From 1951 to the 1980s the PATSY Award celebrated the greatest animal actor in Hollywood; from 2001 to today the Palm Dog Award celebrates the greatest canine actor showing at Cannes.
In the 1939 film Jesse James, the titular character and his brother escape from the law by jumping their horses from a cliff into a lake. You can watch the scene on YouTube if you want, but I won’t link to it here because the horses allegedly died from the fall. That stunt set two events in motion. The American Humane Society began monitoring Hollywood’s use of animals. And they also began an annual award for animal actors.
The PATSY Award used a rather awkward backronym – Picture Animal Top Star of the Year – but honoured pretty much every one of the most famous animal film and television stars of the 20th century. Old Yeller, Flipper, Gentle Ben, Rin Tin Tin, Mr. Ed, and of course Lassie – PATSY winners all. Ronald Reagan presented the very first award to Francis the Talking Mule in 1951. That must have been very exciting for Reagan; Francis starred in seven blockbuster films between 1950 and 1956. (Reagan was in a few films as well and then had some kind of political career afterwards.)
This award died out in the 1980s, but in 2001 the Cannes Film Festival began a similar one: the Palm Dog Award. Get it? Like the Palm D’Or, but for dogs. This is given to the best canine actor in a film screened at the festival. Winners have included the dog in Lars von Trier’s Dogville and the poodle in Inglourious Basterds.
Do you remember seeing a poodle in Inglourious Basterds? Me neither. Must have been a shortage of good dog films in 2009.