Somewhere Over The Rainbow Bridge a little Cairn Terrier is surely wagging her tail with delight over a gorgeous and heartfelt cenotaph being created in her honor; one that will be unveiled at a dedication ceremony at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Saturday June 18 at 11:00 a.m.
I'm talking about...who else? Hollywood's A-List animal actress of yesteryear, Terry Spitz, beloved the world over for her feisty portrayal of Dorothy's dog Toto in the 1939 MGM film classic The Wizard of Oz.
Terry passed away 65 years ago at the age of 11-going-on-12. Her career ran 8 years and she appeared in over a dozen films with stars such as Judy Garland (of course), Shirley Temple, Spencer Tracy and Virginia Weidler.
She was so identified with the Oz role - with fans of all ages coming out to the ranch and at public appearance to meet "Toto" - that it became her adopted name despite the fact that the canine character created by author L.Frank Baum was male. Versitile Terry!
Upon her death in late 1945, Terry's caretaker and trainer extraordinaire, Carl Spitz, opted to bury her at home alongside other animals on his Ventura Blvd. kennel ranch in North Hollywood (now Studio City) where he ran a famous dog training school.
Sadly, a decade later all the graves, including Terry's, were destroyed by progress, aka the construction of the mammoth Ventura Freeway project which ran right through the former Spitz property. Not that there would have been much left of her, but still...ugh.
The internet has brought celebrity grave hunting to a whole new level in recent years, but finding the final resting places of animal actors is still challenging. Some have public burial places but those are few and far between, a topic my longtime graving amigo Steve Goldstein, author of LA's Graveside Companion: Where The V.I.P.s R.I.P., addressed with Huell Howser on California's Gold in 2007. (Check it out here.)
In 2010 J.P. Myers, who had just spearheaded a grave marker campaign for "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" songwriter Jack Norworth, learned of the fate of Toto's grave site. Then after seeing Steve's television appearance, reached out to team up on creating a public memorial where fans could remember and pay homage to Terry and Toto, who they both felt represented a very special part of American culture.
They launched their idea, soliciting ideas and funds, on Facebook in October 2010 with the Toto Canine Movie Star Memorial Marker page and quickly learned that fans agreed with their assessment. Donations to pay for the marker and a plot to put it on rolled in.
In March of this year our gallant friend Tyler Cassity donated a choice plot at Hollywood Forever outside the Cathedral Mausoleum (above), deeding it to FixNation who will protect and care for the marker. FixNation is a non-profit organization that is the first of its kind in Los Angeles to offer free spay and neuter services for feral cats, including those who call Hollywood Forever home.
The Cairn Terrier Club of Southern California provided models for the statue portion of the memorial. I've been told that the cement base of the memorial has already been set. (Update 6/10: it's true, click here to see photo courtesy of J.P.) Here's a sneak peek at the work in progress:
Sculptor Roman Gal, with his model for the lifesize bronze Toto statue,
sketches ideas for the memorial's marble base to be created
by Arsen Oganesyan. (Photo Courtesy J.P. Myers)
"I think that my father would be very pleased by this," Carl Spitz Jr. told me when we spoke on the phone a few months ago after he read Chris Epting's breaking article about the initiative on AOL News. He was so pleased that he sent in a donation. He also spoke with Steve about Terry; read about that conversation here.
Donations are still being accepted. For more information, and exclusive updates, "like" the Facebook page at Toto Canine Movie Star Memorial Marker.
Hope to see everyone out at Hollywood Forever on June 18th - it's a free, family event, with plenty of free on-site parking. Festivities run 11:00 a.m - 1:00 p.m. Children and pets are welcome!
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90038. [Map]