Jean and the Calico Doll (1910)

Jean the Vitagraph Dog - Star of Jean and the Calico Doll (1910)

Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller, Lassie, Hooch, Beethoven, and even Bolt and Slinky. Film is full of famous dogs, and the media industry loves to use them as mascots. HMV, the British music and film retailer even has a famous dog, Nipper, as part of its logo, having been adopted from an 1898 painting of the terrier listening to His Master's Voice on a gramophone.

In film, the dog to start it all was a female collie called Jean, who was more popularly known as the Vitagraph Dog. The founder of Vitagraph Studios, Albert Edward Smith, had a specific story in mind featuring a dog that was able to act beyond doing simple tricks.

When Laurence Trimble, a young writer of stories featuring animals, heard of Smith's predicament, he became determined to find and supply the correct dog. The story goes that in order to prove his worth as a dog trainer he found a stray on the parking lot and, after spending an hour coaxing it out, was able to train it to perform the action required by Smith's script.

The next day, Trimble arrived at the studio with his own dog, Jean. Impressed by Trimble, Smith asked him to direct Jean in the picture, which would become Jean and the Calico Doll. Jean plays the role of a family pet who alerts her owners to their daughter's accident.

Also making her screen debut in Jean and the Calico Doll was actress Helen Hayes, whose own career spanned 80 years, who would later remark that she was thrilled to star in support of Jean.

Jean would go on to star in 25 films in her 5 year career before her death in 1916. Laurence Trimble would continue to direct films, especially other canine stars including a German Shepherd called Strongheart, before eventually retiring in 1926 to concentrate on training dogs for the blind.

Most of Jean's films are now considered lost. However, her second film, Jean the Match-Maker (1910), survives. You can watch that in full below: