- Darlington, Penn. USA
Eddie McDougal, the son of the movie director Edward McDougal, enjoys the attention of Piglet, the deaf female pit bull playing Dog Jack in the movie of the same name
A DEAF Pit Bull Terrier named Piglet is starring in a new movie commemorating a canine hero named Jack who was one of the icons of the American Civil War.
It all began when writer Florence Biros saw the picture of Dog Jack hanging on a wall at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh and knew she had to learn more about the former mascot of the 102nd Regiment P.V.V. Washington Infantry.
"I fell in love," said Biros, of New Wilmington, Pa. "That was over 30 years ago, and I am still fascinated with him."
Biros recently accompanied a movie crew to Fishers of Boys Christian retreat centre in Darlington Township, Beaver County. After decades of waiting and trying to convince moviemakers that Dog Jack was a worthy subject, Biros said the experience was like watching a lifelong dream come true.
"I always thought this story would make a wonderful movie," she said. "We'll see if everyone else agrees."
More than 130 years ago, a stray mongrel dog wandered into the Fifth Avenue Fire House in Pittsburgh, where he was adopted by the resident crews and christened ‘Dog Jack’. When the fire-fighters volunteered to join the 102nd, Dog Jack became part of the Civil War regiment along with the men. He became a prisoner of war after being captured by the Confederate Army.
Later, he was exchanged for a Confederate soldier and returned to his regiment.
Inspired by Dog Jack's story, Biros incorporated it into a novel about the animal, a runaway slave boy named Jed and the chaplain A.M. Stewart.
McDougal Films of Chicago is currently putting the story to film. Parts of the movie are being filmed in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio and in Illinois. For the last few weeks, battle scenes have been created at Fishers of Boys.
Biros said the more she learned about Dog Jack the more she came to love him. She has sold thousands of copies of her book, which is available through the publishing house she and her husband own, Son-Rise Publications & Distribution Co. of New Wilmington.
"I started researching Jack, and I couldn't stop," she said. "I found myself crying about a dog. I couldn't believe it. But his story touches hearts. I receive letters from children all the time. They've read the book, and they love him."
"It's such a wonderful story," she said. "I am hoping the result is a touching, heart-warming, family movie. I think Jack deserves that."
Biros met Chicago director Edward McDougal at a conference and told him Dog Jack's story; he agreed it had the makings of a movie. McDougal wrote the screenplay and is producing and directing the film. Californian Woody Young, the executive producer, has provided financial backing; there also are two local investors. Although the movie may not be a huge blockbuster, it is sure to find a solid family audience.
A Pit Bull bitch named Piglet stars as Jack in the film. Except for more white in her coat and a slimmer build, Piglet is a very good look-alike for Jack -- variously described as a mutt, a bulldog mix or a bull terrier -- with the same brown patch over the left eye.
Piglet had not acted before, said trainer Tracy Doyle of Rockford, Ill., who found her in a Dumpster. A pit bull, she may have been abandoned when the breeder realized the 12-week-old puppy was deaf, said Doyle, who uses hand signals to give commands to Piglet.
Not being able to hear has its advantages during filming of noisy, chaotic battle scenes, and Piglet is a sweet-tempered dog who has tolerated with patience and grace the long waits, repeated takes, lengthy sessions of playing dead and handling by strangers.
As to a female playing a macho warrior dog, Doyle said, "Lassie was played by seven generations of male dogs. This is payback."
The film departs somewhat from the novel, said McDougal, who has directed a number of films aimed at young audiences, including ‘The Prodigy.’
"We wanted to expand the audience [beyond children], and we wanted to grapple with some of the issues raised," including slavery and the role of slaves and ex-slaves in the war. The movie sets up a conflict within Jed, who is encouraged to seek revenge on his former master by an aggressive soldier of the regiment and urged toward forgiveness by Chaplain Stewart.
The ending was the subject of much debate, McDougal said. Having Dog Jack just disappear or die didn't play well with focus groups. "We struggled with that," he said. "The fate of the dog is a major part of the film."
The film is scheduled for a US release in spring next year.