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How Rin Tin Tin Ruined Any Oscar Shot for 'The Artist's' Jack Russell

3:27 PM PST 11/11/2011 by Gregg Kilday
Courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

Uggie, the silent film's scene-stealing canine, could have been a top contender at the Academy Awards.

The Academy doesn't give Oscars to four-legged performers, but if it did, then Uggie, the 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier who faithfully tags along with Jean Dujardin's silent screen star in The Artist, would be a major contender.

Uggie is the latest in a long line of dogs that have been real scene-stealers, from Rin Tin Tin to Lassie and Nick and Nora Charles' Asta in the Thin Man series right through to Snowy, the CG-animated mutt in The Adventures of Tintin.

But that's exactly why there are no Oscars for pooches. In her new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Susan Orlean writes that in the first year Oscars were awarded, "according to Hollywood legend, Rinty received the most votes for best actor. But members of the Academy, anxious to establish the awards were serious and important, decided that giving an Oscar to a dog did not serve that end."

But don't tell that to Uggie, a natural performer. Trainer Omar von Muller, based in Panorama City, Calif., took in the dog when he was a hyperactive pup because the family who originally owned him was about to send him to the pound. "He was full of energy and spirit," says von Muller, who recognized a star in the making. Uggie -- whose favorite trick is riding a skateboard -- was soon on the road, appearing in The Incredible Dog Show throughout the U.S. and South America. He then worked his way up through commercials, made his film debut in 2006's Mr. Fix It, opposite David Boreanaz, and most recently appeared as Queenie in Water for Elephants, starring Reese Witherspoon.

Artist is Uggie's real star turn, though. Because the movie is silent, von Muller could call out commands when scenes were rolling. And the trainer also credits Dujardin, who invited the dog to spend time with him before filming began, for establishing a real rapport. "A lot of actors and actresses are intimidated by dogs, but Jean was a super-confident actor, and he let the dog do everything," says von Muller.

Sadly, Uggie's breakthrough role could also be his swan song. "He's almost 10," says von Muller. "I don't think there are a lot of big movies in his future." But never fear: The trainer's already working with a young terrier, Uggie's stand-in, who's waiting in the wings.

 
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