Jean, also known as the Vitagraph Dog (1902–1916), was a female collie that starred in silent films. Owned and guided by director Laurence Trimble, she was the first canine to have a leading role in motion pictures. Jean was with Vitagraph Studios from 1909, and in 1913 went with Trimble to England to work with Florence Turner in her own independent film company.

Jean, the Vitagraph Dog
BreedScotch Collie
Eastport, Maine
Died1916 (aged 14-15)
EmployerVitagraph Studios
Years active1909–1916
OwnerLaurence Trimble

Life and careerEdit

Jean in 1912

Around 1908, Maine resident and writer Laurence Trimble sold an animal story to a New York magazine.[1]: 139  In 1909 Trimble visited Vitagraph Studios in New York while doing research for a series of articles called "How Movies Are Made". As he chatted with the sole assistant working under Rollin S. Sturgeon, head of the scenario department, he learned that a story of special interest to producer Albert E. Smith had been set aside because it required a dog that could act—not simply do tricks, but to behave naturally on command. Trimble scanned the script and said he could train any dog to do what was needed.[2]: 44 

Trimble asked if there were any dogs around, and was told about a stray that hid in the garage and came out only to snatch scraps left by members of the crew. Trimble spent an hour coaxing the frightened dog out of hiding, and another half-hour winning his confidence. Smith was brought in and saw the dog perform the action the script required. "Your dog is wonderful," Smith told Trimble, "but he's too small"—explaining that it would be impossible to see a small dog in medium shots, one of Vitagraph's filmmaking innovations. "Oh, he isn't my dog," Trimble replied. He told Smith that the little dog was a stray, suggested that he take him home as a pet, and said, "Tomorrow I'll bring you the right dog for the picture." The next morning he arrived with his dog, a tri-color Scotch Collie named Jean.[2]: 44–46 [3] "Jean, the Vitagraph Dog" became the first canine to have a leading role in motion pictures.[1]: 139 

Jean, Florence Turner and Mary Fuller in Jean the Match-Maker (1910), a film that survives
PLAY Playmates (1912), another film featuring Jean; running time 13 minutes

"Jean was equal in popularity to Vitagraph's human stars, Florence Turner and Maurice Costello," wrote film historian Anthony Slide.[1]: 139  Jean was soon starring in her own films, all directed by Trimble. One-reelers and two-reelers with titles such as Jean and the Calico Doll, Jean and the Waif and Jean Goes Fishing were made by Trimble as their troupe filmed along the coastline in his native Maine.[4]

Trimble became a leading director at Vitagraph, directing most of the films made by Turner and John Bunny, as well as those made by Jean.[1]: 139  Actress Helen Hayes recalled in a 1931 interview with The New York Times that as an eight-year-old she had roles in two of the 1910 films. "I had long curls and they let me play the juvenile lead in two pictures in support of Jean, the collie," Hayes said. "Jean was the most famous dog of the day and I was very thrilled."[5]

In December 1912, Jean gave birth to six puppies[1]: 139 —two male and four female—and was the subject of the Vitagraph documentary short film, Jean and Her Family (1913).[6]

In March 1913, Trimble and Jean left Vitagraph and accompanied Florence Turner to England, where she formed her own company, Turner Films.[1]: 36  Trimble and his canine star returned to the United States in 1916. Jean died later that year,[1]: 139 [7] at age 14.[3]

Trimble tried to launch the career of a successor, Shep the Vitagraph Dog, without success.[1]: 140  He then discovered and worked with another dog star, the famed Strongheart.[8][9]

The four films he made with Strongheart won Trimble a special place in film history, but in later years he would say that, in the qualities of spirit and intelligence, Jean was the best of all his dogs.[2]: 46  Trimble eventually retired from filmmaking and trained animals exclusively.[8] His special interest was training guide dogs for the blind.[10]


Jean and Florence Foley in Playmates (1912)
Helene Costello and Jean in The Church Across the Way (1912)
Jean and Florence Turner in Jean's Evidence (1913)

Jean's films are lost films, with the exception of Jean the Match-Maker (1910),[11] Jean Rescues (1911), in paper print at the Library of Congress,[12] and Playmates (1912).

Year Title Role Notes
1910 Jean and the Calico Doll Jean Short film[13]
Film debut of Helen Hayes[14]
1910 Jean the Match-Maker Jean Short film[11][13]
1910 Jean Goes Foraging Jean Short film[13]
1910 Jean Goes Fishing Jean Short film[13]
1910 A Tin-Type Romance Short film[13]
1910 Jean and the Waif Jean Short film[13]
1910 Where the Winds Blow Short film[11][13]
1910 Her Mother's Wedding Gown Short film[15]
1911 Jean Rescues Jean Short film[15]
1911 When the Light Waned Short film[15]
1911 The Stumbling Block Short film[9]
1911 Tested by the Flag Short film[16]
1911 Auld Lang Syne Geordie's dog Short film[15]
1912 Jean Intervenes Billy's dog Short film[9]
1912 Playmates Short film[17]
1912 The Church Across the Way Jean Short film[18]
1912 Bachelor Buttons Short film[19]
1912 The Signal of Distress Jean Short film[20][1]: 165 
1913 Jean and Her Family Herself Documentary short film[21]
1913 Jean's Evidence Madge's dog Short film,[15] second release of Turner Films
1914 'Fraid Cat Jeanne, Jim's Dog Short film[16][1]: 190 [22]
1914 The Shepherd Lassie of Argyle [23]
1914 Through the Valley of Shadows [23]
1915 Lost and Won [23]
1915 Far from the Madding Crowd Gabriel's Dog [24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Slide, Anthony (1976). The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810809673.
  2. ^ a b c Trimble, Marian Blackton (1985). Slide, Anthony (ed.). J. Stuart Blackton: A Personal Biography by His Daughter. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810817654.
  3. ^ a b Trimble, Larry (February 1930). "About Me and My Friends". The American Boy. Vol. 104, no. 2. p. 49.
  4. ^ Gallo, Joe (March 2000). "Flashback: New England Director Larry Trimble". Imagine Magazine. Archived from the original on 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  5. ^ "Miss Hayes and Films". The New York Times. March 15, 1931. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  6. ^ "Amusements at the Dixie". The Bryan Daily Eagle. April 21, 1913.
  7. ^ Brownlow, Kevin (May 31, 1999). "Obituary: Jan Zilliacus". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-07-29.
  8. ^ a b "Laurence Trimble Dies". The New York Times. February 10, 1954. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  9. ^ a b c Lowe, Denise (2014). An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930. Routledge. J: Jean. ISBN 9781317718963.
  10. ^ Taves, Brian (2005). Talbot Mundy, Philosopher of Adventure: A Critical Biography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 290. ISBN 9780786422340.
  11. ^ a b c "Jean the Match-Maker". Preserved Films. National Film Preservation Foundation. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  12. ^ "LC Catalog - Item Information (Full Record)". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "Jean". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  14. ^ Murphy, Donn B.; Moore, Stephen (1993). Helen Hayes: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780313277931.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Jean". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  16. ^ a b "Jean". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2015-11-28.
  17. ^ "Photoplay Theatre". The Evening Herald. 1912-04-26. p. 8.
  18. ^ "Amusements". The Nelson Mail. Vol. 48. 1913-01-29. p. 7.
  19. ^ "Marlow Theater". Suburbanite Economist. 1912-10-04. p. 3.
  20. ^ "The Signal of Distress". The Cinema News and Property Gazette. February 12, 1913. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  21. ^ "Entertainments". The West Australian. 1913-08-06. p. 8.
  22. ^ "The New Star Tonight". Princeton Daily Democrat. Princeton, Indiana. June 4, 1914. 'Fraid Cat.' Vitagraph Comedy Drama, featuring Bobby Connelly, Taft Johnson, Dorthy [sic] Kelly, Albert Roccardi and Jean, the Vitagraph dog.
  23. ^ a b c "Turner Films advertisement". Pictures and The Picturegoer. London: The Pictures, Ltd. June 5, 1915. Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  24. ^ "Far from the Madding Crowd". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2015-11-28.

External linksEdit