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Hollywood’s Wrinkled Obsession

While they may not feature on the AKC’s list of America’s top ten most popular dogs, the English Bulldog has been a firm favorite in Hollywood for decades. Over the years, they have won the hearts of movie audiences worldwide in several top-grossing movies, indelibly made their mark with their antics in classic animated cartoons and are constantly in the spotlight as the favored canine companion of many entertainment celebrities.

 

With their massive wrinkles and sagging chins, waddle walk and Marilyn Monroe breathy wheeze, The English Bulldog is  the antithesis of the Hollywood standard in the lithe and lean looks department. Further, they have a reputation of being stubborn and obeying a trainer’s commands in their own time, sometimes deeming it totally unnecessary to respond at all.

 

So what is Hollywood’s fascination and continuing love affair with these dogs all about?

 

Simply put, English Bulldogs have that one quality that the entertainment world has built an industry around – real animal attraction. This attribute is further personified by their easy-going natures and natural ability to befriend everyone they meet as well as other animals.

 

There’s no owner stereotype

 

As a Hollywood favorite, they draw a wide and varied celebrity fan base from the goofy, family-orientated comedian Adam Sandler to someone like “shock jock” Howard Stern whose stocky brindled companion  is named Bianca Romijn-Stamos-O’Connell after  the gorgeous-looking actress  Rebecca Romijn-Stamos-O’Connell. Stern is said to be besotted with her (the bulldog that is) and loves to walk her in Central Park, New York.

“Bulldogs are so ugly that I had to give her the most feminine name I could find,” confesses Stern who is a committed animal lover and together with his fiancé model Beth Ostrosky is a strong supporter of animal rights issues.

A Quick History Lesson

To understand the varied roles Bulldogs have played in Hollywood, it’s essential to look back at their breed history. The ancestor of the modern Bulldog breed was raised for the cruel blood sport of bullbating that was popular in the 17th century. The dogs were trained to leap at a bull lashed to a post and taught to latch on to its snout in an attempt to suffocate it. While these ferocious and aggressive tendencies have long since been bred out of the breed, they set the guidelines for the cartoon character bulldogs in the early animated films. Spike, a popular character in the Tom and Jerry cartoons and undoubtedly the most famous cartoon bulldog of all time, made his screen debut in the early 1940s and was also known as “Butch” or Killer”. His stern character was drawn from this stereotype and given the added angry persona by his huge spiked collar. Despite the fact that he disapproved of cats, his creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera gave him a softer side by making him sympathetic to mice and making him extremely ticklish. He got his first talking role in the short called The Bodyguard, with a voice that sounded a lot like the gruffly Jimmy Durante. In 1949 Spike was given a puppy son named Tyke and the two of them continued to dominate the cartoon series for the next couple of decades and finally made it into full-length animated movies in 2001.

Hector the Bulldog who featured with Tweety and Sylvester in a number of Looney Tune’s cartoons also wore the spiked collar to give him tough appeal, but because his creators made him pigeon-toed, he was more comical that tough. Then there was Marc Antony another burly Bulldog who was besotted with a kitten named Pussyfoot. While popular in its day, this duo was retired from the silver screen in the late 1950s and today only appears in history books.

The Big Screen Debut

It is perhaps actor and film producer Adam Sandler who is largely responsible for the current reign of Bulldog popularity in Hollywood. His beloved Meatball was best man at his wedding to model Jackie Titone in 2003. Footage of the dog wearing a Tuxedo and a yarmulke and running down the aisle with the ring on a ring cushion strapped to his back features on Sandler’s website along with a wonderful tribute to this dog who passed away in 2004. And there is a lot more doggie footage for fans to view of Meatball as well as his current dog Matzoball.

Matzoball is purported to go to work with Sandler and judging by the number of photographs of the twosome around town and on the beach, they are inseparable and the dog is very much a family member of the Sandler household .She was a little miffed when Jackie gave birth to the couple’s first child.

“I must say that Matzoball has been very sweet to my daughter, but initially she was a little heartbroken, wondering why all the attention wasn’t on her anymore,” said Sandler at the time commenting on his new family dynamic. “But they are managing to share attention. Matzoball steals her toys on occasion. That is her big move: She sees my daughter having fun with a toy and the next day we’ll will find it beat up with mucus on it. We only find the squeaker if Matzoball burps.”

Sandler took his love for the breed to the big screen in his film Little Nicky, the story of Satan’s son who comes to create hell on earth which he co-wrote and co-produced. The Bulldog in the movie named Beefy was actually played by three dogs trained by veteran Hollywood animal actor trainer Steve Berens, who has been teaching animals the tricks of the movie trade for more than 20 years.

“Beefy is a street-smart, been-there done-that kind of character,” says Berens. “The dog actually comes up from Hell himself, so there is obviously a reason why he is down there. He is a nice character, but kind of street-wise.”

Sandler naturally wanted a Bulldog for the part of Beefy but the veteran trainer was not easily convinced.

“I thought it was going to be too tough for a bulldog. Also I had never worked to any great length with the English Bulldog, so I was a little apprehensive going into this. But we finally settled on a particular look and I got three dogs Roo, Harvey and Harley for the role. Occasionally, I’ve done films where the dog in the movie goes through the film without a double. But there are limitations with Bulldogs. They get tired, they get hot. You’ve got to be prepared to let them have long breaks and rest them.

Though Beefy is a talking dog in the movie, Berens had problems getting Roo, Harvey and Harley to keep their mouths closed, leaving the way clear for the special effects guys to work their magic. “With what they can do with computer generation, they wanted the mouth to remain closed,” explains Berens. But with Bulldogs, that was a huge challenge.”

It seems that Spike is a very popular name for Bulldogs in the movies. Unlike the character in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, the Spike in the latest blockbuster from Disney called The Game Plan is a real dog. The movie stars Duane Johnson “The Rock” as Joe Kingman, a superstar NFL quarterback whose life with his pet dog changes drastically when a young girl shows up at his door, claiming to be his daughter.

Once again, two dogs named Tubbs and Tank shared the role.  Both dogs were put through there paces because they were quite a few challenging tasks for them to perform in the film.

Teaching Bulldog’s tricks

In one scene, the dog has to open a bedroom door and pull a suitcase out from under a bed. To assist the dog, the lightweight door was partially open so it could easily push it further open when cued by an off-screen trainer. One trainer then held the dog near the bed while another trainer hid under the bed with the dog’s favorite toy and encouraged him to grab onto the toy and pull. Then the hiding trainer replaced the toy with the small, empty suitcase and cued the dog to grab the handle and pull. The two scenes were edited together in post-production.

Spike was undoubtedly as much as a star of the film as The Rock himself. However only one dog – and the producers are keeping mum whether is was Tubbs or Tank — made it onto the red carpet when the film premiered in Hollywood.

Reality Bulldogs

Because Bulldogs have such  wonderful easy-going natures and are always ready  to be involved with everyone and everything around them,  it follows that America’s most dysfunctional family the Osbournes would have such a dog as part of their pack. And Lola didn’t disappoint in the family’s reality show that was a huge hit for several seasons.

Lola is son Jack’s dog and totally devoted to him so such as extent that when he left the house during the show, Sharon was purported to say that the dog has to go into grief therapy. On screen she took out her frustrations by peeing on everything, chewing furniture and vomiting. Ozzie reacted on camera by mumbling four-letter expletives and simply muddled on.

Not to be outdone by Jack, daughter Kelly also adopted a bulldog that she named Piglet and promptly dyed pink. That ruffled a few feathers and got PETA on their soapbox about irresponsible pet ownership. But one thing you can’t fault the Osbournes on is their genuine love and affection for dogs in general.

Nothing highlights the diversity of bulldog owners and the fact that there is no single bulldog owner stereotype more than the latest reality show to take to the small screen Rob and Big.

In this reality buddy comedy, professional street skater Rob Dyrdek and his best friend and bodyguard, Christopher “Big Black” Boykin, share a house in the Hollywood Hills, bouncing from one ridiculous moment to the next. Their sidekick is a mischievous little Bulldog, named Meaty, who goes along for the ride.  The unlikely trio makes the world their playground and hit the streets on a constant quest for adventure and laughs.

This show is proving to be a huge hit with a teenage audience and thus doing a great public relations job in introducing Bulldogs to a new younger generation of fans of this breed.

Meaty is turning out to be a very popular celebrity in his own right. Wherever he goes, he is besieged by adoring fans who want to pet him and now even adorns a clothing line with his big slobbery smile.

It’s not just stars of the small and big screen that are Bulldog besotted, they are also the pet of choice for many singers who happily tour across America with their Bulldogs tagging along.

Singer Pink has always been Bulldog besotted and was devastated when her beloved Elvis drowned in her swimming pool. Pop idol AJ McLean, a former member of the boy band The Backstreet Boys admits to always having been smitten by this bow-legged breed.

“Growing up, my dream dog was an English bulldog. As a kid I used to love Spike in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. And my grandparents were big fans of the TV show Jake and The Fat Man. Jake was the little Bulldog. I’ve been obsessed with them ever since.”

Today McLean and his girlfriend Sarah Martin have several dogs including a purebred bulldog named Tank.

Spreading slobbery goodwill

While she is neither a movie star nor has a famous owner, Zelda the Bulldog whose measurements are 32-32-32, is a celebrity in her own right. She is the face on those ubiquitous humor cards called Zelda Wisdom.

“Zelda, allows us to laugh at ourselves and to recognize that things could be worse,” says Carol Gardner, Zelda’s pet parent and the creator of what is now a huge stationery empire bearing this Bulldog likeness around the world. “At the core of Zelda Wisdom is humor and healing. She always makes me laugh. Zelda and I started out as underdogs, but we are proof that you don’t have to be thin, rich, young or wrinkle-free to be successful. More importantly, you don’t have to be perfect.”

TV anchorman Charles Gibson of Good Morning America calls Zelda “the industry’s top dog, a supermodel that has it all! Tough but tender, sweet but strong. Zelda has attitude. Zelda Wisdom allows us to laugh at ourselves and helps us realize that in life’s ups and down, we are never alone. There is a Zelda in all of us!”

Zelda is the official “spokes dog” of Delta Society Pet Partners®, an international program dedicated to the human-animal healing bond. She’s a certified therapy dog and works with children who have learning disabilities. Zelda’s one-liners keep them laughing while they learn to read and write.

All this sums up the other reason why Hollywood loves Bulldogs – they put a smile on your face no matter what.

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Rosie the Bulldog of Belmont Shore, Calif. is listed as one of talk show host Jay Leno’s most popular guests and has appeared on numerous other major talk shows as the unofficial spokes dog for her breed. Her pet parent Justin Rudd is the mastermind of all the popular BelmontShore pet parades such as the annual Easter Parade and Howl’oween as well as the popular Bulldog Beauty Contest which draws competitors countrywide. Rosie is the incumbent MissBelmontShore, a title she’s not planning to give up anytime soon. She is more than just an adorable face and has helped to raise thousands of dollars for various pet shelters and other worthy causes.(Let me know if you would like a photograph.)

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The list of celebrity English Bulldog owners includes actress Jessica Biel, singers Fred Burst and Gloria Estefan, Baywatch babe Kelly Packard, Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters and Scary Movie star Regina Hall.

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According to the web site www.Bulldoginformation,com  the top 15 bulldog names of all time are: Jake, Buddy, Max, Duke, Molly, Lady, Brandy, Bailey, Sadie, Sam, Lucy, Rocky, Daisy, Buster and Ginger.

“Do you know why the English Bulldog has a jutting chin and a sloping face? It is so he can breathe without letting go” – Sir Winston Churchill to a Nazi envoy in 1940.

 

 

This article is from Bulldogs