These days Uggie is a recognizable Hollywood face, having stared in major films like "The Artist" and "Water for Elephants." But before this exceptional dog lit up the screen, he was just a rambunctious pup headed for the pound. Writer Wendy Holden shares this dog star's story as "barked" to her in "Uggie: My Story." Read an excerpt.
As barked to Wendy Holden
Without wonder and insight, acting is just a business. With it, it becomes creation. —Michael Chekhov
The humans were excited. With my keen sight and sense of smell, I could tell that something was up. My Facebook and Twitter pages were abuzz, and everyone had been prepping for hours. Mom Mercy had been to the nail salon and Dad Omar had shaved — inexplicably — twice.
Smells of soap and shaving foam, perfume and hairspray overpowered my nostrils, until I sneezed them clear.
Having endured another pawdicure and full-body grooming, I jumped onto my skateboard and completed a few circuits of the swimming pool to loosen up. Sniffing the air, I detected a whiff of squirrel and spotted it chattering nonsensically, as it did its highwire act on the telephone line slung high above our backyard. Flying into a rage at the sight of that bushy-tailed trespasser, I abandoned my board and barked until my throat ached.
No amount of coaching could rid me of my intense dislike of squirrels, birds, cats, and — oddly — zebras, but more on that later. I was, however, getting a little long in the tooth to keep chasing vermin, or anything else for that matter. My sixty years (in human terms) of performing in commercials, motion pictures, photo shoots, and animal shows were beginning to take their toll. My bones creaked, my legs trembled, and Dad had retired me from waterskiing, which was a shame, because I was both a speed freak and a water lover.
I was born an Aquarian in February 2002, to Jack Russell parents. According to an astrology channel I watched with my fellow couch potato Gordo (an American bulldog), those born under the sign of the water carrier are intelligent seekers of life’s mysteries, whose quest is to be unique. We are loyal, honest, inventive, and original. On the downside, Aquarians can sometimes be exhibitionists.
I qualify on all counts.
I can recall very little about my puppyhood. I think I met my father once when he came to sniff dispassionately at me and my sprawling siblings. All that I remember of my mother was that she was gentle and nurturing; the smell of warm milk would forever remind me of her. Sadly I was plucked from her teat early on and sold to the first stranger to pick me out from the litter.Video: Meet the canine star of “The Artist” (on this page)
Banishing that unhappy memory, I sprawled on the deck with my legs splayed flat on the cool concrete. I was sweltering under the California sun after my blow-dry. I toyed with the idea of jumping in the pool to cool off, but I suspected that wouldn’t be a popular move, especially as I was sporting a bow tie made especially for me by Chopard.
Featuring an eighteen-karat-gold bone inscribed with my name, the $60,000 adornment was mine for one night only, before being auctioned off to benefit an animal rescue charity.
Although I was grateful to Chopard and fully applauded the sentiment behind the gift, I still scratched at the floppy black satin to loosen it a little. I’ve never been a fan of getting dressed up like a human. I just don’t see the point. What is wrong with a little nudity, when you are in such great shape as I am? Admittedly, I’ve seen a few Shar-Peis who could do with some head-to-toe couture (or a burka), and every full-male Great Dane I’ve met could benefit from some athletic support (if you catch my meaning), but generally, I believe in going au naturel.
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One exception to my thoughts on costumery is the Palm Dog, a sturdy leather piece with a tastefully engraved inscription. A panel of international film critics awarded it to me in 2011, in lieu of a human Palme d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Yes: France, where I shall one day pad my paws along the famous Croisette with the best of them (and, no doubt, leave a few choice p-mails for my fans).
The Palm Dog was my first major award and therefore my most highly prized. Even Lassie didn’t get one of those, although, to be fair, the concept of honoring four-legged actors hadn’t been dreamt up back then.
As I lay panting by the pool wondering what theatrics I might have to perform for Dad later that night, I felt my stomach rumble. It had been more than an hour since my last meal, and that could only mean one thing: “Lights! Camera! Action!”
Not that I minded, really. Being in the spotlight appeals to my exhibitionist side.
I especially enjoy showing humans how to perform a stunt properly or deliver a scene in a single take. I listen to my cues from Omar, play my part, and aim to be “right on the money,” as he calls it. On set, directors love working with me, because I am usually the last character they have to worry about. Often, though, something is still not quite right (various human errors) and we have to go for another take.
My tummy rumbled once more. Everyone was getting so animated about this Oscar guy. I didn’t know who the heck he was, but I knew one thing. If he didn’t have a sausage treat for me in his pocket, then I’d give him a trick to remember. My finale might well include a special award that couldn’t easily be cleaned off any carpet — not even a fancy red one.
More compelling than these thoughts, however, was the hope that my beloved Miss Witherspoon might be at the evening’s big event. It is no great secret in Hollywood that “Miss W” and I forged a unique bond on the set of my previous movie, Water for Elephants, which had also starred Twilight’s heartthrob Robert Pattinson.
By the way, I never really got what all the fuss was over Mr. P, (or RPattz, as his fans called him). On any given day, there’d be hordes of young female humans screaming for him at the studio gates, but the supposedly smoldering biped couldn’t even skateboard as well as me!
The chance to smother Miss Witherspoon’s face in Uggie’s trademark slobber? Now that is worth a howl or three.
As someone born in the sign of impulsive Aries, she is highly compatible with my cool Aquarian nature. Ours was one of spontaneous attraction. It was literally written in the stars that we were destined to enjoy what I hope will be a deep and enduring love. Whenever I came into her orbit, the incandescent smile she gave me was even more captivating than a slice of pepperoni. To preserve my movie star demeanor, I frequently had to be pulled away.
In spite of some of the more scurrilous gossip in the Tinseltown press, I never once tried to hump her leg (although I do confess to slipping her the tongue once, during an off-set smooch). Even when she was clad in little more than a sparkly bikini as she rode bareback on a circus horse, I remained entirely chivalrous, as befitting a middle-aged gentleman in the company of a lovely Louisiana lady.
Charlize Theron, Tilda Swinton, Katy Perry — they all have vied for my affections at the many awards ceremonies to which we have been invited, since my latest movie, The Artist, had its first sniff of success. But there is only room for one Hollywood beauty in my terrier heart.
I sighed and rested my head on my paws.
“Oh, Reese,” I pondered dreamily, “why haven’t you called?”
Excerpted from Uggie: My Story by Wendy Holden. Copyright (c) 2012 by Wendy Holden. Reprinted by arrangement with Gallery Books.
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