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Celebrities Celebrate Beastie Besties at Hero Dog Awards

Dogs have always been man’s best friend, but it’s only been in the last few decades that we have started behaving as if it works both ways.  That’s an encapsulation of an idea that Betty White expressed last night, when she was honored at the Second Annual American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards — and Betty is one who would know.

The 90-year-old national treasure has been an animal lover throughout her lifetime, of course, going back to the days that, according to her, animal advocates were viewed as “a bunch of zealots” and our beastie besties were strictly considered beneath us.  Now, though, every year we’re discovering more capabilities of these wonderful creatures, Betty enthused.

Kristin Chenoweth presents a new line of greeting cards for dogs — not too seriously — at the Hero Dog Awards

At the Hero Dog Awards, many of these remarkable capabilities were celebrated, as eight Hero Dog honorees and their stories were introduced with the help of emcee Kristin Chenoweth (and her own dog, Madeline Kahn Chenoweth), Joey Lawrence, Jewel, Pauley Perette, Kellie Martin, Denise Richards, Naomi Judd, Mark Steines, Jake T. Austin and other celebs.

For instance, there’s Jynx, the Law Enforcement/Arson Dog honoree.  He was on duty with his handler, Deputy Sheriff Kyle Pagerly of the Berks County Sheriff’s Department, and other officers in rough terrain — and the German Shepherd alone detected a bad guy lying in wait, ready to ambush the law men with a sub machine gun and a cache of other weapons.  Jynx alerted the deputies to the gunman’s presence, attacked the gunman — who nevertheless managed to fire several shots at Pagerly — and then attempted to pull his wounded master to safety.    Pagerly died at the hospital, but the other officers on the scene that day feel they owe the hero dog their lives.   Jynx now lives with Pagerly’s widow and baby daughter.   It was Mrs. Pagerly, only a few weeks pregnant when she lost her 28-year-old husband,  who tearfully accepted Jynx’ award — and a heartfelt standing ovation from the crowd.

There are stories of therapy dogs who’ve saved lives and brought troubled humans out of their shells, stories of courageous canines on the battlefield, dogs who’ve given people with disabilities ways to live normal lives.   Yes, have the hankies handy if you watch the Hero Dog Awards on The Hallmark Channel November 8.  Each honoree is loveable and deserving, unlike other awards shows we could name.

The Beverly Hilton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, where such galas as the Golden Globes take place, was again the setting for the Hero Dog Awards, with quite a few canines, large and small, there to enjoy the event first-paw.  (Whatever must those doggies have thought of being applauded by a ballroom full of people?)  The crowd feasted upon sauteed tenderloin of beef and seared citrus olive marinated filet of sea bass — and a dessert of espresso almond tiramisu in a chocolate cup, complete with white chocolate hero dog medallions.   For those who watched the first Hero Dogs Awards last year, with Carson Kressley as host — expect a more even program this year.



Candace Cameron Bure’s Animal Side

Candace Cameron Bure looked simply stunning in a little white dress at the preview party for her “Puppy Love” Hallmark Channel Original movie that premieres tonight (9/8).  But it was her costar who stole much of the attention — and she didn’t even seem to mind.

No, we don’t mean hunky Victor Webster (pictured), who plays Candace’s baseball player love interest in the movie.  It was her other costar (also pictured), Bugsy, who had the crowd oohing and awwing at La Piazza at L.A.’s The Grove.  Bugsy complied with all photo requests, standing, sitting or giving big doggie kisses.

“Growing up on ‘Full House,’ I’m used to working with dogs,” Candace reminded.  And now, as a mom, she’s used to her own full house of animals.  The Bure family pets, past and present, include dogs, of course, plus “a bearded dragon, a Russian turtle, and hamsters,” she let us know.

When everyone walked across the plaza to the Pacific Theater for the screening, Bugsy took his place in the front row to watch.  “What do you think he’s thinking, seeing himself on the big screen?” asked a guest.  We can only imagine.  However, stardom does not seem to have gone to his head.  Perhaps because he has not forgotten his humble beginnings as a rescue dog.

Hallmark is partnering with Petsmart Charities for “Puppy Love,” which certainly depicts how much adopting a rescue pet can enhance one’s life.  Petsmart Charities, as you may well have seen for yourself, has a large ongoing effort nationwide to help rescue dogs and cats find loving homes.

Ernest Borgnine: A Fond Remembrance

 By Stacy Jenel Smith

Ernest Borgnine in The Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey”

Ernest Borgnine will be remembered for his Oscar-winning performance in “Marty,” his popular TV series “McHale’s Navy” and his work in “From Here to Eternity,” “The Wild Bunch” and dozens of other films — but I’ll remember him best in his latter day role as the Great Old Guy.  He loved to tell his stories and show off his vigorous enthusiasm for life even in its waning years, and it was a gift to take in that energy whenever the chance came along.

The 95-year-old charmer was still working — and quite capable of working a room — pretty much to the end.  I asked him, just before his last birthday in January, what was the secret to his robust longevity. 

 “My secret is: keep laughing.  That’s the idea,” Borgnine replied, in one of his big jovial declarations.  “If you can keep laughing and keep smiling, one way or another, by golly, you’re bound to find other people around you laughing, too.”

He went on, “I’ve had my times when I just felt terrible, just awful, you know?   But hey, there’s always something that comes along that makes you feel good.  That’s what matters, really — it’s how you approach life.  You can be like the people who go around with a cloud over their heads for the rest of your days and it’s terrible.  Or you can wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, man!  I’m alive and God has had a good look at me and blessed me.'”

Among his recent work was his portrayal of a man whose wife was dying in the final episode of “ER.”  He played it with such honest simplicity, it was a four hankie job, for sure.

“It was hard in the sense that it never happened to me and to make it look like it was real, I had to really dig into my heart and my head,” said Borgnine, who is survived by his wife of 39 years, Tova.  Their marriage was his fifth, and he made it clear that with this one, he’d gotten it right.  “We thank our lucky stars, because after all this time and everything that’s happened, we love each other all the more every day,” he said in ’09. 

Borgnine won an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor on a Series that year — while returning “ER” stars George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle and Noah Wyle did not.  When I pointed that out to him, he smiled and said with a twinkle, “I know.  I shouldn’t gloat, believe me.”  (Michael J. Fox won that year.)

Later, when Borgnine made his notorious remarks against the gay love story in “Brokeback Mountain,” I was among the many who cringed as if it had been our own elderly relative who’d said it.  He’s not a mean guy, we wanted to say.  He’s from another time…  We wished he hadn’t’a.  But he had.

Borgnine said that of all his many movie production memories, none surpassed his experience in making the 1977 miniseries, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  He played the Roman Centurian in the production that starred Robert Powell — and recalled that while they were shooting the crucifixion sequence, at one point he was required to look at a dot positioned for correct eye line as if he were viewing Jesus on the cross, and then he would react. 

He asked director Franco Zeffirelli if someone could read the line, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” so that he could get into the moment for his performance.  Then, he said, “They turned the camera and I looked up at the dot…but suddenly I saw the head of Jesus Christ, and it fell to one side as he died.  I started crying like a baby.  When they finished shooting, I looked around and everybody was crying.'”

However, he added with a slight laugh, “Zeffirelli said, ‘Ernesto, that was very good.  Can you try one without so many tears?’

“That’s been written about in books,” added Borgnine, who came out with his autobiography in 2008.  “It’s the one thing I carry with me the rest of my life.'”

In the last couple of years, Borgnine took on a number of smaller roles in fare such as The Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey.”  And then there was his final starring vehicle — writer-director Elia Petridis’ indie film, “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez.”  The dramedy, which has been seen by festival audiences, has him as an old man bitterly disappointed that he never became famous — who suddenly finds himself the center of attention among the Latino workers in his nursing home when they learn of an incident in his past. 

“I doubted very much if I could pull off something like this,” he admitted.  “Carrying a picture is a whole lot different than just being in a picture.  You have to think ahead to where things are going at all times.  But this young man was so enthusiastic and confident, it made me feel confident.  He said, ‘No one else in the world can do this.  You’re brilliant.’   He was just a dream to work with.  I learned so much.  I can’t say enough,” he said of Petridis. 

Borgnine got an extra job while in the midst of shooting – performing the marriage ceremony for Petridis and his fiancee. “The state of Washington allows this kind of ceremony, so, so help me Hanna, that’s what happened.  It was wonderful,” he said.

He confessed he loved it when crew people on his movies asked questions about the old days in Hollywood.  He would regale them with tales of the times when the studios cranked out Westerns by the dozen.  

“We need those Westerns again.  Doggone it, I miss that so much.  I used to have so much fun making Westerns,” he told me. 

“I’ll never forget the time when we had visitors from France and England out on one of those sets, standing behind the camera, ready to watch me do a scene where I get on a horse.  I came out and said, ‘Okay, where’s the ladder?’  Ha, ha.” 

As a put-on, prop people brought out a ladder, much to the surprise of the onlookers, and Borgnine climbed up saying, “John Wayne uses one of these.  Didn’t you know?  Well, I’m not going to let out any trade secrets.”                             

With that, Borgnine burst into one of those big laughs of his that made you want to join in. 

Hey man!  You were alive, and God blessed us all.

Comfort for Grieving Pet Lovers

(Note from Stacy Jenel Smith:  I am so proud of my daughter’s new iBook.   It just became available today!  It’s definitely a storybook from the heart, as she was inspired to create it after losing a pet of her own when she was 12 years old.)


“Busway to Heaven,” a children’s picture story book that reflects how children need the comfort of knowing where their pets go after they pass.  Of course, they go to pet heaven!

A fanciful and fun look at doggie and kitty paradise, with text and illustrations by Darcy Smith, this is a book of comfort and love for anyone, any age, who is mourning the loss of a beloved pet.

Now Available at the iBook store!  iPad and Mac users, go to the iBook  store and search Busway to Heaven




Corky Hale Celebrates Billie Holiday Music and Memories

Billie Holiday, Corky Hale 1957 photo courtesy Ray Avery

“A Birthday Tribute to Billie Holiday” is being performed Wednesday (4/25) at L.A.’s Catalina Bar & Grill nightclub in honor of what would have been the immortal jazz legend’s 97th — by her one-time pianist, Corky Hale Stoller.

It seems impossible that Stoller could have played for the star-crossed “Lady Day,” who died in 1959, but the energetic musician started her career as a teen. She won over Holiday, who started calling her “my little girl” and they performed together in Hollywood and Las Vegas. “In those days, Las Vegas was so glamorous. Everyone dressed up to see a show,” Hale recalls.  “Now people go to see shows dressed in sweatsuits.”

Holiday invited her on a tour of the Philippines, too, but “at that time she was married to husband number four, Charlie McKay, and I was scared to death of him,” Stoller says of Holiday’s abusive spouse.

Stoller also played for Liberace — as a harpist, and with white blond hair to look grand for the black and white cameras at his suggestion — on his television show.   She was a musician at the renowned Cocoanut Grove nightclub. And she has a plethora of stories of the fascinating times and personalities she’s known. Small wonder a biography of Hale is in the works.

Today, her life is divided between music, politics — as a mover and shaker in the Democratic Party — and philanthropy.   Tomorrow (4/24) will mark the grand opening of the Stoller-Filer Health Center in L.A.’s Watts/Willowbrook area, a Planned Parenthood facility under the auspices of Hale and her husband, Mike Stoller of Leiber & Stoller songwriting fame.  It’s their second such health center.