An appreciation of the life of Hollywood’s biggest little star, who melted hearts everywhere and proved you don’t need words to speak volumes
Uggie, one of the finest actors in the world today – on two legs or four – has died at the age of 12. His companion and trainer, Omar Von Muller, announced via Uggie’s Facebook page that he has been put to sleep after living with a prostate tumour for some time. His outstanding performance in The Artist (2011) was a major factor in the film achieving massive critical and commercial success. A small, wire-haired Jack Russell terrier with only the most inauspicious of beginnings, nonetheless Uggie went on to walk tall and proudly in the hallowed paw prints of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and countless other canine stars of the silver screen.
Uggie’s is a real story of rags-to-rich-treats and salvation: as a youngster, he was deemed too wild and boisterous and had been thrown out by at least two different owners. He was on his way to the pound – and almost certain death – when Omar, an animal trainer, was alerted by his friends to Uggie’s plight. Initially Omar only intended to foster him until a permanent home could be found but, inevitably, both he and his family fell for him and Uggie’s life was saved. Seeing his sparky potential, Omar undertook to train him and the lively pooch’s future stardom was assured.
The Artist, a loving, black and white homage to the closing of the silent era and the coming of sound, became a huge hit and was showered with awards worldwide. Among many, many others it won five of its ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It also took home three of its six Golden Globe nominations, seven of twelve BAFTAs and six out of ten nominated Césars, France’s national film awards.
Uggie’s scene-stealing contribution did not go unrecognised either. He was universally feted for his performance, walking red carpets everywhere and being awarded the Palm Dog (as opposed to Palme d’Or) at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. In addition, his fellow cast members, film critics and voters everywhere took part in the “Consider Uggie” campaign, lobbying hard for him to be eligible for actual Academy and BAFTA awards. This was an echo of the furore caused during the first Oscar ceremony, when Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for best actor!
The Artist was a real labour of love for its writer/director, Michel Hazanavicius. A long-term fan of silent films and the golden age of Hollywood, he filled it with knowing references to early cinema. Perhaps chief among these was Uggie himself: bearing more than a passing resemblance, he clearly evokes fond memories of precursor canine actor Skippy, another born scene-stealer.
Skippy (later renamed Asta) appeared in many films during the thirties but is best known for featuring in four of the finest screwball comedies ever made: The Thin Man (1934) and its first sequel, After the Thin Man (1936), The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938). Additionally Skippy’s offspring featured in four more Thin Man sequels and a 1950s TV series. Following Skippy’s well deserved rise to fame it became de rigueur to be seen with wire-haired fox terriers like him. Numerous other films featured them and celebrities and audiences everywhere clamoured to own one. If you’ve haven’t yet seen these four films, do so now!
Uggie’s film career was relatively short but truly sweet: he appeared in only a handful of other films, the most significant of which was the romantic drama Water for Elephants (2011). He was already eight years old by the time The Artist was released and after spending more than two years making and promoting it he was, according to Omar, “getting tired.”
After making just one more film, Omar announced Uggie’s retirement in June 2012. It was marked by a packed ceremony outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, attended by descendants of both Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, and Uggie left his paw prints in wet cement for posterity. His whirlwind year was capped off by the release of his ‘pawtobiography’, My Story (2012), a surprisingly factual and entertaining read!
Capitalising on his new found fame, Uggie himself appeared in an ad campaign for animal charity Peta, urging people to adopt rather than buy. Literally thousands of dogs and other companion animals, with just as much potential to offer a lifetime of love and affection as Uggie, are needlessly destroyed every single day. Tossed out with the rest of the waste, they’re unwanted by-products of the profit-hungry pet trade. Remember and repeat often: “Don’t breed and buy while stray pets die” and “Adopt don’t shop.”
Uggie was the unwanted little dog who came in from the cold to capture the hearts of film lovers everywhere. But if, rather than buy from a breeder or pet shop, just one person is moved to adopt an abandoned animal and save its life, that will be Uggie’s greatest legacy.