Sordid secrets of the animal media stars

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The Independent Online
NOT ALL animal film and TV stars get a happy ending. Leo, the MGM lion who roared at the opening of hundreds of movies, was dispatched to a zoo in old age and died within a year. Attempts were made to preserve the site of his grave as a place of historical interest, but he is now commemorated by a somewhat more ignominious car park.

And many have suffered for the sake of their art. Mark McManus, the late Scottish actor, once told of a disastrous early encounter with a kangaroo in the television series, Skippy. "One day for a scene they put Skippy up a tree," he recalled. "No kangaroo is happy up a tree and Skippy panicked. He leapt off and killed himself."

Another loved character, Flipper, the dolphin, also had a less than happy time of it. Her former trainer, Richard O'Barry, revealed in 1993 that the dolphin, whose real name was Kathy, was stolen from her mother, dragged into a concrete pen and starved into performing her apparently cheery tricks.

In the end, she sank to the bottom of her pool, refused to breathe and had to be replaced. A further five each died in turn of boredom and broken hearts.

Perhaps the best-known Hollywood animal, the female Lassie, was actually a male called Pal, who wore a wig on his backside to hide his manhood. Five dogs played the role in seven films made between 1943 and 1951.

But it would be difficult to say what became of one of the latest animal film megastars - the pigs who played Babe. There were 48 of them.

One of Britain's own best loved pets, the original Petra, died within days of the dog's debut on the children's BBC television programme Blue Peter. An identical puppy was hastily purchased.

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