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Great dog stars of the past

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Judging by Bingo, canine characters are going to the…oh, you know. Whatever happened to the great dog stars of the past? Well, they’re still around — sort of.

Lassie, the ”queen” of movie dogs, first did his female-impersonation bit in 1943’s Lassie Come Home. Until last year, a seventh-generation descendant appeared in the syndicated The New Lassie. A remake of the first Lassie flick is allegedly in the works for 1993 — the classy collie’s 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, on his ranch in Canyon Country, Calif., trainer Robert Weatherwax (son of Lassie’s original trainer) has begun initiating his son into the Lassie tradition.

Rin Tin Tin has been played by about 20 German shepherds, all bearing some familial relation to the original 1920s silents star. Today, the syndicated Rin Tin Tin K-9 Cop is in its fourth season on The Family Channel. According to assistant to the producer Mark Austin, the series is highly rated in Germany.

Benji, a mere pup in the canine pantheon, made his movie debut in 1974. The original mutt (né Higgins) appeared only in the first movie, Benji, his daughter in the rest. Now Higgins’ 1-year-old great-grandson is being groomed to star in his first feature, Home for Christmas — a late-1993 release costarring Whoopi Goldberg. ”Benji and Christmas are pretty synonymous emotionally,” says director Joe Camp.

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