Editor’s note: Willard has kindly given us FIVE copies of I, Toto for lucky Dogster readers! Enjoy his article and then find out how you can win one.
In The Wizard of Oz, it is Toto who gets the ball rolling, so to speak. He certainly gets the movie going. From the first shot to the last, there he is: Dorothy’s faithful, adorably scruffy companion. Yes, he’s a bit of a troublemaker, but what dog isn’t? If he wasn’t a troublemaker, there would be no story. Dorothy would never run away. Dorothy would never get to Oz and back. And after meeting Miss Gulch, who can really blame him for taking a bite out of her leg?
When I first saw the movie at age five, I was struck by the unconditional love a young, lonely girl has for her dog — and obviously vice versa. It was my “way in” to the movie. The movie is jam-packed with fun and music and charm and fantasy but it’s that basic relationship between a child and a pet which grounds the movie in genuine emotion.
At the beginning of the movie, Toto is Dorothy’s whole world. At the end of the movie, after Dorothy has journeyed through a phantasmagorical fantasy world in the company of several more faithful eccentric companions, Toto is there beside her, a profound relationship restored, intact.
Just recently I watched the movie with a sold-out crowd at the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine. The audience was with the little guy the whole time — they cheered Toto’s leap from Miss Gulch’s basket through to his escape from the Winkies. It is Toto, after all, who leads Dorothy’s friends back into the line of fire to save his best friend. Toto is Dorothy’s hero.
When Turner Classic Movies first went on the air, I had it playing in my kitchen almost nonstop every day. One morning I was in another room and heard a familiar sound coming from the TV. It was Toto barking. It was unmistakable, even though I knew The Wizard of Oz wasn’t on (TCM had yet to air the movie on the service). I went to the TV and sure enough there was Toto — in an obscure movie called Bad Little Angel.
Made just after The Wizard of Oz, the film was a decidedly lower-budget offering from MGM — so low-budget that they didn’t even bother to re-record Toto’s barking. The audio tracks are identical to those used in Oz.
When I first set out to write Toto’s story — more than 10 years ago — very little was known about the dog that played him. The first discovery was the most obvious: Toto, a male character, was actually played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. It was known that Terry/Toto made several other movies, but it took considerable archival detective work to uncover more than were ever imagined.
I discovered that the widow of Carl Spitz, who trained Terry, lived near me in North Hollywood. She was a gracious interview who gave me fond insight into Terry’s life and times. She couldn’t name all of her films but mentioned several of which I wasn’t aware — The Women, Bright Eyes — and from there, I went to every film archive in Los Angeles, determined to tell Terry’s story with as much accuracy as possible.
It was fun to discover that Toto was reunited on film with both Frank Morgan (Tortilla Flat) and Margaret Hamilton (Twin Beds). To this day, I’ve continued to discover movies that Terry/Toto appeared in. Just as the new edition of I, Toto went to press, I unearthed another film called The Old Swimmin’ Hole in which Terry makes a brief but memorable appearance. A word of warning: if you seek out this movie, have some tissues handy.
In writing my/her book, accuracy took something of a back seat to enthusiasm. What I cared about more than anything was presenting Terry’s story with love and humor and respect. I wanted to tell her story the way I imagined she would want it known.
Of course, I could have written a standard tome along the lines of The Films of Terry, but since as an actor Terry/Toto was never predictable, I thought “Why should I be?”
That was where the idea of I, Toto — an “autobiography” — came into play. It was great fun to channel a Cairn! I hope I’ve done the four-legged star justice. In life, the only thing I love more than movies and music is dogs. I wouldn’t want to live without them.
I’ve tended to have three at a time — it’s a good number for somewhat organized chaos. I have had a “Toto” (a Chihuahua who lived to the grand age of 18) and now have a “Terry” (a Golden Retriever who takes the troublemaking concept to a hilariously entertaining extreme), but I’ve yet to make a home for a Cairn!
I have no explanation or excuse for that oversight but I’m certain that one will come into my life at some point. I hope I’ll be worthy of he or she. It’s not the dog that would have a lot to live up to. I’m here for them since I know they’re always here for me.
About the author: Willard Carroll is an Emmy Award–winning producer, writer, and director. He has written and directed the feature films The Runestone, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Playing by Heart, and Marigold. He has amassed the world’s largest collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia, documented in 100 Years of Oz: A Century of Classic Images from The Wizard of Oz Collection of Willard Carroll. Together with Tom Wilhite, he founded the National Oz Museum in Camden, Maine.
If you can make it to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, the exhibition “Wonderful World of Oz: Selections from the Willard Carroll/Tom Wilhite Collection” runs through March 2014. On Saturday, November 16, Willard will be giving a lecture at the museum on “The World According to Toto” to celebrate her 80th birthday!
So Toto is already the canine star of The Wizard of Oz. We want you to tell us which character your dog would play in the movie — and why. Maybe you have a cowardly Doberman, or a scatterbrained Chihuahua. Or maybe your dog has always reminded you of the flying monkeys! Leave a comment below and we’ll pick our five favorites. May the best dog win!
And if you aren’t lucky enough to win, I, Toto is available from booksellers everywhere.
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