In “The Wizard of Oz” movie a ragtag assortment of preposterous talking creatures – cowardly lion, rusty tinman and dancing scarecrow — join forces with a Kansas farm girl and her dog to vanquish an evil witch and save the day. More than 70 years later, this lovable fantasy and timeless story entertains new generations.
But what you might not know is what happened to Toto, a sad tale of how a movie superstar can become lost in the dusty forgetfulness of history.
The real-life Toto, a female rescue Cairn Terrier named Terry, not only never got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or memorial of any type, but her burial spot was lost forever when construction of a new Los Angeles freeway plowed through the former ranch of Toto’s movie trainer, Carl Spitz.
Toto, perhaps the most famous dog movie star ever, playing roles in a dozen major films with legends such as Shirley Temple and Spencer Tracy, was forgotten.
But today there is a measure of redemption for Toto!
On Saturday, June 18, a fitting monument will be dedicated to Toto at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, final resting place of an amazing array of celebrities, including many stars of stage and screen.
An assortment of characters has come together — thanks to the modern-day wizardry of Facebook — to right this terrible wrong. The leader of this unlikely band of good-deed-doers is J.P. Myers.
“Late last year I was watching a local LA show that showed the old Spitz ranch property and mentioned how tragic it was that Toto had been buried there and now it was lost to history,” says Myers. “I went to elementary school a quarter-mile from the site and thought, ‘What the hell, I am going to put up a Facebook page (Toto Canine Movie Star Memorial Marker) and see if we can build a memorial.’ ”
Myers is no caped crusader; he spends his days working in a medical lab. But he had previous success with a Facebook campaign, getting a proper memorial erected in July 2010 at the forgotten Anaheim gravesite of Jack Norworth, to properly recognize the man who wrote baseball’s iconic tune, “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
Myers connected with Steve Goldstein, author of “LA’s Graveside Companion,” a book about famous LA gravesites, who had been interviewed on the TV show. The two reached out to several cemeteries, but were spurned. Finally they got connected to Tyler Cassity, owner of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
“Tyler immediately got it,” says Myers. “He felt what we felt about the need for a Toto memorial and donated one of the best plots, near Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s tomb, worth $100,000. And he commissioned sculptor Roman Gal to create a statue.”
To ensure the site would always be cared for, Cassity deeded it to an animal group, FixNation.org, which spays and neuters feral cats for free at Hollywood Forever. The memory of Toto, the dog movie star everyone knows, now safely rests in the hands of a remarkable group of cat lovers. The cowardly lion would approve.
So at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, this editor and his two Cairn Terriers, Munchkin and Gordon, and many dog and movie fans will be at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, remembering a wonderful little dog named Toto.
For those of us who have loved Toto dogs all our lives, and lamented the lack of a memorial, it is like a lyric straight out of the movie:
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.