John Grogan archive: Perks of dog stardom? Payment in belly rubs

My dog, Marley, is capable of many things, most of them having to do with the systematic destruction of our laundry room.

But I never thought I would see him end up in a feature-length film.

But there on the shelf at Blockbuster last week was the movie, an adolescent baseball fantasy called The Last Home Run, which was filmed in Lake Worth. And there in the credit lines, beneath all the actors and actresses of the two-legged variety, was our mental mutt: ``Marley the Dog as himself.''

When we took Marley to the audition in 1995, director Bob Gosse, of the New York studio The Shooting Gallery, said, ``We're looking for a big, dumb, loopy dog to play the family pet.''

From the first moment Marley crashed onto the set, knocking over a production assistant and galloping off with her checkbook, there was no question he was right for the part. It also didn't hurt that he was the only dog to try out.

So our 90-pound loopy lab was in, playing himself, panting and peeing and stealing crackers off the cast buffet table.

``The dog's a little nutty,'' Gosse announced on Day 1. ``But unless he completely overpowers the scene, we're not going to cut. Just keep it rolling.''

Lights, cameras, mayhem!

And roll they did. In one scene, actress Danielle Comerford, a student at the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, was talking on the phone in the foreground, while behind her Marley was locked in mortal combat with his leash.

I was certain we wouldn't be invited back. But the next morning, Gosse was ebullient. The previous day's footage, he declared, was ``hilarious, just hilarious.''

Yeah, that was our Marley.

This was a low-budget shoot, and you can probably guess who the only unpaid cast member was. But Marley didn't care. He was just happy to have new ankles to sniff.

I must admit, stardom was intoxicating.

On Day 3 of shooting, I showed up as instructed at the Gulf Stream Hotel in downtown Lake Worth. But the police had the streets barricaded and waved us away.

``We're with the cast,'' I called out the window. ``This is Marley the Dog.''

The cop blew his whistle and shouted: ``It's Marley the Dog! Let them through!''

It started to go to my head.

During a break in shooting, I was talking on a pay phone in the hotel lobby, with Marley nearby. A concierge mistook the star for a stray and tried shooing him out the door.

``Excuse me?'' I said, covering the mouthpiece. ``Do you have any idea who you're talking to?'' Stardom was going to Marley's head, too.

I left him on the set for a couple hours and when I returned I found him sprawled out like King Tut, happily accepting a belly rub from the crew's beautiful makeup artist.

Shooting ended without Marley eating a single $30,000 camera, though he did chew through a couple of leashes and swallowed someone's sock. Months passed and the last we heard the company was still searching for a national distributor for the film.

Then last week, we heard that the movie, like so many dashed efforts before it, had gone straight to video. We rushed down to Blockbuster and, lucky us, not a single copy was checked out.

All told, Marley was on the screen for about 90 seconds. But they were certainly some of the livelier moments in this flop of a film.

``Look, boy, that's you!'' I yelled when Marley came on. He just yawned and curled up under the coffee table.

My wife, who faithfully brushed Marley's teeth each morning during filming, was more enthusiastic. This was just the beginning, she figured. Maybe next time our desperately happy pooch would land a barking part.