“The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most beloved films of all time, having charmed children and adults alike for generations. Most viewers see “Wizard” as the simple story of a girl named Dorothy, the friends she makes in a wonderful land, and her realization about the importance of family and home. (There’s no place like it.)
Some film scholars have gotten philosophical, suggesting “Wizard” is a political allegory; the Scarecrow representing feckless farmers, the Tin Man heartless industry, and the Lion and Wonderful Wizard being symbols, respectively, for military and civic power.
All that academic analysis is well and good, but real fans know the film is all about the dog. Now, finally that simple truth can be told. At last, the story of Cairn Terrier formerly known as “Terry” is being shared with the rest of the world. And quite a story it is. “Wizard of Oz,” it turns out, was little more than a Terry-driven star vehicle, just one of many milestones in her long and illustrious Hollywood career.
We know this now because a memoir called “I, Toto” has recently been “discovered” by author and Oz fanatic Willard Carroll on the grounds of what used to be the ranch of a famed Hollywood animal trainer named Carl Spitz. In the pages of this dog’s diary, Carroll, we mean, Toto, tells the ‘Wizard’ story, and a few other old Hollywood tails, we mean “tales,” from a decidedly doggie perspective.
Originally rescued by Mr. Spitz’s from unhappy owners, Terry was soon learning routines already perfected by the Spitz stable of doggy stars– including those of Buck, a St. Bernard who gained fame co-starring with Clark Gable in “Call of the Wild.”
In fact, it was Mr. Gable and Hollywood gossip maven Hedda Hopper who first discovered Terry while visiting the Spitz’s ranch for a publicity stunt. Soon, as Terry tells it, she was showing off for the suits at Fox, and subsequently charming her way into a part alongside Shirley Temple in “Bright Eyes.”
A self-proclaimed natural in front of the camera, Terry went on to work with cinematic legends like Frederic March and Spencer Tracy. But it was the fateful casting in “Wizard” that made the perky terrier a household name. Garnering critical raves for performing her own stunts (check out her scenes at the castle of the Wicked Witch) and delivering her distinctive bark, it was easy to see why Dorothy was willing to do whatever it took to save “her little dog Toto too…” from the Wicked Witch’s grasp.
After returning to Kansas (in the film), and achieving dog stardom (in real life), Terry went on to work in seven other movies, including a brief, but pivotal scene in “The Women,” and starring roles in “Bad Little Angel” and “Calling Philo Vance.” However, like so many other performers, she could never get away from her one, defining performance. Just as Vivian Leigh was could never escape the shadow of Scarlet O’Hara, and Marilyn Monroe will always be associated with a certain white dress, Terry was to be thought of as Toto for the rest of her life.
Rather than struggling against this common Hollywood affliction, she chose instead to gracefully move on, easing into a career of smaller roles and personal appearances. Terry/Toto finally retired in 1945 at the ripe, old age of seventy (in dog years, that is) and spent her golden years playing peacefully on the Spitz’s ranch.
Now, nearly half a century later, Willard Carroll has “unearthed” her self-penned treasure trove of Hollywood tidbits. Now we can all know the truth: Forget Judy Garland or Ray Bolger. It was Toto’s talent– and Toto’s talent alone– that turned Wizard of Oz to an American classic. At least, that is what she seemed to think. You will have to judge for yourself how right she was.