Higgins: From Shelter Dog to Beloved Benji
Higgins made history after being discovered in a shelter. He started in TV then went on to the big screen with his most famous role as the original Benji.
Higgins was born on December 12, 1957. In 1960 animal trainer Frank Inn adopted the dog from the Burbank Animal Shelter in California - shelters were the first place Inn would go to when looking for future stars. The trainer took an immediate liking to Higgins and saw a real potential for acting in him. The mixed-breed dog ended up being his biggest star.
Higgins started his career in television. He first played the part of the uncredited and nameless dog in Petticoat Junction, having appeared in 149 episodes from 1964 to 1970. Inn trained many animals and told reporters that Higgins was the smartest dog he had ever worked with. He said Higgins had an expressive face and was able to convey many emotions, and could successfully master a new routine or trick, such as yawning and sneezing on cue, every week. Higgins also appeared as a guest on Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. In 1967 he won a PATSY (Performing Animal Television Star of the Year) award, and was featured on the cover of TV Guide.
Higgins moved on to the movies. He starred in the TV film Mooch Goes to Hollywood with Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1971, and in 1974 he starred in the first Benji movie which was the #3 grossing movie of the year. This was Higgins' last role as he was getting up in age. His daughter Benjean took over the role of Benji in three movies.
When the word spread that the beloved original Benji was rescued from a shelter, the number of adoptions from the American Humane Society greatly increased. So not only did Higgins entertain us, he brought awareness to the need of helping thousands of abandoned dogs.
Higgins died on November 11, 1975, just a few weeks short of his 18th birthday, and his body was cremated. When Inn died in 2002 he had requested that Higgins' ashes be buried with him. It is said his request was not fulfilled and that his daughter has the urn containing the dog's ashes.