From Terry to Toto: how a bad habit of "watering the carpet" led to a Hollywood career

From Terry to Toto: how a bad habit of "watering the carpet" led to a Hollywood career

The Toto-al Story of Terry the Cairn Terrier

Terry the Cain Terrier with famous 1930s and 40s film stars

Humble beginnings

This week’s #historichounds has an incredibly impressive resume and researching this wiry canine proved to be more interesting than I'd initially expected. Starring in one of Hollywood’s most iconic movies early on in her career cemented this pooch's Star status and she now has her on memorial statue and plaque in the Hollywood Forever Memorial Park.

This week’s historic hound was a purebred Cairn Terrier, born in 1933 in Alta Dena, California. Her early life was nothing special and there was definitely no indication that she would be one of Hollywood’s most famous and highly paid dog actors. Terry the Cairn Terrier had a horrible habit of “watering the carpet”. Her original owners tried everything they could to get Terry to kick the habit and relieve herself outdoors. But funnily enough, if it hadn’t have been for this annoying behaviour Terry would never have become Toto.

Terry’s owners got so fed up with her unsavoury urinary habits that they sent her to Carl Spitz’s glamourous doggy hotel and training retreat. Spitz was a 3rd generation police and military dog trainer from Germany who moved to California  in 1924 and established The Hollywood Dog Training School—where at one time, seventy-five of the best-known dogs of the screen lived in tranquil comfort. Within a few weeks Spitz had cured Terry of her unattractive indoor toiletting and had taught a few key tricks to boot. When Terry’s time at the Hollywood Dog Training School was up her owners couldn’t pay the bill and wouldn’t return Spitz’s calls.  Spitz and his family adopted the reformed Cairn Terrier and welcomed her in as their family pet. Maybe Terry just knew she was destined for greatness.

Toto the Cairn Terrier in a basket on the set of Wizard Of Oz


Carl Spitz had an impressive Hollywood reputation for training dogs and he used silent hand signals instead of the traditional verbal commands which was important because at the time more films started to have sound. Spitz had not intended to use Terry as a dog actor but she took matters into her own paws. One day Clark Gable and Hedda Hooper stopped by Spitz’s dog hotel to take some press photos for Clark’s upcoming film, Call of the Wild (in which he starred alongside Spitz’s St. Bernard named Buck) Terry made herself known and in Carl’s words, “made quite an impression”.

As legend would have it, the very next day Spitz took Terry to audition for the Shirley Temple film, Bright Eyes (1934). The directors instantly liked Terry and she impressed them with all of her tricks, but she wasn’t granted the role until Shirley Temple gave her the final seal of approval. The final test was whether or not Terry could get along with Temple’s Pomeranian named Ching-Ching. Upon meeting Ching-Ching, Terry rolled onto her back signalling she would not be a threat and was hired to star in her first film. She then went on to star in 5 other Hollywood films before catching her big break.

Shirley Temple and Terry the Cairn Terrier in Bright Eyes 1934

From Terry to Toto

Terry didn’t earn herself true Hollywood notoriety until her pivotal role in L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Spitz had gotten wind that the movie was in the works and worked tirelessly to pre-train Terry to do all the tricks mentioned in the novel (e.g. catch an apple falling from a tree, speak, sit in a basket, sit in front of giant fans to simulate a tornado etc.). All of Spitz and Terry's hard eork paydd off and she aced the audition process beating 100s of otherodog applicants. It is said that Terry even took an immediate liking to the magnetic Judy Garland.

Terry received a weekly salary of $125 ($2200 in today’s money), which was more than the studio paid the Munchkins. Before filming began, Terry spent two weeks living with Judy Garland, who fell in love with her and tried to buy her from Spitz, but he refused. Terry had a reputation for smelly breath and Judy’s daughter, Lorna Luft, once said that her mother told them that the dog had the worst breath in the world. “It all made us laugh,” Luft said, “because the dog was constantly put in her face [with its] silly panting, and she did everything but wince because poor little Toto needed an Altoid.” 

After winning the hearts of movie goers around the world, Terry went on to star in 15 more films and became so famous that her paw print brought top prices among autograph seekers. Soon she began making public appearances and became so popular, that Spitz officially changed her name to Toto.


Judy Garland and Terry the Terrier in the Wizard of Oz

There's No Place Like Home 

Terry died at age 11 in Hollywood on September 1, 1945, and was buried at Spitz's ranch in Studio City, Los Angeles. The grave was destroyed during the construction of the Ventura Freeway in 1958.

On June 18, 2011, a permanent memorial for Terry was dedicated at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. On the memorial it says, "There's no place like home".


Toto's memorial grave in Califonia in the Holly Wood Forever Garden 2011

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