The Greatest Animal Actors Of All Time

Humans aren’t the only movie stars in Hollywood. Animals have been working in show business for centuries. Dogs, cats, monkeys, horses, birds, and many more animals were born for the spotlight and are able to capture an audience’s attention in an instant. Each of them are specially trained to work in this special environment.

These animal actors can convey all kinds of emotion without even speaking a word and can hold their own with some of the best actors in the business. Here’s a look at some of Hollywood’s famous animal actors and the stories behind their success.

The Sweet Rescue Story From Lady And The Tramp

Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Lady and the Tramp brought together a couple of new animal actors to the scene. Monty, pictured on the right, has a unique story of his shoot to stardom. Before Disney found him for the role of Tramp he was stationed in a rescue shelter.

lady and the tramp
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Disney specifically wanted to find rescue dogs for various parts in the film and lucked out with Monty. Lady and the Tramp will be released on November 12, 2019, when the Disney+ streaming service launches.

How Moose Became A Sitcom Star

Moose was born on December 24, 1990 as the youngest, but biggest of a litter of four puppies. He was best known for playing Eddie on the sitcom Frasier and Skip in My Dog Skip. He also had a son named Enzo, who was able to share the role of Skip with him.

frasier cast with moose the dog
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Moose won his role on Frasier after being trained for only six months. In order to get him to interact with his human co-stars the actors would cover their faces with sardine oil. He lived to be 15 and spent the last half of his life in retirement.

Buddy Was The King Of Sports

It’s hard to forget the face of an adorable Golden Retriever. Buddy was first found as a stray puppy back in the late 1980s until he was adopted by a trainer named Kevin DiCicco. Soon after Buddy was brought home to San Diego, where he was trained in sports such as basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and hockey.

buddy the dog in a basketball outfit
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

His unbelievable skills at sports helped him land the acting job as the titular character in Air Bud. DiCicco went on to write a tell-all book about Buddy’s life story called Go Buddy!.

Bamboo Harvester Was The Real Mr. Ed

The animal behind the famous talking horse on Mr. Ed was named Bamboo Harvester. He was an American Saddlebred/part-Arabian show horse born in El Monte, California. Bamboo Harvester appeared in 145 episodes with another horse often stepping in as his stunt double.

a horse dressed up for the beach with a man in a red sweater
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Soon after the show was canceled he started to suffer from numerous health ailments. There are two separate stories about the true nature of his demise, but it was finally discovered that Bamboo Harvester was laid to rest on a farm in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Two decades later his fans dedicated a special gravestone to him.

Why Lassie Was Only Played By Males

There have been a few special dogs that have had the opportunity to portray the famous Lassie in both film and television. First, there was a male dog named Pal who starred in Lassie Come Home and filmed two pilots for the TV series, Lassie.

lassie posed with owner and trainer, rudd weatherwax
Bettmann/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Courtesy of Getty Images

The next Lassie went by his character’s name and appeared in 365 episodes of the original TV series, on top of a few other Lassie film and TV spin-offs. Even though the character of Lassie is a female, all the dogs who played her were male because females shed too much.

All Smiles For Crystal The Monkey

People have been going bananas over this famous animal star. Crystal the Monkey is a box office sensation with credits including Night at the Museum, The Hangover Part II, and We Bought a Zoo. Tom Gunderson is the trainer behind Crystal’s success. They met when at the beginning of her career at the live animal show at Universal Studios.

crystal the monkey at a movie premiere wearing a suit
Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Crystal is a female Capuchin monkey that is able to do most of her own stunts. Her smile may look different because she lost her lower canine tooth when trying to open a walnut.

Keiko’s Harsh Living Conditions

No, this isn’t Sea World’s Shamu, rather the iconic killer whale from the 1993 film Free Willy. Keiko is a Genus Orca whale that was found off the coast of Iceland in the late 1970s. He remained in captivity in the marine park industry until his starring role as Willy in Free Willy.

keiko the killer whale in an enclosure
Colin Davey/Getty Images
Colin Davey/Getty Images

Keiko went on to play the same role in the franchise’s next two sequels. As he gained fame Life magazine crafted an article that detailed his harsh living conditions, which led to people donating to have him sent to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. A few years later he was released back in the Icelandic wild.

Higgins Was Born To Be A Star

Higgins was first adopted in 1960 at the Burbank Animal Shelter in California by his owner and trainer Frank Inn. He was specifically trained for acting and became best known for playing the titular role in the film Benji and appearing in 174 episodes of Petticoat Junction.

higgins the dog laying down
Mulberry Square Productions
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

There have been a couple Benji reboots where Higgins’ descendants have taken over his role. It’s difficult to detect Higgins’ exact breed because he is a mix of Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, and Schnauzer. He lived to be a month shy of his 18th birthday.

How Terry Stole The Silver Screen

Terry the dog was a female Cairn Terrier with quite the filmography. Between 1934 and 1942 she was able to rack up 16 credits. While each of them were something to talk about, the most iconic of them all was her role as Toto in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

terry the dog in the wizard of oz
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Throughout her career she acted with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars including Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. Her salary for The Wizard of Oz ended up being more than most of the human cast. Garland ended up wanting to adopt her, but her owner and trainer, Carl Spitz, refused.

Spike Was More Than Just Old Yeller

This Mastador (Labrador Retreiver/Englsih Mastiff mix) was named Spike. As a young pup, he was rescued from a shelter in Van Nuys, California by famous animal trainer Frank Weatherwax. His second acting credit as Old Yeller in the 1957 Disney film of the same name is what put him on the animal acting map.

spike the dog in old yeller
Walt Disney Productions
Walt Disney Productions

He later went on to act in some other TV shows including Lassie, Hondo, and The Westerner, and is featured in films such as The Silent Call and What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?. Toward the end of his acting career, he fathered a son named Junior.

How Bart The Bear Was Trained for Fame

Almost any animal has the capability of becoming a Hollywood star. All they need is the proper training. Bart the Bear was an Alaskan brown bear who was trained by Utah animal trainer Doug Seus. Bart grew to be over 9 feet tall and weighed over 1,700 pounds.

bear trainer doug seus with bart the bear in the snow
Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images
Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images

By the end of his acting career, he completed 20 projects including The Edge, The Great Outdoors, Legends of the Fall, and the Homeward Bound franchise. None of his characters ever had a name, so he was almost always credited as “The Bear.”

Uggie’s Paws Will Forever Stay In Hollywood

Uggie the dog lived quite an interesting life. After his first two owners couldn’t handle him for being too wild he was sent to a shelter. While there animal trainer Omar Von Muller knew he was the perfect dog to adopt. Even though he was full of energy, Von Muller realized that Uggie would be perfect for acting because he was fearless.

uggie the dog riding a skateboard
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

Uggie went on to star in some of cinema’s most memorable roles, most famously as The Dog in the Academy Award-winning film The Artist. His performance garnered him many awards and even a paw print plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Winter’s Tale Of Her Missing Tail

Winter the dolphin’s life story was so unique that it inspired a book and later the 2011 film Dolphin Tale. This bottlenose dolphin ended up caught in a crab trap at only two months old, which caused her to lose her tail. She was able to overcome a giant obstacle that put her in immense danger.

winter the dolphin being fed by harry connick jr. and nathan gamble
Alcon Entertainment
Alcon Entertainment

Since she was missing the main muscle that dolphins use every day, she had to adapt to life without her tail. Luckily, a team of scientists made her a special prosthetic tail that helps her move forward in the water.

Jimmy The Raven Soars Above Expectations

Jimmy the raven, also known as Jimmy the crow, was one of cinema’s most famous birds. After spending about two decades in the film industry he was able to appear in over 1,000 titles including The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Secret Garden.

jimmy the raven with james stewart in it's a wonderful life
Liberty Films
Liberty Films

He was found in a birds nest in the Mojave Desert by Hollywood animal trainer Curly Twiford who taught him many unique tricks such as typing, opening letters, and riding a tiny motorcycle. Also, Jimmy was able to understand hundreds of English words, which made him perfect for the movie set.

Tai’s Gigantic Presence In Hollywood

Just Tai’s presence on a screen is enough to get anyone’s attention. This Asian elephant was originally owned by a private elephant entertainment company, but later she was able to break out into acting. She has appeared in many movies and TV shows over the last few decades, but her most memorable role was Rosie in 2011’s Water for Elephants.

tai the elephant sticking its trunk up
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Vera Anderson/Getty Images

Tai has been able to work with some of Hollywood’s most famous stars including Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Bill Murray. While some love to see her acting on screen, many animal rights organizations have strong feelings against her working in the entertainment business.

Why Millennials Loved Jovian The Lemur

One of the age groups that would best remember the children’s show, Zoboomafoo, would be millennials. The series aired from 1999 to 2001 on PBS Kids and featured two brothers and their pet lemur named Jovian who taught young kids about animals in the wild.

jovian the lemur with martin and chris kratt

His appearance on the show made him a famous attraction at the Duke Lemur Center where around 15,000 people came to see him each year. He lived to be 20-years-old and left behind a wife, a couple of kids, and even a granddaughter named Marie.

The Dark Side Of Orangey The Cat

One of the most sought after cat actors of the 1950s and 1960s was Orangey the marmalade tabby cat. Fans may have seen him in popular credits such as Gigot, The Beverly Hillbillies, Batman, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In order to get him ready for the screen, he was taken in and trained by the cinematic animal trainer Frank Inn.

orangey the cat held by audrey hepburn in breakfast at tiffany's
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Unfortunately, Orangey had a bad reputation with some of Hollywood’s best. One studio executive was quoted saying he’s “the world’s meanest cat.” Orangey would often bite and scratch actors and run away during his scenes, causing production to come to a halt.

Rin Tin Tin Set The Standard For Animal Acting

Similar to other movie dogs there are multiple generations of canines who’ve played the role of Rin Tin Tin. The original was a male German Shepherd that was rescued from a World War I battlefield in 1918.

rin tin tin the dog wearing a red cross garment
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

He was one of cinema’s first animal actors with his earliest credit dating back to 1922 and was the world’s biggest box office draw only four years later. Rin Tin Tin made about $6,000 a week during this time and earned the most votes to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar during the Academy’s first year.

Golden Cloud was Roy Rogers’ Best “Pal”omino

Golden Cloud, also known as Trigger, was Roy Rogers’ faithful Golden Palomino stallion sidekick throughout his Western career. He was known as “the smartest horse in movies” because of his incredible training abilities and never fell after appearing in over 80 films and 101 episodes of Roy Rogers’ TV show.

roy rogers and dale evans with golden cloud, also known as trigger
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When Trigger passed he was kept intact by a taxidermy specialist and stayed at The Roy Rogers Museum until it closed in 2009. The next year his taxidermy was sold at an auction for $266,500.

Gidget Transformed The Fast Food Industry

Aside from TV and film, animal actors are commonly used for commercials. Arguably, the most famous commercial animal is Gidget the Chihuahua from the Taco Bell advertisements. Gidget was discovered by Hollywood animal trainer Sue Chipperton at just eight weeks old. Chipperton noticed how confident, energetic, and adorable she was when selecting her for studio work.

gidget the chihuahua in front of the hollywood sign
Vern Evans/Getty Images
Vern Evans/Getty Images

A voice was dubbed over her mouth in the Taco Bell commercial to say, “Yo quiero Taco Bell” (I want Taco Bell). After the first one aired it was a hit and she remained their prime commercial actor for the next three years.