Pop Culture Pooches: BenjiMon, April 22, 2013,
While not quite at the level of fame of a Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin, there is a group of people for whom even a mention of the name Benji will melt their heart. With several film and TV appearances, Benji is undeniably a big Hollywood star and has fans all over the world.
The first Benji film, simply titled Benji, was released in 1974 and was a critical and financial hit. Created by writer/director Joe Camp, the film centers on a lovable stray dog who makes friends with the people in a small Texas town. There he has many adventures, including rescuing some local children and falling in love another stray.
It’s easy to see why so many people fell for this movie. It’s simple, charming and has a lot of heart. The movies have proven so popular that they’re still making them these days, with the most (Benji: Off the Leash) being released in 2004.
Benji himself was portrayed in the original film by a mixed-breed dog named Higgins. Higgins had previously been known for playing the dog in six seasons of Petticoat Junction. Animal trainer Frank Inn (who trained many of the animals for Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and Beverly Hillbillies) found Higgins in the Burbank Animal Shelter as a puppy and raised him to be one of the most loved pooches of the 1960s and 70s.
Higgins made Benji at the age of 14, coming out of retirement for the role. After passing away in 1975 at the ripe old age of 17, he gladly passed on the role of Benji to his daughter Benjean.
There’s something undeniably magnetic about Benji, and it’s no surprise that each new generation seems to discover this wonderful dog. If your kids haven’t enjoyed these classics yet, it makes perfect Saturday night viewing.
Photo Credit: MGM Studios Inc.