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Pup Ponders Multi-pic Pact

January 12, 1986|David T. Friendly

There's an old show-biz saw that says don't work with kids or animals. Good advice. Look at Paul Mazursky's "Down and Out in Beverly Hills." At an advance screening Tuesday at Disney studios, the audience praised stars Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler and Nick Nolte--but the big kudos and many of the biggest laughs went to a lovable and neurotic black-and-white Scottish Border Collie called Matisse (real name Mike).

The honchos at Disney obviously felt the same way. They frantically tried to nail-down Mike for a long-term contract. "We were in very serious negotiations for a couple of weeks there, but in the end we couldn't come to terms," said one frustrated Disney executive. "He's holding out until the picture opens because he thinks he can get more in a free market."

According to Mike's manager, animal trainer Clint Rowe from Acton, Calif., the studio offered Mike $3,000 for what's called a "right of first refusal deal" to retain the dog's services for 18 months.

But when Rowe came back with a higher counter-offer, Disney balked. "My manager told me the studio decided not to go ahead," Rowe said. "They said they could go out and get any dog. That really hurt, but I guess that's the business."

Rowe, who's a professional animal trainer for the movies (that's one of his clients in Disney's "Natty Gann"), found Mike seven years ago as a pup at a ranch in Northern California chained to a small dog house. Rowe still didn't consider the dog an above-the-title player: "He has one blue eye and at the time everyone told me there is no way a blue-eyed dog is gonna work."

Mike's odds were lowered even more when a horse kicked him and broke his leg. He was in a cast for seven weeks and the prospects looked dim for Tinseltown fame. But even with a bum leg and the blue eye, Mike proved the experts wrong. He's appeared in several TV spots for Toyota and Doublemint gum (that's him chasing the Frisbee).

Rowe expects the movie offers to roll in: "He's just so good. He responds to your emotions. If you're cheering him on, he puts more into it."

In the movie, Mike rolls his eyes, walks on hot coals and plunges snout-first off a diving board.

In the scene where Mike trots over the coals, fellow actors cheered him on, at which point Mike decided to do his own ad lib and romped over the coals again. Mazursky used both takes in the film.

For now, Mike is working on his tan and awaiting his next offer.

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