Higgins was perhaps the biggest canine of his era. The celebrity dog originated the character of Benji was beloved by many filmmakers, including the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, who found Benji to be his comfort film. Higgins, the original Benji, had a sweet friendship with one of his frequent human costars.
‘Benji’ actor Higgins the Dog | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
‘Benji’ became a franchise from one movie
Benji follows the title character, a mixed-breed dog depicted as lovable with a knack for always being in the right place at the right time. Two children from the town try to convince their parents to let the dog stay in their home, but the adults refuse. When the kids are kidnapped as part of a ransom, the dog tries to rescue them.
The movie director and writer, Joe Camp, had trouble finding the movie a home. Every studio he pitched the idea turned him away, so Camp decided to create his own film company to distribute the rights worldwide after many rejections. Benji was made on a $500,000 budget but instantly became a hit, earning $45 million at the box office, according to SAGindie.
▶” src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/UqtFvSKhKmA?feature=oembed” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen>
The movie’s theme song also received an Oscar nod for Best Original Song. Benji was the last film that veteran actors Edgar Buchanan and Frances Bavier worked on before their deaths in 1979 and 1989, respectively. The 1974 film resulted in a franchise about the eponymous dog.
The movie’s sequel, For The Love of Benji, was released in 1977. It took another decade for there to be another movie about the dog, with the third one in the installment, Benji The Hunted, released in 1987. The fourth film Benji: Off the Leash! was released in 2004, and the last film in the franchise debuted in 2018.
The original Benji had a sweet friendship with one of his frequent costars
▶” src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/QJPYEYRRJf0?feature=oembed” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen>
Edgar Buchanan and Higgins had a unique relationship that extended to more than being costars. The 1974 film wasn’t the first time man and dog met. Buchanan, who has 176 acting credits per IMDb, has appeared in several projects, including Love, American Style, The Partridge Family, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies.
Buchanan and Higgins had met before their time on the set of Benji, having worked together on three projects before. According to MeTV, Buchanan and Higgins had starred in Petticoat Junction, where the dog appeared as the family pet. Though uncredited, Petticoat Junction turned Higgins into a sensation, appearing in six of the show’s seven seasons.
In all the cast photos of the show, Buchanan is pictured either holding or petting the dog. Higgins then appeared opposite Buchanan in Green Acres, albeit in a guest capacity. The two finally starred in The Beverly Hillbillies before their time on Benji, by which point, they had gotten close enough for Buchanan to consider Higgins a friend.
Higgins and Buchanan coincidentally went out together as Benji was the last movie they did before their deaths.
Higgins had a successful career
▶” src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/5wLZurqHPAc?feature=oembed” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen>
Higgins began his career thanks to his owner, animal trainer Frank Inn, who rescued him from an animal shelter in Burbank, California. After his six-season run on Petticoat Junction and appearances in Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies, Higgins starred in Mooch Goes To Hollywood alongside Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Higgins’s work on Petticoat Junction earned him a PATSY Award in 1966 and landed him on the cover of TV Guide magazine. Inn was proud of Higgins and often gushed about the dog’s ability to learn new tricks, including coughing or sneezing on cue. Higgins came out of retirement for his own movie in 1974, Benji, which began a franchise he never got to enjoy. The beloved dog died in 1975 at age 17, a month shy of his 18th birthday.
RELATED: The Most Famous Dogs of All Time