The former rescue went to live with the First Lady as a puppy after being found starving and sick in downtown Los Angeles by Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis. Little Bear lived with Reagan and the late president for several weeks, but ultimately proved too wild for the household. Davis gave the dog to a friend to foster, and the friend introduced Little Bear to filmmaker Bryan Michael Stoller. It was love at first sight for the pair, though Stoller didn’t know about the dog’s presidential pedigree.
“It wasn’t until a month later that I received a call telling me that Little Bear had an Aunt Nancy and an Aunt Patti,” Stoller says. Then next thing Stoller knew, “Little Bear and I were picked up and taken to the Reagan Bel Air estate,” he says. “We spent a wonderful afternoon visiting with Nancy and Patti Reagan.”
Stoller says Little Bear had great acting chops from the start. “I would show him something, and even at only a few weeks old — he would copy me,” Stoller says. “I would tell him to dance, and I would twirl around, and then he’d mock me and do the same thing — often the first time I would show him.”
Inspired, the filmmaker decided to write a movie for the pooch. “The fact that he was sort of a former First Dog inspired me to write a fictional story with Bear playing the First Dog,” Stoller says. As for Bear, he “never slowed us down on set and did everything in the first or second take,” he says. “I never did typical dog commands – I gave him direction like I did with the human actors.”
Nancy Reagan, for one, has followed Little Bear’s unlikely rise from rough-and-tumble homeless puppy to leading dog actor. The former First Lady even recently sent Stoller a note about the pup. “Who would have guessed all those years ago that Little Bear would become a movie star?” Reagan wrote.
“First Dog” opened July 1. To see the “First Dog” trailer, click here.