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Pet Parade : Animals Audition for a Chance at Stardom on 'Dr. Quinn'

August 30, 1995|DAVID E. BRADY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BURBANK — Like so many star-struck hopefuls before them, they came in search of a tiny piece of the Hollywood dream--Toby, Nick, Lacey, Georgia and Ralph.

They're not ponytailed waiters and spandex-clad beauties waiting for that Big Break, but two tabby cats, an English springer spaniel, a Siberian husky and an amiable macaw.

On Tuesday morning, they showed up with their owners at a studio here for a chance to appear alongside actress Jane Seymour on the CBS television drama "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."

And in a plot twist that could come only from the wacky world of Tinseltown, the audition itself will end up part of another television program.

"We would like to give somebody's pet the chance to become a star," said Janet Turner, producer of a forthcoming cable documentary chronicling the history of animal actors. Producers staged the audition so that filmmakers could capture the daylong event on tape.

Set to air next spring on TBS, the tentatively titled "Hollywood Animals" will offer "a behind-the-scenes look at the process the animals go through," said network publicist Erik Thompson.

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Throughout the cavernous sound stage, camera crews taped pets performing everything from climbing a ladder to barking on cue, searching among the more than 100 applicants for the talented pooch or pussycat that would share the small screen with the frontier doctor.

There were no agents in sight, but a few of the animals were already show biz veterans. Toby, a stoic Topanga Canyon cat, lists an infomercial and music video on his resume, while Ralph, a 13-year-old macaw from Long Beach, made his acting debut last year in an AT&T ad.

"Cats are not that tolerant," explained Toby's owner, Beverly Weinger. "You have to have a lot of love and patience to train a cat."

As Weinger demonstrated, her cat has plenty of tolerance, dutifully submitting to each of several costume changes, including a blond wig and a rabbit disguise.

"He's great company," she said. "He's my companion, my friend, my baby."

Mark Northam and Lisa Miller, a Hollywood Hills couple who compose music for television and film, said they brought their dog, Lacey, just for fun. They've only spent a month teaching her to sit, stay and jump, Northam said, but he was confident that Lacey's charm would separate her from the pack.

"We think she's the cutest," he said.

"Maybe she'll get by on her looks," Miller added.

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Gail Musick, a self-described dog "nanny," said she brought Georgia on a whim, a chance to tell the husky's Studio City owner of her brush with stardom.

"I don't want her to be a show dog," she said. "That's no life for her."

To the West Hollywood resident and cat owner, animals are more rewarding as pets than performers.

"They're the most relaxing, centering thing to be around," Musick said, sounding much like the massage therapist she is. "They diffuse your tensions."

After watching several pets getting put through their paces in front of the camera and a professional trainer, Turner noted that working with animals requires extraordinary patience. Still, she said, it's territory free of the inflated egos that are legend in Hollywood.

"The nice thing is we don't have to worry about hurting their feelings."

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