10 fascinating facts about 'Benji'

The famous mutt's movie was one of Hitchcock's guilty pleasures.

Image: The Everett Collection

The reboot machine has come back for one of the big screen's most lovable recurring faces: Benji. It was recently announced that Brandon Camp, the son of original Benji filmmaker Joe Camp, would be rescuing a new shelter dog and reviving his father's franchise. He's even already introduced his new Benji star on The Today Show. Watch that clip below to meet the new Benji:

This particular reboot, of course, means a whole new generation will get to meet the mutt that touched so many with a bunch of scrappy films released between 1974 and 2004. There's no release date yet on the new Benji movie, but hearing about it made us want to go back and retrace the pawprints of the movie franchise. Below, learn all there is to know about the celebrity dog that put mutts on the map.

1. Benji might not have existed without 'Lady and the Tramp"


Disney's Lady and the Tramp came out almost 20 years before Benji made it to theaters, but writer/director Joe Camp still credits the animated film for inspiring his original screenplay. His story about a stray dog ultimately spawned an entire movie franchise, though.

Image: Buena Vista Distribution

2. The haunted house in the movie was converted into a bed & breakfast.


Benji starts out by showing this shot of a creepy haunted house where ultimately Paul and Cindy are held hostage. Well, if you're ever in McKinney, Texas, it seems you can have a much more pleasant stay in the exact same place. The residence used as a Benji film location for the haunted house scenes has been painted up and converted into Dowell House Bed & Breakfast.

Image: Google Streetview

3. The 'Benji' theme song won a Golden Globe award.


Country crooner Charlie Rich had a hit with his Benji theme song "I Feel Love." More prestigious, he also won a Golden Globe for "Best Original Song" in 1975. You could say about everything that Benji touched: It's almost like magic, it's in the air.

Image: musicstack.com

4. Alfred Hitchcock was a 'Benji' fan.


It's been said that Benji was one of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite movies to throw on as a guilty pleasure. Perhaps it's because the famed director worked with so many Benji actors on his own TV shows, including both Frances Bavier and Edgar Buchanan on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. We counted half a dozen Benji cast members who also appeared on TV in Hitchock shows. It's also no secret that Hitchcock was a huge fan of dogs, as you can see here in this photo of Hitchcock with his family, both human and canine members.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. 'Benji' was the final film of Frances Bavier and Edgar Buchanan


Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction) and Frances Bavier (The Andy Griffith Show) both appeared in Benji, and it also happened that the movie featured both stars final acting roles. Buchanan passed away five years later in 1979, while Bavier retired from acting once the movie wrapped.

6. Buchanan and Benji were already friends.


Buchanan didn't meet the dog who played Benji (whose name was actually Higgins) on the set of the movie. He actually had starred alongside the dog for seven years on the show Petticoat Junction. Higgins played the family dog on that sitcom and also appeared on Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies. In that time, the actor got to know the dog well enough to consider him a friend.


7. Famed animal trainer Frank Inn was Benji's owner.


Benji's origin story goes like this: Frank Inn adopted the dog from a shelter in California. He was 100% mutt, a mix of cocker spaniel, schnauzer and poodle. Inn worked with the dog until Higgins was ready for the dog's first role in 1963 (Petticoat Junction). Then when Higgins turned 14, Inn responsibly retired the dog. But once the role of Benji came up, Higgins came out of retirement. That's why the original Benji was in just the first film, because Higgins was already beyond the point where Inn wanted the dog working. 

8. Higgins' daughter Benjean was in the other 'Benji' films.


Luckily, Higgins' line did not end with the original Benji dog, and Higgins' daughter Benjean (Benji for short) stepped up to do many of the Benji sequels. For the most recent revival (before Netflix's newest), there were actually three dogs that portrayed Benji in 2004's Benji: Off the Leash. A dog named Moochie played Benji in that film, along with pups named Sally Sue and Odola play 8-week-old and 4-month-old Benji respectively.

Image: Mulberry Square Releasing

9. 'Benji' raked in $45 million at the box office worldwide.


Benji creator Joe Camp wrote his film to counter the bad name that he saw G-rated family films getting due to a popular type of film distribution where filmmakers could rent out a theater and keep the entire box office of their low-quality movies. Perhaps it was karma then that saw Camp's little film take off to become the huge hit it was, earning close to $40 million domestically and worldwide reaching $45 million total at the box office.

Image: Mulberry Square Releasing

10. They even made a 'Benji' Halloween costume.


Benji proved so popular with kids that many wanted to become the dog for Halloween in the 1970s, so of course costume makers complied. While Benji doesn't exactly make us think spooky thoughts, we have to give them credit: This is arguably the least approachable Benji has ever looked.

Image: retroartstuff / eBay

See also: 18 adorable dogs from classic television shows


Did you know Tramp from My Three Sons was one of Higgins' puppies? There's lots to learn about all your favorite TV dogs. Read more.

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