A DOG JOURNAL INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY
If you are a fan of TV and film, you are probably familiar with Mr. Stephen Tobolowsky. He has too many TV and film credits to list here, but some of his TV projects include Glee, Californication, Deadwood, Heroes, and CSI: Miami. His film projects include Spaceballs, Groundhog Day, Mississippi Burning, and many, many more. He also has a wonderful story-telling podcast called The Tobolowsky Files along with David Chen, which you can learn more about by clicking here.
Mr. Tobolowsky was kind enough to answer some questions for the Dog Journal on Tumblr and tell us a little about dogs and how awesome they are:
Would you please tell us a little about the first dog you remember having in your childhood?
The first dog I ever had was Honey. Honey was a cocker spaniel puppy and was the cutest thing I ever saw. We got a doghouse. We got puppy food. We were very excited. Honey vomited on my Dad’s feet after being with us for a very short time. It could have been hours. Honey got the boot. She went to my brother’s violin teacher, Mr. Schwartz. After that we had cats.
We were very close to the dogs in our neighborhood growing up. There was George, Red, Pudgy, and Kookie. All were very important in my childhood. George was Billy Hart’s dog. Billy was the head of the Dangerous Animals Club. My sister loved George more than anything in the world. Red and Pudgy lived with the Sargents down the block. Red was a huge Irish Setter and Pudgy was a Pomeranian. When the Sargents left on vacation they asked us to take care of their dogs and cats (Solomon and Sheba). We would spend hours with the dogs. We would always be sad when the Sargents came home from the lake. Kookie was a Chihuahua that lived across the alley at the Harp’s house. He was a pretty annoying dog. He yapped at every car that drove past his house. Kookie had an unfortunate life. He lost a leg and an eye. The Harps got a rooster for some reason. The rooster used to chase Kookie around the yard and peck at his butt. It made us all sad to watch it.
I include the story of Kookie because it was important to me in my later life. When I found my first dog – a lost starving dog at death’s door I determined I would not let this dog have the same fate as Kookie. I would make sure the dog was at least cared for. She became my best friend.
Given your long and varied film and TV career, you must have had opportunity to work with canines and other co-stars who hail from the animal kingdom. (e.g. “Beethoven’s Big Break” comes to mind). Are there unique challenges that accompany working with animals on-camera?
There are many challenges to working with a dog in a movie. You have to understand as the human that once the dog gets it right – that will be the take they use. You can’t go back and say – “Wait a minute, could I have another one? I messed up a line.” Nope. You have to be focused every take. You have to be able to do your work with dog trainers all around the set. You have to work with a pork chop in your pocket or gravy smeared behind your ear so the dog will stand up and kiss you.
In Episode 23 of your podcast – The Tobolowsky Files –many listeners were moved by your story about “Pooch” (Mini Schnauzer?), who unexpectedly entered your life after suddenly appearing in your yard. You could have easily left Pooch at the pound and have been done with it, especially considering her poor condition at the time. Instead, you paid for her treatment, nursed her back to health, and adopted her. What do you think prompted you to accept her as “your dog?”
Why did I go to the lengths I went to for my dog, The Pooch? Great question. The answer is the same as the answer to so many things in the world. Once you know – you have to do. Sounds simple. Most of our life we live under the delusion that we know things when we really don’t. Once you know that your mother is ill and you may only have hours to be with her – once you know that if you don’t study for a test you are likely to fail it and there will be consequences. I knew that there was no one who would save this dog. No one. If I took her to the vet, she would not be magically healed and get a good home. They would put her down. Simple. I didn’t have to take care of her but I would have to live with my indifference for the rest of my life. So I decided to help the dog for a day. I gave her water. Then food. Then a doctor. Then a home. What she gave me was immeasurable.
How is Pooch doing and how many other dogs do you currently own?
The dear Pooch passed away about five years ago. That made her at least twenty. We never knew how old she was when we found her. She was young. I have no dogs now. I have three cats. We sold our horses. We had four. I was injured and couldn’t ride anymore. We had to get them to good homes where they would have lots of riding and lots of freedom. I travel too much for a dog now. One could easily enter my life after I settle down some.
Are there any lessons you think we, as humans, could learn from our canine companions?
What I learned from The Pooch? I learned love doesn’t follow scientific rules that say energy is not created or destroyed and that there is an equivalence to input and output. Not true with a dog. The love you put into a dog is never equal to love and devotion you get in return. They are the great magicians of the animal kingdom creating more love from nothing than you ever thought was imaginable.
I always remember the story of Ulysses. His dog waits for him for year to return. He is talked about by others at the stables. How he awaits his master. How he used to be a strong and handsome dog. Now he was starving and pathetic. And yet he waited. Then Ulysses returns. The dog hears his steps and recognizes him. He stands happily. They lock eyes – there is recognition from his master - and then the dog dies. The combination of loyalty and single mindedness. Love. And did I mention love.
Finally, do you have any upcoming TV and/or film projects our Tumblr friends should be on the lookout for?
Next up for me is more Californication. My book, The Dangerous Animals Club is being released from Simon and Schuster in September. It is available on Amazon now for pre-order and yes – it does have the story of the Pooch in it!!
Thanks again to Mr. Tobolowsky for sharing his wonderful insight and touching stories about the animals in his life. Be sure to check out Mr. Tobolowsky’s work on Californication, his upcoming book The Dangerous Animals Club, and his podcast The Tobolowsky Files.