Oscar buzz, snubs, and Rin Tin Tin

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune
Uggie is seen onstage at the 84th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

In 1929, Rin Tin Tin won the most votes for the first Best Actor Oscar. However, the award was given to runner up Emil Jannings. The beloved canine starred in more than 20 silent movies, wining the hearts of the American public as well as the 36 members of the fledgling Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. According to Rin Tin Tin biographer Susan Orlean, the directors of the Academy felt their new award program would not be taken seriously if the first statuette went to a dog. In spite of the landslide vote, it was clarified going forward that only human actors and actresses were allowed.

Portraying themselves and often demonstrating the best qualities of humankind, man’s best friend has appeared as trusted confidant, inspirational hero and comic-scene stealer. Birds, dolphins, elephants, horses, snakes and more have been key characters in some of the most memorable and uplifting films and documentaries. Historically, they have been exploited, purposefully put at risk and even killed. In 1939, the American Humane Association’s Picture Animal Top Star of the Year Awards, known as the Patsys, came about in tribute to the death of a blindfolded horse forced to leap off a cliff on the set of the movie “Jesse James.” The Patsys were discontinued in 1986.

Through the years, a handful of movie animals have been honored, including three sets of paw prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but the Oscar was kept out of reach. Fast forward to 2012, the 84th Annual Academy Awards and to controversy renewed. Not since the Rin Tin Tin decision has there been such high-profile coverage of public demand for Oscar recognition of a canine actor. The reason is shelter dog rescue Uggie, retiring at 10 years of age after starring in two Oscar nominated films, “The Artist” and “Water For Elephants.”

International Business Times awarded the fourth of eight – and only nonhuman – significant Oscar snub to Uggie stating, “OK, it’s true that there is no real category for Uggie the Dog from ‘The Artist,’ but his costars regard him as a solid actor and his director believes he is an essential character in the movie. Despite having won the hearts and minds of millions of movie-goers, Uggie, the loyal and silent Jack Russell terrier, was left cold by Oscar organizers.”

The uproar escalated with Uggie’s onstage appearance at the Golden Globe Awards. Social media sites overflowed with requests that Uggie be allowed on the red carpet and possibly on stage at the 84th Annual Academy Awards.

Another controversy erupted in the media with the announcement of nominees for the first annual Golden Collar Awards. No less a Hollywood power broker than Martin Scorsese lobbied heavily and protested the snub of his canine star, Blackie, the guard dog who chases orphans in Oscar-nominated “Hugo.” Hundreds of media outlets world wide chronicled Scorcese’s letter to the Los Angeles Times which opined “We all have fond memories of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, the big stars, the heroes, but what about the anti-heroes? We have learned to accept the human anti-hero, but when it comes to dogs, I guess we still have a long way to go.”

The good dog-bad dog controversy created such huge buzz for the previously all but ignored Golden Collar Awards that the inaugural event had to be moved to a larger venue. Blackie was added to the nomination list, but she still lost to Uggie for Best Dog in a Theatrical Film.

Media coverage which brings awareness of animal issues is good news. Awareness leads to education and that leads to empathy, respect and humane care on and off the silver screen.

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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