A look at the great filmmaker’s infatuation with Sealyham Terriers
By Jon Nelson
Beware of humans indeed. Through his more than 50 feature films, most of which teetered between dark, psychological thrillers and suspenseful horror masterpieces, Alfred Hitchcock introduced us to dozens of sinister characters that led to countless nightmares and sleepless nights. But though he was a master of tapping into our darkest fears, Hitchcock also had a softer personal side that revolved around his dogs. Sealyhams, a breed mixing West Highland and Wirehaired Fox Terriers, completely captured the late director’s heart and, though extremely rare today, surged in popularity in the middle part of the twentieth century – due greatly to Hitchcock’s influence on Hollywood and, in turn, Hollywood’s influence on the rest of the country.
Sealyhams, being terriers, can be quite difficult to train, but Hitchcock had great patience for the breed. In Birds (1963) two of his Sealyhams make a cameo appearance alongside the director and prance proudly out of a pet shop as the camera follows the main actress, Tippi Hedren, inside. Geoffrey and Stanley would become Hitchcock’s most famous Sealyhams, though he reportedly had a handful throughout his life. To train the dogs that would play Hitchcock’s pups in the 2013 biopic with Anthony Hopkins, a special job lay in wait for animal trainer Sarah Clifford (the very same woman who worked with award winning Uggie from The Artist). With the breed all but extinct (fewer than 75 could be found!, Clifford was forced to start training two from a litter in Palm Springs in order to be ready for shooting later that year. We can only guess at how much of the movie’s budget was blown on the special dogs, but a movie about the famed director just wouldn’t be the same without the real thing.
Photo credit: Universal
In 1944, actress Tallulah Bankhead was gifted a Sealyham upon wrapping Lifeboat, as a thanks for her dedication to the film which she finished during a bout of pneumonia. She named the dog Hitchcock — an act we can only imagine delighted the young director. Though there’s not much more written about his dogs, the ones that make appearances in his movies were, as biographer Patrick Mcgilligan noted, “amusing, brave and intuitive about the distress of their owners.” We can only presume that Hitchcock had a great infatuation for dogs and the part they play in the natural world. As a director, his perception of our world was always earnest and he made it his duty to record the intricacy of our relationships – human or otherwise – in order to use our tendencies against us in psychologically tantalizing and terrifying ways. But his view of our relationship with dogs was nothing but lovely, and thank goodness for that; unlike birds, there’s no need to beware of dogs in Hitchcock’s universe.