Sometimes you hear a story that makes you smile, and it continues to do so every time you think about it. This story does that for me. My guess is that many of my fellow classic TV lovers have heard it, but since it’s always nice to share happy remembrances, I hope they will indulge my telling it again.
In the second season of Petticoat Junction (a series long overdue for praise in this blog) a new character was introduced – a stray dog adopted into the Shady Rest Hotel by the youngest of Kate Bradley’s three daughters, Betty Jo. He was never given a name on the show but trainer Frank Inn, who discovered the dog at the Burbank Animal Shelter, called him Higgins.
The dog was loved by everyone in the family except for gruff old Uncle Joe, played so memorably by gruff old Edgar Buchanan: “One thing we don’t need around this hotel is some flea-bitten hound eating us out of house and home.” Between takes, Buchanan was as fond of Higgins as the rest of the cast.
Higgins remained a prominent presence for the remainder of the show’s seven seasons, and he astonished audiences with the remarkable and complex tasks he was trained to do. Whether running and jumping on cue, picking up objects and carrying them to a specific place, turning off lights or picking up phones, Higgins became known as “the one-take dog,” because he always got the scene right the first time.
When Petticoat Junction ended its run in 1970, Frank Inn had planned to let Higgins, then 10 years old, enjoy his retirement. But in 1974, the dog was cast as the star of a hugely successful family film that (according to IMDB) was made for $500,000 and grossed more than $39 million. From then on Higgins had a new name – Benji.
As coincidence would have it, Benji also featured Edgar Buchanan in a supporting role. Buchanan had not seen Higgins since Petticoat Junction was canceled three years earlier. On his first day of filming, as he stood on a porch that was part of a set, he wondered whether the dog would remember him. But as soon as Higgins spotted his friend, he ran toward him and took a flying leap into his arms. And even gruff old Edgar Buchanan couldn’t hold back the tears.
As I said, just a nice story to make you smile. And perhaps to wonder what we ever did to deserve the pure and unconditional love we receive from dogs.