the best doggone dog

As a new contributor to Westchester Senior Voice, I’d like to thank you in advance for reading my column. I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up as a child actress in Hollywood.

For this inaugural column, I decided to write about the movie that most people seem to remember me for. And, coincidentally, this is the magazine’s “pet issue” so the timing seemed perfect.

The year was 1956 and I was asked to audition for the part of Lisbeth in the Walt Disney film “Old Yeller.”

I was thrilled, as animals are my passion, but I honestly didn’t think I would get the role because Disney was also filming the famous Mickey Mouse Club at the same time. And, of course, any of the Mouseketeers would have been wonderful in the role.

After meeting and reading for the part in front of Walt Disney and the director Robert Stevenson, much to my surprise, I got the call saying I had been cast. It was a dream come true for me.

We filmed for three months and it is definitely one of my fondest memories. Some of you animal lovers might be interested to know that Old Yeller, whose real name was Spike, was a rescue dog!

They found him in a shelter and trained him. Unlike the shows “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin,” where numerous Collies and German Shepherds were used to play the same role, there was only one Old Yeller. He did every scene.

He was an amazing dog who did an amazing job. If I remember right, his dressing room was even bigger than mine!

While the movie was supposed to have taken place in Texas, we never went on location other than to Iverson Ranch which is about 50 miles outside of Los Angeles. The majority of the filming was done on the stage at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

Although it sounds very cliché, we truly did become like a family, as there were only seven people in the entire film and we were together every day for three months.

I’m saddened to say that Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Chuck Connors, Jeff York and Tommy Kirk have all passed away. The only people left from the movie are Kevin Corcoran and me.

After all these years, the two of us are still in touch, for which I’m truly grateful. I’m also so proud to have been a part of what is considered a “classic film.”

For 50 plus years, there have been references to Old Yeller on “The Cosby Show,” “Friends,” “King of the Hill,” and “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” as well as mentions in music, video games and comic strips.

Another highlight of the film for me was that I was able to go to school every day in the big red trailer with all of the Mouseketeers. I’m still friends with many of them today.

Old Yeller was released in 1957 and the wonderful memories linger on.

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