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Pets deserving an Academy Award

Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz

Have you ever wondered if an animal has won an Academy Award? Technically animals are not eligible to win Academy Awards, but that hasn't stopped many of them from “co-starring” in Academy Award winning films. With the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony being held on Sunday, March 27, 2022, it's a timely question.  

Everyone certainly remembers Toto, a Cairn Terrier, who was Dorothy's faithful companion and protector from the Wicked Witch of the West in the Land of Oz. The Wizard of Oz won two Academy Awards in 1940, but lost out to Gone With the Wind for Best Picture. Poor Toto, who was formerly known as Terry, had her foot stepped on and broken by one of the Winkie guards during the filming of this classic movie. Toto was lucky enough to spend her two week recuperation with Judy Garland, who she adored.     

A more recent family favorite, Seabiscuit, was nominated for an impressive seven Academy Awards in 2004, but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for Best Picture. Seabiscuit, a movie about the famous Thoroughbred race horse from the 1930s, starred Tobey Maguire and at least six different horses who played the part of Seabiscuit himself. A fairly unknown racehorse named Popcorn Deelites portrayed Seabiscuit in all of the racing scenes.

Even though the guidelines prevent animals from winning Academy Awards, they can attend, and even present, at the awards ceremony. Bart the Bear, who appeared in Legends of the Fall, did just that. He presented with host Billy Crystal at the 70th annual Academy Awards in 1998.  In a very memorable moment, Bart handed an award envelope to Billy Crystal, after which Crystal quipped:  “I just soiled myself.”  

Even though our beloved four-legged friends are barred from winning the highly coveted Academy Award, or Oscar, they could win a PATSY, which was the American Humane Association's equivalent. PATSY was an acronym for Picture Animal Top Star of the Year.  This award began in the Hollywood office of the American Humane Association in 1939 as a way to to honor animals in the motion picture business after a horse was accidentally and tragically killed on set during the filming of the movie Jesse James, starring Tyrone Power.  

The first PATSY was awarded to Francis the Talking Mule in 1951 at a ceremony hosted by future president, Ronald Reagan, who was then a famous actor. The award was also given to Orangey the cat for his portrayal of Cat in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). The cat won the award not once, but twice, for two different movies. Orangey also won a PATSY for his role in Rhubard (1951).

The award could later be given to animals appearing in both movie and television roles, beginning in 1958.  The PATSY was awarded in four different categories:  canine, equine, special, or wild. The special category covered such animals as goats, cats, rats, and pigs. Arnold Ziffer, the pig from the television series, Green Acres, also won more than once, as did Mr. Ed the “talking” horse and Ben the Rat. Higgins, the dog who played Benji in the Benji movies, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Shaggy the Dog, Old Yeller, and Cleo the Basset Hound all won the award at least once.  In fact, Lassie, everyone's favorite Collie, won so many PATSY awards over the years that she was retired to the PATSY Hall of Fame.  

Beginning in 1973, the awards were given during a televised ceremony on network television.  The general public chose the award winners by voting in a ballot contained in Associated Press newspapers. Over the years, the ceremony was hosted by celebrities such as Bob Barker and Betty White. The PATSY awards ended in 1986 due to lack of funding, but in 2011 a new award—the Pawscars-- were established by the American Humane Association as an “unofficial, animal-centric spin on the Oscars.” Unfortunately the Pawscars award ceremony has not occurred the past few years due to the pandemic, but according to the Pawscars' Facebook page, they have something special planned for the 2023 awards show.      

First Published with Beatrice Daily Sun:

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