"Guardian Angels For Animal Actors"

by Win Murphy, The San Rafael / Terra Linda News Pointer, 5-11 February 1992

There's quite a stir of excitement at the Marin Humane Society. Staff members and volunteers are getting ready for a big benefit bash set for Wednesday evening, February 19, at the Rowland Plaza theater.

It's a special premiere of the movie Radio Flyer (shot right here in Marin), with all the Hollywood-type hoop-dee-do of stars, glamour, elegant dining, fine wines, and a chance to be the first on your block to see what promises to be a heart-warming, imaginative, full-of-wonder-type film about two young brothers — living in Marin in the 1950s — and their German Shepherd dog.

Because a dog is one of the main stars of Radio Flyer, filmmakers involved the Marin Humane Society in the film's shooting last fall. (It is stipulated in the Screen Actors Guild contract that a Humane Society representative must be present on a film set whenever animals are involved.)

Cindy Machado, Field Services Supervisor at the Marin Humane Society, remembers well the several weeks of shooting Radio Flyer. "We were asked to monitor animals on the set," she says, adding that even though the main animal star of the film, Rocky, a German Shepherd, was used in most scenes, there were several other similarly marked and trained Shepherds who did some fo the many action and stunts required for the movie.

"Some of the dogs were better at running, barking on command, being aggressive, taking part in high-action scenes," she explains. Macahado and other staff members were present to make sure the animals were treated humanely. "There were no problems with this movie because the film's animal trainer, Gary Gero, was so great with the dogs."

Radio FlyerMachado remembers one particular scene, shot in Novato, where a punk kid is chased over a fence by the dog, Rocky (whose name is Shane in the movie). "A small-sized professional stunt person plays the boy and the dog has to jump up and bite a piece of material from the seat of the boy's pants. It took most of the day to shoot that scene and get it right with the dog. The stunt person had to wear a padded suit under his clothes to protect him."

While Cindy Machado considers Radio Flyer's use of animals in filmmaking very compassionate and humane, sometimes when she goes out on movie locations to watch out for the welfare of animals, such is not the case. "A film company was shooting at St. Vincent's School," she recalls, "and they used over 20 pigeons. When the filming was over, they just left them there, thinking they would 'fly home.' They were getting hit by cars and flying all over the place, and we had to catch them and bring them to the Humane Society."

Another time Machado recalls being on the set when an Irish Spring commercial was shot, using a horse-drawn carriage. She had to tell the filmmakers to get the horse out of the hot sun and into the shade after hours of filming. "We're there because we know the needs of the animals,' she says. "Then there was the time when they were filming in Marin and left rabbits out in the hot sun with no water," she states, adding that she made sure those rabbits got shade and water pronto. One of Cindy Machado's first assignments was the shooting of George Lucas' Ewok Adventure in 1985. "There were horses, owls, rabbits, ponies, guinea pigs, all kinds of animals involved in that film," she recalls.

Because Radio Flyer's director, Richard Donner, is an animal-lover from way back, and because the film was shot in Marin, the February 19 premiere was set up here as a benefit to the Humane Society's SHARE program, which brings the love and company of animals to shut-ins, the ill and the elderly. "Richard Donner would allow no furs on teh set or in the film, and he asks that no furs be worn at the premiere," says Mary Wright, Public Relations Director of the Marin Humane Society.

The (optional) black-tie premiere promises an evening of diverse entertainment. Well-known comedian, Michael Pritchard, will be on hand to offer one of his special humorous routines, and among the stars appearing will be Grace Slick as well as Jesse Colin Young, of the Marin County group Youngbloods, who's song "Let's Get Together," is on the film's sound track. And of course, Rocky, the dog star of Radio Flyer, will be on hand to bark the praises of his new film. There will also be an auction conducted by local radio and TV personalities, offering such high-ticket items as trips to Spain and Mexico, and there will be food prepared by some of Marin's finest restaurants.

Mingling among Radio Flyer's featured stars — John Heard, Lorraine Bracco, Elijah Wood, Joseph Mazzello and Adam Baldwin — were many Marin residents lucky enough to get bit parts or play extras. All of them are anxious to know if they willl be seen in the film or have ended up on the well-known cutting-room floor. Norman Buller of San Rafael played an extra and loaned four vintage cars to the film. Also playing extras in the film were Scott and Daniel Trimble, and Laurie and Joanne Lubeck, all from San Rafael. Wendy and Wayne Elkin of Mill Valley tutored the child actors during filming. And lots of Marin residents just hung around watching the filming and all the excitement.

Many Marinites made their classic cars available for the movie, and they'll not onlly be looking for them in the film but you can see them at the premiere, which includs a classic car show appropriate to the era of Radio Flyer.

Tickets are going fast and this promises to be a unique and glittery event, the likes of which doens't come to Marin all that often. Besides, all proceeds go to the Marin Humane Society, so it's a good cause. For tickets or more information, phone 833-5837.

©1992 The San Rafael / Terra Linda News Pointer

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