For National Dog Day on 26 August, we're showcasing Caesar the acting Alsatian from Belko, Western Australia. We recently acquired a lobby card and poster featuring Caesar.
Eighty years before Red Dog (2011), Caesar made it big in the movies, acting opposite Hollywood legends like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and the Marx Brothers.
Caesar's owner, Bert Tonks, noticed the dog's intelligence and trained him. Film (now lost) of Caesar performing tricks was taken by pioneering Western Australian documentary-maker Fred Murphy. It was shown at the Grand Theatre Perth prior to the pair travelling to America where Tonks was to study oil refining methods near Hollywood.
Caesar's salad days
Hollywood producers were attracted to Caesar's ability to follow signed commands, a necessary skill with the advent of ‘talkies’. He appeared in a number of films such as Susan Lennox (1931) with Clark Gable and Greta Garbo and Horse Feathers (1932) with the Marx Brothers.
In Trailing the Killer (AKA Call of the Wilderness, 1932), directed by Herman C Raymaker of Rin Tin Tin fame, Caesar plays Lobo, a dog wrongly accused of killing his master. After avoiding pursuit and several adventures Lobo tracks down the true killer (a mountain lion) and proves his innocence.
Filming of this semi-documentary wilderness film took 12 months and Tonks recalls that in one scene, with a rattlesnake, he signed commands to Caesar from 50 feet away. Following the release of the film, Caesar was hailed as the successor of Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, popular dog stars of the silent era.