September 11, 2015 | Posted in Famous TV & Movie Dogs
A 1905 British silent film made a fortune for director Cecil Hepworh, and launched his dog Blair (who played Rover) into stardom, as the first dog to be a lead character in a film.
The film was “Rescued by Rover” and it was only 6 ½ minutes long, but it was an instant hit. It told the story of a little girl who is kidnapped when her nanny turns her back on her to talk to a gentleman. Rover comes to the rescue, finding the little girl after running through the streets, swimming through a stream to get to his destination, and knocking on doors until he finds the right one. He returns for the child’s father and brings him to the kidnapper and little girl, and all is well. It was really a family project. Hepworth directed and played the part of the father, his wife played his wife (the child’s mother) in the film, and Rover, whose name was Blair, was their dog. Incidentally, two actors were hired for the film – one to play the part of the nanny and one to play the kidnapper – and it is believed that this is the first time actors were paid to appear in a film.
The film cost $37 to make and so many filmgoers flocked to see it that the prints wore out. Before long, the film actually had to be re-shot in its entirety because the negatives were worn out, as well.
Blair was a collie who we now know looked like Lassie, though he pre-dated Lassie by many years.
It isn’t definite how long Blair lived, but he did go on to star in another Hepworth film in 1908, more or less a re-hash of the same theme. It was called “The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper”. The best thing about the film was the fact that a stunt was performed to give the appearance that Blair was driving. He follows a kidnapper who has taken a child (once again played by Hepworth’s own daughter) and driven off with her in a car. Blair runs after the car, and when the kidnapper momentarily leaves the child in the car, the dog hops in and “drives” the child to safety. It was cleverly done and remains a funny scene to this day.
When Blair passed away, Hepworth’s film company released a newsletter announcing his passing and saying that they’d lost a colleague and dear friend.