Sunday, December 6, 2009

Making it Big

Renowned animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller worked with twelve Saint Bernards for twenty-four weeks before filming on the 1992 Beethoven began. Of the twelve, Miller chose one that he knew had that perfect star power. Kris was a six-month-old puppy when Miller got him from a Riverside, CA, kennel. He grew up to be 185 pounds of beauty and brains whose skills included sharing ice cream cones with delicate bites, opening doors, and diving into swimming pools to save the little girl of his family. Kris worked with only two doubles, who stood in for lighting and setup, as well as some animatronic assistance.

Along with Barry, Kris, usually known only as Beethoven, is probably the most famous Saint Bernard ever. Though he only starred in the first two movies of the Beethoven series, he helped make Beethoven one of the top-grossing animal films ever.

Working on the set with this superstar was not all biscuits and kibble however. When the production team first began working with the dog, they were unhappy with his performance. Miller soon realized they were expecting a ballerina instead of a linebacker. He had to explain the physical limitations of a dog built like a truck, and the reactions from the crew improved. Because Kris, and the other Saint Bernards working on Beethoven's 2nd, had the unfortunate habit of drooling profusely in the mildest heat, the set was never over 60 degrees fahrenheit. But the dogs came first. When anyone on the set complained about the cold, director Rod Daniel advised them to put on a sweater.

Pictured: Kris, on the set of Beethoven, from author's collection. Copyright Universal Pictures, 1992.

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