more than the studio paid the Munchkins. Before filming began, Terry spent two weeks living with Judy Garland, who fell in love with her and tried to buy her from Spitz. Of course he refused. Judy’s daughter, Lorna Luft, once said that her mother told them that the dog had the worst breath in the world. “It all made us laugh,” Luft said, “because the dog was constantly put in her face [with its] silly panting, and she did everything but wince because poor little Toto needed an Altoid.”
Terry did everything required of her, although she hesitated at being put in a basket and standing in front of the giant wind fans, simulating a tornado. One day they were filming on the Witches Castle set with dozens of costumed “Winkies” when one of them stepped on Terry’s paw. When she squealed everyone came running including Judy who called the front office and told them that Terry needed a rest. Until Terry returned a few days later, they utilized a stand-in for her.
The remainder of filming went smoothly for Terry and even though she appeared in approximately fifteen films, The Wizard of Oz was ultimately her best known. When the film was released, Terry appeared along with the cast at the premiere held at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She became so famous that her paw print brought top prices among autograph seekers. Soon she began making public appearances and became so popular, that Spitz officially changed her name to Toto.
Terry, now billed as Toto with Virginia Weidler in Bad Little Angel (1939)
That year was a busy one for Toto. Besides The Wizard of Oz, Toto also made a cameo appearance in MGM’s The Women (1939) starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford and had a larger role in Bad Little Angel with Virginia Weidler. The next few years had her appearing in Calling Philo Vance (1940), Twin Beds (1942), and Tortilla Flat (1942), again with Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield. Her final film was George Washington Slept Here (1942) starring Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan. That year Toto retired to Spitz’s huge facility on Riverside Drive until she died sometime in 1944. Even though several of Spitz’s dogs were interred at the Camarillo Pet Cemetery in Ventura, he chose to bury Toto on the school property.
Carl Spitz continued to train dogs. In 1938, he wrote a handbook, “Training your Dog,” which contained a foreword by Clark Gable. As far back as 1930 Spitz tried to get the Army to let him train dogs for war use. But nothing came of it. Finally in the summer of 1941 they took him up, in a limited way. Spitz agreed to furnish the Army fifty trained sentry dogs—at no cost. He delivered six, had twelve more under training, and already spent $1500 of his own money in the process.
Spitz trained the first platoon of war dogs installed in the continental United States just prior to World War II. He was an expert advisor to the War Department in Washington DC and helped formulate the now famous K-9 Corps for both the US Army and Marine Corps. He became prominent nationally as a dog obedience judge at dog shows. Carl Spitz died on September 15, 1976 and is buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.
Aerial view of the site of Spitz’s Hollywood Dog Training School on Riverside Drive. Toto was buried somewhere on this site.
Around 1958, the Ventura Freeway was being built through the San Fernando Valley and the route went through Spitz’s school, forcing him to relocate. Today the Hollywood Dog Training School is still in existence at 10805 Van Owen Street.
Sadly, not only did the freeway erase the school, but it also obliterated Toto’s grave.
It’s appropriate that Toto’s Memorial Marker is being installed at Hollywood Forever Cemetery this Saturday, June 18 at 11 a.m. Many of the people that worked with Toto are interred there including Victor Fleming, Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz, Tortilla Flat); Cecil B DeMille, Maude Fealy (The Buccaneer); Erville Anderson, Carl Stockdale, Franz Waxman (Fury); Arthur C. Miller (Bright Eyes); Sidney Franklin, Gregg Toldand (The Dark Angel); Ann Sheridan (George Washington Slept Here). She is in good company.
- Book/Film News , Hollywood Profiles | Tags: Buck, Call of the Wild, Carl Spitz, cecil b demille, Clark Gable, Franciska Gaal, Fredric March, Hedda Hopper, Hollywood Dog Training School, Jane Withers, Judy Garland, L Frank Baum, Loretta Young, Lorna Luft, Merle Oberon, Prince Carl, shirley temple, the wizard of oz, Toto, Ventura Freeway, victor fleming, Virginia Weidler
Margaret O’Brien: The MGM Years –
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Child stars have been an enigma since the first celluloid shadows flickered across the silver screen more than 100 years ago. From little Mary Pickford to Macauley Culkin, they have created images to adore and cherish. Unfortunately, in real life, some were more like the Bad Seed.
Many actors have dreaded working with child stars, if not for their precociousness then for their ability to steal scenes. The famous line attributed to W.C. Fields sums up the attitude of many actors: “Any man who hates small dogs and children can’t be all bad.”
Contempt for child actors did not only lie with actors. Producer Nunnally Johnson once claimed he would like to charge $500 for just looking at a talented child. “For talking to the same,” he added, “$50,000!” Ironically, Johnson’s grandson is a child actor who appeared as Will Robinson in the feature film Lost In Space (1998).
During the Thirties, Shirley Temple was the most popular child star. In the Forties, a new crop of youngsters popped up to challenge the young moppet, including Virginia Weidler, Bonita Granville, and Jackie “Butch” Jenkins. But the one who was arguably the most talented of all the child stars of her day—or since—was Margaret O’Brien.
O’Brien was voted one of the Top Ten Box Office Stars two years in a row. The National Board of Review twice named her as Best Actress, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed upon her their Most Outstanding Child Actress Award. These honors and countless others were given to Margaret O’Brien—all before the age of ten.
Margaret did not have the precociousness of Shirley Temple or the impishness of Jane Withers, but she possessed something that many adult actors desperately lacked—she had talent!
I first met Margaret O’Brien seventeen years ago when a mutual friend, MTV film star Randal Malone, made the initial introduction. At the time, I was researching my biography on silent screen star Ramon Novarro, who worked with Margaret in Heller In Pink Tights (1960). Margaret was gracious enough to relate her experiences with the former Latin lover and from that grew a series of interviews for another book, this one on Margaret’s film career, Margaret O’Brien: A Career Chronicle and Biography (McFarland, 2000). Today is Margaret’s 74th birthday and to celebrate, the following interview is the first part from our numerous meetings about her MGM films and the legendary people she has met.
AE: You’ve been in show business for almost 70 years now. How did you get started?
Margaret O’Brien: My mother had taken me to photographer Paul Hesse, who used some of my pictures on magazine covers. From those pictures, I got an audition at MGM for a very small role in Babes On Broadway (1941). At the audition I used the phrase, “Don’t send my brother to the chair. Don’t let him fry.” You see, I had an uncle who had got into some problems—my mother’s brother—and she had to go down to the court house and try to get him off. So my mother prompted me to say to the lawyers, “Please don’t send my uncle to the chair.” So, I used that line when I auditioned for Babes on Broadway, and they used it in the film. And it was that line that later got me the part in Journey For Margaret.
AE: And “Journey For Margaret” (1942) was the part that brought you to everyone’s attention.
Margaret O’Brien: Yes, I wanted that film so bad because I really felt I was that child. My name was not Margaret at the time. It was Angela. But I really became Margaret, and when I got that part, I had my named legally changed to Margaret. I was also able to cry easily, and the film called for a heavy crying scene. That also helped me get the part.
AE: You worked with the late Robert Young in “Journey For Margaret” and “The Canterville Ghost” (1944). What was he like?
Margaret O’Brien: When I first met Robert Young, we became very close, and we have stayed friends through the years. In fact, I felt if I ever wanted to be adopted, I’d like to be adopted by Robert Young. I just felt at home with everyone I worked with in the movie.
AE: In the movie you always carried around an empty incendiary bomb casing.
Margaret O’Brien: Yes, that sort of became my toy. It was like a doll to me. But afterwards when the movie was finished they took it away because they thought it was best that I didn’t go to sleep with a bomb at night.
AE: You worked with the legendary Lionel Barrymore in “Dr. Gillespie’s Criminal Case” (1943) and “Three Wise Fools” (1946). What was he like?
Margaret O’Brien: He became the grandfather that I never had because I never knew my real grandfather. Lionel Barrymore and I became very close, and he would make me rag dolls. He was very respectful of me and treated me as an actress. I became very fascinated with the Barrymore family, and Lionel would tell me stories of his family’s life in the theater. At the wrap party for Three Wise Fools, Lionel gave me his mother’s pin that had been worn by all the Drew women on opening night. He had been looking for someone to give this pin to, which he called one of the crown jewels of the theater. So, he gave it to me. It was a great honor.
AE: He comes across as a little crotchety sometimes in his films. Was he really that way?
Margaret O’Brien: He’d pretend to be sometimes, but he wasn’t at all. Not at all. All you’d have to do is get a sad look, and he’d try to do something for you.
AE: You worked with some very talented directors in your career. There was George Sidney in “Thousands Cheer” (1943).
Margaret O’Brien: I think George Sidney was one of our finest directors. He directed some wonderful musicals. And I only regret that I wasn’t able to do more pictures with him. And then Joe Pasternack produced Thousands Cheer and several other of my films. Joe was very overwhelming. He was Russian, and I always wanted to make sure I wouldn’t make a mistake because I was afraid he’d get mad at me or something. But he was really—all in all—very nice and very sweet. I would see him on the lot all the time, so I was very familiar with him.
AE: Roy Rowland directed you in three pictures. What was he like?
Margaret O’Brien: Roy Rowland and his wife became like a part of our family. And his son, Steve, acted in some of my movies. Roy was a very nice and gentle type director who would lead you to what he wanted you to do. He never yelled or screamed so I felt very at home and comfortable.
AE: Roy Rowland directed you in the film “Lost Angel” (1944), that was written specially for you after your success in “Journey For Margaret.” What are your memories of making this film?
Margaret O’Brien: On Lost Angel, I had a big crush on James Craig. I was always following him around. I thought he was so handsome. And then I’d get jealous when he had scenes with Marsha Hunt, because I thought she was taking away my boyfriend. But Marsha was very nice and very understanding. She knew I had a crush on James Craig. And then I worked with Bobby Blake on the film. I also had a little secret crush on him, except he had to be mean to me in the scenes. But it was fun because I got to push him down during a fight.
AE: In 1944 MGM loaned you out to 20th Century -Fox to do “Jane Eyre” (1944) with the legendary Orson Welles. What was that like?
Margaret O’Brien: I loved wearing the costumes in that film because I would usually get the poor bedraggled costumes, and this was one time that I got to be dressed up and wear the wig with the curls. Also, on all my movies I never wore make-up, but on this one they put a little pancake make-up on me. I thought that was the greatest. Of course, I loved wandering through the sets. I was always fascinated, even as a child, by antiques and ancient times. I always felt I should have been born in the 17th or 18th century. They really had a big stone castle with authentic furniture.
AE:- What was Orson Welles like?
Margaret O’Brien: Orson Welles was very tall—I always thought of him as a very big gentleman that could just envelope you. Orson in his big capes always reminded me of a foreboding figure—but he wasn’t actually. I had seen Wuthering Heights, and he kind of reminded me of that.
AE: Did he work well with children?
Margaret O’Brien: He was nice, but he was a little more distant. There were no complaints. The only thing with Orson was that he would take about a hundred takes for one line, and that got real boring to me because I’d have to sit there. I was used to working through a scene. But there were times when he wanted a lot of takes even if I was just saying, “Hello, Mr. Rochester.”
AE: Was that his idea or the directors?
Margaret O’Brien: A lot of it was his because sometimes he would mumble, and they had to get the clarity and it would take some time, and that’s why they would take a lot of takes. So that part was very boring to me, and I would tire out. I’d like to get in the mood and get going and that would stop the momentum.
AE: How many hours were you allowed to work a day?
Margaret O’Brien: I had to be on the set at 9 o’clock. Then I had three hours of school during the time they were lighting the set. We were always busy. Then we would stop at 6 o’clock.
AE: When you had a break in filming, did you go back to school or could you play?
Margaret O’Brien: We’d go right to school, then we’d go back and do the scene again. Once we were finished with school, then we could play. You had to have a lot of concentration because you’d have to break right out of a scene and go concentrate on something totally different, which we all seemed to be capable of doing.
AE: Not many people are aware that you did a war-time short with James Cagney called “You, John Jones” (1943).
Margaret O’Brien: James Cagney was wonderful. He was very warm and understanding. You, John Jones was my mother’s favorite. I think she felt my acting was the best in that one, especially the scene where I’m in the concentration camp.
AE: Yes, weren’t audiences concerned about you because they really thought you were shell-shocked?
Margaret O’Brien: Yes, Mervyn LeRoy, who directed You, John Jones, was the one who really got me to look like I was shell shocked. It wasn’t easy to get a child to play a realistic death scene like that.
AE: During World War II, you volunteered your time to entertain the soldiers and help raise money for the war effort.
Margaret O’Brien: Yes, You, John Jones was where I first did the Gettysburg Address. I used it in a lot of things during the war when I made public appearances before the soldiers, especially at the Hollywood Canteen. That film brought such a realistic feeling to me about the war that I wanted to help in the effort. I really felt for some of those children just as I had learned to feel about the war orphans during Journey for Margaret. The war was something real to me.
On Monday in PART TWO you can read about Margaret’s experiences with Charles Laughton, Judy Garland and Wallace Beery
- Book/Film News , Interviews , Margaret O'Brien | Tags: George Sidney, James Cagney, James Craig, Jane Eyre, Joe Pasternack, John Jones, Journey For Margaret, Lionel Barrymore, Lost Angel, Margaret O'Brien, Marsha Hunt, Mervyn Le Roy, Orson Welles, Paul Hesse, Ramon Novarro, randal malone, Robert Blake, Robert Young, Roy Rowland, shirley temple, You
Shirley Temple Black Breaks Arm
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) — Shirley Temple Black quietly celebrated her 80th birthday this week after breaking her arm in a fall at her suburban San Francisco home.
Rick Ross, her Los Angeles-based attorney, says the former child star is doing fine. She turned 80 on Wednesday.
Black was the top box-office draw in the U.S. from 1935 to 1938. Her best-known films include Curly Top and Little Miss Marker.
After retiring from the big screen, she held a number of diplomatic posts, including U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
Black lives in the San Francisco suburb of Woodside.