‘God Loves a Terrier’: 23 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Best in Show’ on Its 23rd Anniversary
What started out as yet another thinly outlined script between writing duo Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy turned into one of their greatest mockumentary hits. Best in Show not only gave Jane Lynch her big break and spawned an annual dog show broadcast, but the quirky satire about dog breeders and pedigree shows was one helluva production. On the movie’s 23rd anniversary, read on to find out whose dog got fired from the film and all the dark parts that ended up on the cutting room floor...
It All Started at a Dog Park
In the movie’s official production notes, Guest explained how taking his pups to the local dog park sparked the idea of a dog show. “There were people there with purebred dogs, with mutts, and so on,” Guest said, “and as I mingled with them, I started thinking that this might be an interesting idea to explore in a movie.”
During an interview with The Ringer, Guest shared a specific park encounter that led to the movie: “I was walking our dog in a park near my house — it was a rescue dog — and a woman with a pure breed of some sort came up to me and said, in a fashion, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘It’s my dog. He’s a mix of this and that.’ And the expression was one of, that’s not acceptable, basically; that’s an awful thing to have happened in the world. I was struck by what a bizarre idea that was, and it just sort of set something in motion.”
Guest and Levy checked out several regional dog shows, including the prestigious Westminster Show in New York, which subsequently became the model for the movie’s Mayflower Dog Show. “It’s a very unusual world,” Levy has said. “I had never been to a dog show before we started doing the research and was surprised at the intensity involved. This is a full-time thing for these people; they live and breathe dog shows, and every weekend they’re out there traveling. They’ve got their dogs in cages and crates or packed in the van, and they drive hundreds of miles and spend several hours sitting with the dog before it goes on for its 60 seconds of fame. What is it that drives people to do this?”
Gerry Fleck Was Initially Going to Be Single
“I think the idea that Gerry Fleck initially was single was when we came up with the idea that he was born with two left feet,” Levy told Vulture. “That kind of sets the stage for this character, that you would think, Well, this is not a magnet for women.” Levy and Guest initially asked Catherine O’Hara if she was interested in doing another character before she suggested that Gerry have a wife, Cookie.
Meg Was Way More Messed Up
“You know, there was a lot of pill-taking and pot-smoking and alcohol with Meg that is not in the movie at all,” Parker Posey told A.V. Club, referring to her character’s cut scenes. “There were interviews with me and Hamilton (played by Michael Hitchcock) where I’m taking pills. I smoked, took a puff of the pipe before work, and Hamilton’s like, ‘Meg, what are you doing?’ And she’s like, ‘What does it look like I’m doing?’ He goes, ‘Do you know what time it is?’ And I was just like, ‘Yes. It’s like, 7.’”
The Inspiration Behind Sherri Ann
Jennifer Coolidge told Cinema.com that she based her trophy wife character on an ex-employer. When Coolidge first came to Los Angeles, she worked as a babysitter for a “Sherri Ann type” who was a “very phony” woman. Coolidge said her character portrayal of said woman for the movie was a “kind of revenge.”
The Movie Inspired the Broadcast of the National Dog Show
Prior to Best in Show, the annual Thanksgiving National Dog Show did not air on television. Then NBC Sports’ President of Programming, Jon Miller, changed that in January 2002 after his wife rented Best in Show for a movie night with their neighbors. “When they (the neighbors) left, I watched it a second time and found it hysterically funny,” Miller remembers. He was immediately interested in the world of dog shows and contacted the Kennel Club of Philadelphia to ask if they’d allow NBC to broadcast their event. After some consideration and persuasion, they agreed, and the annual broadcast of the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving Day was born.
Cookie’s Dark Backstory
A running gag throughout the movie sees Cookie Fleck constantly bumping into her former lovers, much to the annoyance of her husband, Gerry. “I used to have a different life before Gerry,” O’Hara said during the production notes interviews (while in character as Cookie). “He’s the only man that’s ever been nice to me. I was with a lot of nasty men before, but I’m trying to forget all that. Gerry’s good and clean and kind. We love Winky, and I just want the life I have now.”
The Movie Has a Special Google Doodle
If you Google search Best in Show, a paw button appears at the top next to the movie’s title. Click on it and follow the prompt to see the animation.
The Pups Are All Actual Champion Dogs
Almost all the dogs in the movie are credited with the title, Ch, indicating that they’ve qualified for a championship show before. Most of them also sport the Can prefix, which means they’ve qualified for the Canadian Kennel Club Championship specifically.
It Was Jane Lynch’s First Outing with the Christopher Guest Crew
“When I saw Waiting for Guffman, like every other actor in Hollywood, I said, oh my God, this is what I want to do,” Lynch told Cinema.com. “I just want to get inside this world and inside these people. So when I was offered the opportunity to do this, it was really a dream come true.” Following Best in Show, Lynch would star in more Guest projects, including A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration.
Fred Willard Was the Key to Making the Dog Show Funny
When Guest first approached Levy about doing a mockumentary on dog breeders, Levy was hesitant because he didn’t think they could make a dog show funny. “I said, ‘What do we do for a third act?’” Levy remembers asking Guest. “He said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, like in Guffman, we wrote the show that is the third act. But you can’t write the dog show. You can’t make a dog show funny, or you lose the truth in the story.’ So we kind of set it aside and started working on something else. Then, about a year after that, it was ‘What about the dog show idea?’ I said, ‘I just don’t know, again, what we do with the third act.’ And then the suggestion came: ‘Well, why don’t we make Fred Willard kind of the Joe Garagiola color commentator during the show?’ Bingo. That was it.”
Creating the Mayflower Dog Show
Guest wanted to film the movie at an actual dog show, but according to the production notes, none of the shows were willing to open their floors to the crew. Levy said they had to go ahead and just stage their own show in the end. “And that’s where the nightmare started,” Levy remembers. “We literally had to put everything together from scratch, get somebody to organize the whole show, get the dogs in, find trainers, and so forth.”
It took three months of nonstop work to learn about the ins and outs of dog breeding, pedigrees and these judging events, as well as making contacts and lining up folks who could consult and train the dogs for the film. On top of that, they had to “audition” hundreds of pooches for the movie.
The Dog That Got Fired
Posey told A.V. Club that Coolidge’s first poodle had to be fired for “misbehaving” on set. Lynch, who handled the dog for most of the film, explained that it was actually the dog’s handler who presented some problems. “The woman who had this poodle, she had a haircut just like her dog,” Lynch told The Ringer. “Very tight, tight curls. And she was a problem. We’d be shooting the scene, and she’d yell at me: ‘Don’t do this with the dog! Don’t do that with the dog!’ And I think they probably just said, ‘Okay, we’re going to let this go. Better to get another dog.’”
Posey also said that her character, Meg, and her lawyer husband, Hamilton, originally had a different dog breed. “We had a Pointer initially, so we shopped at J. Crew,” Posey revealed. “But then the dog changed to a Weimaraner, so we started shopping at Banana Republic.”
It Has Been Credited for Spawning a String of Iconic TV Comedy Shows
While Best in Show was hardly the first mockumentary to ever hit viewers’ eyeballs, it was the one that found and enjoyed the most mainstream attention. The movie led to similar documentary-styled comedies, especially on television, with cutaway interviews and “caught-on-camera” scenes as seen in The Office, Parks and Recreation, Reno 911! and What We Do in the Shadows.
What Dog Handlers Has Said About the Movie
“I could tell you who those people were that they modeled each couple or character around,” Valerie Nunes-Atkinson said about the movie (Nunes-Atkinson is a German Shorthaired Pointer breeder and an all-breed professional handler whose dog won the 2016 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show). “That was what was so funny about it. And that’s what we really got a kick out of. We can see ourselves in those people. We can see our clients in those people.”
“I have had clients that are the Busy Bee people,” she continued, referring to Posey and Hitchcock’s characters. “Just so neurotic. I have assistants that work for me. And you know, we know who those clients are. They’ll tell us about all the issues the dog has — problems it has and whatever — and it’s just a perfect angel. As in most issues with dogs, usually, the issue is with the owners, not with the dog.”
Gail Miller Bisher, the director of communications for the Westminster Kennel Club, said that the movie’s breeder-breed pairings were on point. “It kind of falls back to people looking like their dogs,” she shared. “Levy was always wearing a tweed jacket, and he had the terrier — that’s what a terrier man would probably wear, a tweed jacket. Because most terriers are English breeds, so oftentimes there’s English or Irish or Welsh influence in how people might dress when they’re showing them.”
Posey Got Real Braces for the Movie
While talking to The Ringer, Hitchcock and Posey explained that they were very much in charge of what their characters should look like. Posey chose their outfits, and they both decorated the couple’s home with items from a Sharper Image catalog. Hitchcock told the stylists that he wanted his character, Hamilton, to look like Matthew Perry, and Posey opted for actual braces when Guest suggested the two don retainers for the movie. “I didn’t want to lisp, which the retainer would have made me do, so I got real braces,” Posey explained.
“I wish I would have gotten real braces,” Hitchcock added, “because I had to wear those retainers for at least two weeks before we started filming so that I could get used to talking with them. You’re clicking on the plastic inside your mouth in them. It added to the character, but boy, it really was frustrating at times trying not to lisp. It kind of just added to, I think, the rod up my back.”
Joe Garagiola Did Not Care for Willard’s Character
Stefan Vanderhoof’s Backstory
“My backstory was that I was married when I was very young, and my wife was very kind of daunting, intellectually,” actor Michael McKean has shared about his character, Stefan Vanderhoof. “And that it was kind of the way I found my path to a partner who was dumber than me. So Stefan is a guy of kind of middle intellect — not a dumbbell, and not a genius, but kind of comfortable with a version of himself that definitely benefits from having someone who’s kind of a free spirit. A puck, an imp. Because it made me be the grown-up, and the one who can say, ‘Now, now, you know that’s not true,’ or ‘I’ll have you know that Napoleon was defeated in 19…’ or whatever. But beyond that, I was just a man with very good manners. That’s all. Living in Soho with his boyfriend and doing people’s hair.”
Guest Does Not Care For the Term ‘Mockumentary’
To him, it feels mean, and that’s not what he does with his movies. “The problem is someone had this horrible term — I don’t remember, I guess it was probably on Spinal Tap — that someone tagged this awful thing out of laziness rather than say, ‘This is a movie done in a documentary style,’” Guest told the Los Angeles Times during a Q&A. “God forbid that takes three other words. It just is infuriating because the other thing does imply something else, the word that shall not be spoken. But I can’t control this.”
The Actors Had to Undergo Rigorous Training
Entering a dog in a prestige show isn’t just as easy as that — it takes an insane amount of practice to work those dogs on the floor. The movie’s technical advisor and veteran all-breed professional handler, Earlene Luke, said that she initially thought using inexperienced actors to create a dog show for a film was “some kind of unrealistic Hollywood fantasy.” According to the production notes, Luke had to squeeze her usual eight-week training course into an intense five-day boot camp. She was, however, impressed at how quick the actors picked up on the tricks of the trade.
It Was the First Time Levy and O’Hara Played a Couple
The two actors had been working together since the 1970s, but Best in Show was the first time the comedy duo would appear as an on-screen couple. They’d also couple up in A Mighty Wind and the award-winning television sitcom Schitt’s Creek.
Bob Balaban on His Terrier
“I chose a Dandie Dinmont terrier,” the actor who played Dr. Theodore W. Millbank III told The Ringer. “It’s an exotic terrier — there aren’t many. I grew up in Chicago in a fun little building where everybody was friends with everybody, and there was a Dandie Dinmont in the building that I thought was the greatest dog I’d ever seen. But when I got my Dandie Dinmont, it turned out Dandie Dinmonts really aren’t very friendly. They’re sort of high-strung. You have to kind of be careful, or they might bite you. But I loved working with the dog, just having him on my lap, being there so I could whisper into his ear from time to time.”