American String Teachers Association
American Society of Travel Agents
American Seed Trade Association
Asta is, in fact, a name and not an acronym that makes someone giggle and think, “Seriously? There’s a group for that?”
For fans of classic movies, Asta is a quintessential staple of the Thin Man films, a less heroic but far cooler version of Lassie. From his first appearance onscreen (dragging Myrna Loy on the end of his leash), it is obvious that Asta is not a well-trained, obedient pet; Asta isn’t a pet, at all! He’s a peer on equal footing as his “owners” Nick and Nora Charles.
A lesser-known factoid about Asta is that Asta never actually existed in real life.
Asta was merely a character, the same as Nick and Nora Charles, the same as Santa Claus, the same as many of my own childhood friends (Hi Magic Elf! Hi Soiled Cardboard!)
The dog—no, actor--behind the iconic Asta was actually named Skippy.
|“Hey! Where the hell is my imported water with the slice of cucumber? I’m Skippy Effin’ Asta! I’ll have all of you blacklisted, you got me?!”|
Suffering the fate many actors in iconic roles (ex: Mark Hamill, Anthony Perkins, Viven Leigh) have faced, Skippy would forever be remembered as his greatest character and not as the dog behind the role. Unlike those other actors, though, Skippy was a dog and, therefore, could not have cared less. While the human actors might lament their fate of being pigeonholed, Skippy just chewed on lamb bones and chased pigeons.
|Oh, he is the pooch? Okay. Thanks for clarifying.|
At the age of one, Skippy began working in the movies, mostly providing background and filling space.
By 1934, the three-year old wire hair terrier would become a star. In addition to Myrna Loy and William Powell in the first two Thin Man films, Skippy worked with a list of co-stars that would cause humans to have a Pavlovian response.
In The Awful Truth, Skippy plays the role of Mr. Smith, a dog caught in the middle of a divorce between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.
In one scene, Mr. Smith drags out a hat, an incriminating hat, no less, that Irene Dunne has tried to hide from Cary Grant. With more loyalty to his own sense of troublemaking than to his owners, Skippy’s unruly screen persona was a lot of fun to watch and, ironically, the result of strict training by owners Henry and Gail East. In fact, the only gaffe involving Skippy wasn’t even his fault.
In one playful scene, Cary Grant can be heard actually calling the dog by Skippy.
In Bringing Up Baby, Skippy not only reteams with Cary Grant, but co-stars with Katharine Hepburn in this classic Howard Hawks film.
As Hepburn’s dog George, Skippy sets the entire screwball movie into motion by burying a dinosaur bone. Later in the film, as he begins sharing scenes alongside the leopard, Baby, Skippy shows that his appeal knows no gender or species. Okay, sure, the shots with the leopards and the humans were done with a split screen, but Skippy’s wrestling with an actual leopard, pulling on its ear, no less, is impressive and, once the shock wears off, pretty damn cute.
One thing that isn’t faked in the movie is when Skippy is required to leer mischievously. You might assume it’s fake, but it’s actually Skippy acting his tiny butt off. Bringing Up Baby was also noteworthy for Skippy as it was the first time he was billed as Asta in a non-Thin Man movie. It would happen again in his next film, I Am The Law, with Edward G. Robinson, playing a dog named Habeas.
Then, in his last film, Topper Takes A Trip, Skippy is once again billed as himself.
Playing alongside Constance Bennett, Billie Burke (perhaps best known as Glinda, the Good Witch) and Roland Young, Skippy’s Mr. Atlas serves as a stand-in/cute distraction to mask the obvious lack of Cary Grant’s reprised role from the first film. Still, Skippy is a far better Plan B than some generically handsome actor filling Grant’s shoes. No one watches Mr. Atlas’ scenes and thinks, “He’s fine, but he’s no Cary Grant.”
When you watch Skippy, whether as Asta or Mr. Atlas, you simply think, “That dog is awesome.”
At the height of his career, Skippy was earning $250 a month, which, in dog money, is, like, a million dollars.
He eventually retired, but sired a legacy of acting dogs that continued to entertain the world.
So, even while his son, Asta Jr., took over in future Thin Man films, fan letters and tongue-in-cheek interviews followed Skippy throughout his well-earned retirement.
|Asta Jr. takes over for dad|
Skippy was loved by his owners, adored by millions of fans and remembered fondly to this day.
Will the same be said of Mark Hamill in 70+ years?
Or even Mark Hamill Jr., for that matter?