Sunday, March 13, 2011

Skippy a.k.a. Asta

I thought I would write a few quick notes on one of the most talented actors of the 1930s, Asta the dog (b.1931 or 1932 - d. ?).  I just happen to have After the Thin Man (1936) on TCM as background noise.  That may have made me think of Asta.

Asta was originally named Skippy, but after The Thin Man (1934) he was forever known as Asta.  IMDb lists eight titles for Asta, but that has to be incorrect.  The final title is "The Thin Man" television series in 1958, and Asta would have been 26 years old.  Not possible for a wire haired terrier.

A look at Wikipedia shows a more logical glance at his professional career.  Asta probably appeared as an extra in several films before hitting it big.  They also note that one of Asta's trainers was Rudd Weatherwax (1907 - 1985), who made Lassie (or Pal) famous.

In 1937 we see Asta starring in The Awful Truth, with supporting players Irene Dunne (1898 - 1990) and Cary Grant (1904 - 1986).  Asta is the center of a custody dispute in this rom-com.

Asta also appears in Bringing Up Baby (1938) working with Grant again, and also with Katherine Hepburn (1907 - 2003).  Then, the same year, he appears in Topper Takes a Trip, with Constance Bennett (1904 - 1965).  That was a curious entry in the Topper series, as it was absent the George Kirby character.  I must look into that!

Asta's character appears in six Thin Man movies, but Skippy is only in the first two.  There is an interesting quote from an article in The American Magazine in 1938 -

"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."

Asta's antics in The Thin Man and After the Thin Man have endeared him to dog lovers for decades.  Another line from the magazine article said, "Treat a dog kindly and he'll do anything in the world for you."  Our wonderful dog Sadie has shown us that.  My wife and I rescued her and she has turned into a loving pet.

After the Thin Man also has Mrs. Asta, and is probably the best of the series.  Who needs a murder story when you have talented dogs!


  1. "The Awful Truth" is my very favorite screwball...and Skippy as Mr. Smith is a brilliant touch by director McCarey...the scene where Cary Grant visits Mr. Smith (as part of the custody arrangement) is a gem - Grant is serenading the dog at the piano and at a certain point turns to him and says, "take it!" - Mr. Smith begins barking energetically. Love it.
    And Skippy's Asta character added even more charm to the saga of Nick & Nora Charles.
    Thanks for putting Skippy/Asta in the spotlight, Allen, I've always adored him.

  2. Thanks, Eve. I think you are my most regular reader!

    Leo McCarey is one of my favorite writers and directors. He worked with Laurel and Hardy in more than 40 films, including most of my favorite shorts. Big Business, Blotto, Perfect Day, Below Zero, Hog Wild, Brats...I could go on.

    McCarey did go on. After The Awful Truth, he wrote and directed Going My Way (1944), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), and An Affair to Remember (1957). You can't beat that!!

  3. Not sure I'm your most regular reader, Allen, but possibly your most regular commenter...& I really appreciate that you put your spotlight on the often overlooked - supporting players. Without them, the stars would never shine so bright...

    My very own interviewee, Edna May Wonacott (Ann Newton of "Shadow of a Doubt") had a bit part in "The Bells of St. Mary's" and had nothing but good things to say about the atmosphere on that set and her co-stars Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman.

    As I understand it, "An Affair to Remember" was McCarey's almost shot-by-shot remake of his own earlier film "Love Affair" w/Boyer and Dunne. Can't resist Cary Grant, so the later version is my preference...

  4. Thanks for the compliment and the insight from Edna May. One always wants to believe that stars like Crosby and Bergman are the wonderful people they portray on screen. It is not always the case. Movies should be as much fun to make as they are to watch! Chances are they are more fun to make for the Bit Players than they are for the big stars, who have reputations riding on their performance.


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