Hollywood’s animals get a close-up in new book

Hollywood’s animals get a close-up in new book

By Terri Schlichenmeyer (Photo/New World Library)

You love your pooch very much — but she’s no Lassie. If, in fact, you pulled a Timmy and fell into a well, you are sure your dog would probably chase butterflies instead of fetching help.

Maybe you just haven’t found what motivates them. In the new book “Animal Stars” by Robin Ganzert and Allen and Linda Anderson, you’ll read about Hollywood critters, trainers and how you can teach old dogs new tricks.

When watching modern Hollywood fare, you might think that wild action scenes with animals are somehow computer generated or heavily edited. It’s safer that way, right?

The truth is that what you see today is 90 percent real and generally safe — with an occasional exception.

That’s because, back in 1939, things were too real. There was a “horrific disregard for animal safety” on at least one set. A terrified horse died as a result. In 1940, the American Humane Association convinced the movie industry to make sure things like that never happened again. From then on, an association representative was consulted and present on set during scenes involving animal actors.

But before any nonhuman star gets on the set, its trainer knows exactly what to expect. Horse trainers prize equines that are easy to work with. Those who train large animals, like bears or monkeys, have their charges’ tolerance in mind and aren’t shy about speaking up when it is at its limits. Dog trainers understand what makes Woofie want to work. Snake handlers know that you can’t train a snake.

To teach an animal to work in Hollywood takes patience; trainers like Bobby Lovgren, Nicholas Toth, Mathilde de Cagny, and Thomas Gunderson use the word again and again. Get inside your dog’s head. Know your cat’s heart. Understand that some critters (like badgers) are going to take much more effort to teach. With non-domestic animals, know that escape is a possibility. And try to make training fun; nobody likes it when work is a drudge.

So you say your favorite star happens to wear fur all day, all night. Then “Animal Stars” is going to delight you — mostly.

The authors give movie and TV fans alike plenty of insight on today’s animal actors and the people who make sure those awesome stunts are pulled off without a hitch. The behind-the-scenes peeks you’ll get are fun to read. The hints for teaching your own pet are definitely helpful.

I was less than impressed by the brief messages from human stars scattered throughout this book, however. They seemed to me to be rather like thank you notes dashed off to a dotty great aunt — perfunctory and awfully lame.

That bugged me, but not enough to put this book down, which means that you should pick it up. Animal lovers of all stripes, I think, will enjoy “Animal Stars” pretty well.

The writer is a 
syndicated book reviewer.

“Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors”
By Robin Ganzert and Allen and Linda Anderson, foreword by Marty Becker
c.2014, New World Library
$22.95/$27.95 Canada
296 pages