It reads like a tale of old Hollywood. The established star needs a fresh new co-star for his latest movie. The talent search goes international and turns up the perfect face in Europe. There are intensive acting lessons—and English lessons. The new arrival is groomed. There are vicious rumors that the new star is spending a lot of time on the director’s couch—not to mention the rest of the furniture—and that there’s someone on the set who does nothing but pick up after the star. But even in Hollywood, breeding wins out, and a new name goes up in lights.
The name is Rando. It belongs to the 3-year-old German shepherd who co-stars with Jim Belushi in the new Universal Studios comedy K-9. Belushi plays a detective so crazy no human cop will work with him. But since every movie cop has a partner, Belushi gets the highly trained Rando—or Jerry Lee as he’s called in the movie. Reviews of the top-grossing film have been mixed, but the Chicago Tribune hailed Rando’s “fancy pawwork and eloquent moans,” and the New York Times said that Rando “upstages” Belushi.
The search for Rando began about two years ago. “We looked at more than 40 dogs and didn’t find the qualities we wanted,” says Gail Mooring, Rando’s owner and president of K-9 Paws, which provided technical advice for the movie. “The dog had to be very happy and have a lot of character, and, for reasons of cinematography, have a light face and the type of mask that goes around his eyebrows and the top of his head. American shepherds are bred mostly for dark pigment.” Failing to find an American dog to fill the bill, Mooring’s partner, Donn Yarnall, went to West Germany and bought four young shepherds for $10,000.
All four went to work with veteran animal trainer Karl Miller, who had just 12 weeks to prepare them for stardom. First he had to teach them to respond to commands in English. “In the third week,” says Miller, “Rando showed us that he was, indeed, Jerry Lee. The typical dog knows 10 or 15 commands, but Rando has anywhere from 125 to 150 actions that he has performed at one time or another. Anything the scriptwriters dream up, Rando can do. He even comes as close to smiling as I think a dog will ever come.”
Smiling and acting adorable aren’t all Rando is called on to do though. “In the story,” says Miller, “the dog has three different personalities. At times, he’s just a slobbish, mischievous, self-willed animal. There are also times when he has to be a highly trained police dog. And then there are times in the script when he’s a very noble, regal German shepherd. The one thing I couldn’t train was the noble, regal part; the dog had to have that himself. And that’s how Rando won the part.”
Rando, who lives with Mooring in her Spanish-style house in Malibu, is close-mouthed about his life away from the set, but Mooring is more forthcoming. “He’s completely devoted to my 10-year-old son, Giovanni. They go on hikes and treasure hunts and play baseball together. Rando is a very good outfielder.”
Belushi was impressed by the way his co-star pulled off his first film role. “He was an animal, a total animal,” says Belushi. “He’d come on the set, steal all the women’s attention, steal the scene and walk away to his trailer when he was done. No hellos, no thank-yous, no goodbyes. He’s a real Errol Flynn.”
—Michael Neill, Marie Moneysmith in Los Angeles