AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD SILENT MOVIE STAR
During the silent film era, in the days of the original Rin Tin Tin and long before Lassie, a canine star was introduced whose career continued into early years of the talkies. The dog was an Australian Shepherd named Bunk, who was the sidekick, along with Scout the Appaloosa horse, of cowboy star Jack Hoxie. Hoxie, with a background as a working cowboy and ranch hand in Idaho, began his public career in rodeos and Wild West shows. He first appeared in movie shorts in 1913, and in 1919 starred in his first featured role. During the ‘20's he worked for several different film companies, achieving his greatest prominence in popular Westerns made for Universal Studios from 1923 through 1927.
Hoxie conceived of the idea of including a dog as a companion in his movies, and sent to Australia for an in-whelp female. The pups were born during the voyage, but all save one died. Hoxie said in a 1963 interview, “Those sailors took care of that pup, and he came in to San Diego and was delivered to me at Universal Studios. Well, I took the pup and put a good trainer on him. That pup was old Bunk.”* He was also called Bunkie and Bunky Bean. While the movies indicated below are the ones in which Bunk is known to have appeared, it is likely that he appeared in others as well.
It isn’t known what prompted Hoxie to send to Australia for a dog as opposed to acquiring one locally. Perhaps he was familiar with the type of dog called Australian Shepherd from having grown up in Idaho, where by 1905 a newspaper account of a dog show includes an Australian Shepherd among the entrants. Dogs called Australian Shepherds had a long history in California, with importations dating back to the late 1850's. One of Hoxie’s early directors, who became a friend, was an Australian, J. P. McGowan. An article in the Uniontown, PA, Daily News Standard in 1930, about a Hoxie appearance with the 101 Wild West show, links Hoxie with another Australian, saying that Bunk was a gift from “Snowy Baker, millionaire cattle king of the Australian Pampas.” Reginald “Snowy” Baker, however, was not a cattle king, but was an athlete, boxing promoter and film actor who came to Hollywood in 1920. This story appears to be publicity-department embellishment, although one could speculate that perhaps Baker or McGowan might have had some involvement through connections in Australia.
Bunk’s first known picture was Ridgeway of Montana, released May 12, 1924. A notice in the Fresno Bee on June 14, 1924 states, “The lure of adventure is featured in Ridgeway of Montana, Universal feature starring Jack Hoxie at the Strand Theater to-morrow . . . Hoxie, long popular for his skill at riding, the product of real ranch training, has plenty of the western action in this story . . . Also, it must be mentioned, Hoxie’s own dog, an Australian shepherd, Bunk, by name, plays his first role before the camera to considerable footage.” The June 27, 1924 Lebanon Daily News related in a brief article about the movie, “In addition, there’s ‘Bunk,’ the newest dog actor of the screen, an Australian Shepherd recently brought to the United States . . . ‘Ridgeway of Montana’ presents him in his first screen work, at puppy age.”
In a scene from “Rough and Ready” (1927),
Bunk appears with Bert de Marc, Jack Hoxie,
and Hoxie’s horse, Scout (photo from The
Hoxie Boys by Edgar M. Wyatt)
Bunk in “The Shepherd of the Hills” (1928)
with Molly O'Day
Bunk quickly gained favorable attention. A photo in the June 19, 1924 Los Angeles Times shows Bunk holding a sheaf of letters in his mouth, with the caption: “Dog Stars of Filmland – First Annual Film-Stars’ Dog Show will be held at Germain’s, June 23-24-25. Two of the entries are ‘Omar,’ a Harlequin Dane, shown with his owner, Norman Kerry, and ‘Bunk,’ an Australian Shepherd Dog, owned by Jack Hoxie.” Bunk was featured in an August 8, 1925 Los Angeles Times article, “Dogdom Royalty Welcomed Here,” about the arrival of a Belgian Sheepdog, Count Muro, who was being brought from Belgium to the U.S. to work in the movies. Bunk is shown in a photograph greeting the Belgian dog with the “keys to the kennel,” while two German Shepherd movie dogs of the era, Rex and Old Dutch, look on. (Muro, actually a Tervuren, was described in the article as being royalty from the kennel of the King of Belgium, but in reality he was bred by a Belgian army officer and his only connection with royalty was the decoration of his dam, a military dog, by King Albert I in 1918; he can be seen in a 1931 serial, “Sign of the Wolf,” billed as “King the Wonder Dog.”)
In 1925, Bunk appeared in the The White Outlaw, in which Jack Hoxie’s horse, Scout, played the White Outlaw, a wild horse that is captured and tamed by Hoxie. In publicity appearances for this film, Hoxie would come out on stage and introduce Scout and Bunk as the stars of the picture. Hidden Loot, also in 1925, featured Bunk prominently in the storyline. When his master is captured by robbers after coming across their stash of stolen loot in a deserted cabin, Bunk grabs the bag and leaps out the window, carrying it away and burying it. He then returns to the cabin where Hoxie has been left tied up, tunnels his way into the cabin under the wall, and frees Hoxie. When the robbers come back, Bunk prevents them from leaving the cabin while Hoxie makes his escape. Later, the thieves are captured and the stolen payroll returned to the ranch.
In “The White Outlaw” (1925), Bunk was billed as Rex
Bunk’s 1926 pictures were The Demon, The Fighting Peacemaker, The Wild Horse Stampede, and Red Hot Leather. A newspaper notice for The Fighting Peacemaker states, “‘A Fighting Peacemaker,’ Universal-Blue Streak Western, starring Jack Hoxie . . . finds Scout and Bunk working together again in the pictures. Scout is Hoxie’s favorite horse and Bunk is a sagacious Australian shepherd dog whose acting is a marvel of canine intelligence. Scout and Bunk are inseparable companions.” In The Wild Horse Stampede, Scout and Bunk help corral a herd a wild horses. The herd is released by villains and stampedes, nearly trampling the heroine (Fay Wray, later to gain fame for her appearance in King Kong), who is saved by Hoxie.
Bunk in “Wild Horse Stampede” (1926) with Jack Hoxie and Fay Wray
(photo from The Hoxie Boys by Edgar M. Wyatt)
In 1927 Bunk appeared in Rough and Ready, The Western Whirlwind, The Rambling Ranger, and The Fighting Three.
Hoxie related in his 1963 interview, “He was one of the smartest dogs in the picture business at the time. He worked with me in practically all of my pictures. He would ride on the horse with me when I would make long runs, pull me out of the mud, and when they thought they had got rid of me, that old dog and the horse would help get me out of it.”* Bunk’s trainer, Bert de Marc, appeared as a villain in many of Hoxie’s movies.
Bunk’s talents were sought for non-Hoxie movies as well. He appeared in The Shepherd of the Hills and The Little Shepherd of Kingdom, both in 1928. In The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, one of his scenes involved running back and forth along a water trough to keep a flock of thirsty sheep away from water that had been poisoned. Unfortunately, it appears that these two films are among the great many of the silent era that have been lost.
At the end of the 1920's Jack Hoxie turned again to rodeos and to appearances with circuses and shows such as the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. In the early 1930s he returned briefly to the movies, this time in sound pictures.
In 1932's Law and Lawless, Bunk makes a short appearance. Although several of Jack Hoxie’s movies can be found on VHS and DVD, to date this one appears to be the only one with Bunk. In his scene, Bunk is first shown playing with a lady, the daughter of the Spanish ranch owner. A cowboy, played by Hoxie, who is aiding ranchers suffering from an outbreak of cattle rustling, comes courting. (When Hoxie walks into the scene, Bunk noticeably greets him in a friendly way, wagging his tail). The cowboy brings along a Spanish phrase book to aid in his efforts, and sets it down beside him on a bench. While he is trying out his Spanish with the lady, the dog walks up, takes the phrase book from the bench, carries it over to a big stove and drops it into the stove.
In his scene in Law and Lawless (1932), Bunk steals the phrase book.
And into the stove it goes.
Trouble Busters in 1933 was Jack Hoxie’s last movie. Bunk didn’t appear in it. After that, Hoxie went back to the rodeo circuit and appearances in Wild West shows and circuses such as the Downie Bros. Circus. Bunk, as always, performed with him.
“He lived to be 18 years old and passed away on one of the shows,” Hoxie told his interviewer. “The cowboys buried him down on Beaver Creek in Texas. He made it all through Canada with me and all through Mexico and the United States.”*
Movies in which Bunk is known to have appeared:
1924 – Ridgeway of Montana
1925 – The White Outlaw
1925 – Hidden Loot
1926 – The Demon
1926 – The
1926 – The Wild Horse Stampede**
1926 – Red Hot Leather
1927 – Rough and Ready
1927 – The Western Whirlwind
1927 – The Rambling Ranger
1927 – The Fighting Three
1928 – Shepherd of the Hills
1928 – Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
1932 – Law and Lawless
*The Hoxie Boys: The Lives and Films of Jack and Al Hoxie, by Edgar M. Wyatt, 1992, Wyatt Classics, Inc.
**In 2011 it came to light that a number of silent films long believed lost were in an archive in Russia, with The Wild Horse Stampede listed among them.
Many thanks to Marshall Wyatt for
permission to use photos and material from the book The Hoxie Boys, by
Edgar M. Wyatt, and to Penny Tose for her invaluable help in research for this
article. Appreciation is also due
to Elaine Reynolds, from whom I first learned of Bunk on an email list in 1997
and who provided additional information.
-- Linda Rorem
Herding on the Web