The summer of 1995, I was doing my internship in Los Angeles. I worked on a show called, “Day & Date.” It was a daily newsmagazine show, that sadly did not last long. While it was mostly office work, my boss made sure I got to go with the crews into the field to shoot too.
We went to interview Frank Inn. He looked like a mix between Captain Kangaroo and Bluto from the Popeye movie. He was a large man with a great belly laugh. He was extremely friendly and talked about his career. While you might not recognize his name, you will know his most famous pal – Benji, the movie icon.
As part of the shoot we went out with the current Benji to the groomer. Every Benji, since 1974, was a rescue animal, that Frank hand-picked. The color of the current Benji was not quite correct and his fur had to be dyed to match the original. After his spa day, our crew followed the fury celebrity to a photo shoot, then headed back to Frank’s home.
Mr. Inn was also the man behind all the animals on “The Beverly Hillbillies”, his home was adorned with photos from all the shows he worked on and pictures of him and Donna (Elly May) Douglas. He also provided the animals for “Green Acres”, “The Addams Family”, the original “Star Trek”, “My Three Sons”, “I Love Lucy”, and trained Lassie for “Lassie Come Home.”
In his office were about 15 or so tiny urns. Those were the ashes of all the Benjis and a few other famous mutts. According to his bio, he was buried with the remains.
We continued the interview and it was getting warm in the southern California home. Mr. Inn looked at me, he could see I was sweating, and said, “It’s a little cooler outside, would you like to take Benji out and play fetch?”
I thought HELL YES! I want to play fetch with Benji, but I played it cool and just said, “I would be honored.” Frank tossed me a small sized tennis ball, which I did not catch. (I suck at catch!) So, there I was in the backyard of a very kind man playing fetch with his world-famous dog. I threw high, low, and off to the side. Benji caught every throw and dutifully brought it back to me. While he was clearly famous, he was also a dog, and playing fetch was his happy place. Thinking back, it was a definite happy place for me too.