There’s a film made by Charlie Chaplin in 1918 that most people have not seen titled “A Dog’s Life.”

A few stills:

Even though I have not seen the film, I know dogs pretty well, especially the canine mind, and what I read about the star (“Mut” — an obvious canine genius who looks for the world like your classic all-American Victrola/Our Gang/pit bull archetype) brought tears to my eyes, as I could immediately understand the real-life subtext:

Animal Actor. Also called Mutt. He played the pivotal role of Scraps in “A Dog’s Life” (1918), long hailed as one of Charlie Chaplin’s finest short comedies. The story presents the misadventures of a homeless man (Chaplin) and the stray dog Scraps as they struggle to survive in the big city; they become friends and help each other to a better life. Mut’s raffish charm and vulnerability perfectly complimented that of The Little Tramp onscreen and may have made him a celebrity on his own. Sadly, this was his only film appearance. Mut’s brief Hollywood career began in January 1918, when production of “A Dog’s Life” was already underway. Chaplin had long considered making a film with a dog but disdained the notion of working with a trained animal. “These studio beasts are too well kept”, he told a journalist. “What I want is a dog that can appreciate a bone and is hungry enough to be funny for his feed”. Having tested several purebreds without success, Chaplin discovered Mut at a local pound and brought him back to the studio along with 20 other mongrels. The runt of the group, he won the part by remaining sweet-natured and plucky, despite all the canine antagonism around him. He wasn’t always cooperative during filming; for the scene in which Scraps and Charlie sleep together in a vacant lot, he was fed whiskey to make him docile enough to use as a pillow. But afterwards a delighted Chaplin adopted him as a studio mascot and planned to use him in future films. It was not to be. Shortly after completing “A Dog’s Life” in March, Chaplin embarked on a cross-country tour selling war bonds. Mut had grown so attached to the comedian that in his absence he refused to eat and wandered around the lot looking dejected. He died a few days before Chaplin’s return. The devoted pooch was buried on the studio grounds beneath a little marker with the inscription, “Mut, died April 29th – a broken heart”.

It is easy to understand what happened. Chaplin was no ordinary man. He was a highly sensitive artistic genius, and a mad perfectionist. And when he set about looking for the Right Dog, to make the Right Movie, at the Right Time, he didn’t screw around. He even ran his own extended canine casting call, which was excessive enough to create problems (and would most likely be called “dog hoarding” today):

Chaplin told the press he had been considering the comic possibilities of working with a dog for over a year before making the film, though his brother Syd had introduced canine comedy to Fred Karno’s Troupe, the vaudeville company in which both had performed as young men. With the opening of his new studios, he decided this was the perfect time for his dog film. Only he had to find the right dog. He tried a dachshund, a Pomeranian, a poodle, a Boston bull terrier and an English bulldog before realizing that what he needed was just a mongrel. The film was already in production when he picked up 21 dogs from the Los Angeles pound and brought them to the set. When neighbors complained, he cut the number to 12 and finally picked one adorable creature, Mutt, to be his new co-star.

Just try to imagine the chemistry at work here between man and dog. Not an ordinary man, and obviously not an ordinary dog. The intensity of their bonding can only be imagined. In those days, they didn’t use computer animated sequences, and even “trick photography” was still virtually unknown.

That dog went from being an inch away from the rendering plant to being not merely any old man’s best friend, but (for at least as long as the work on the film production took) Charlie Chaplin’s best friend.

(I used to do that with Puff. I’m serious.)

Imagine the dynamics of being a dog in the center of that kind of attention.

Chaplin scoured pounds and went through dozens of dogs looking for just the right canine genius to bond with, and he found one. Problem is, Mut was a dog, and as a dog, he could not possibly have understood that the intense bonding was only for the temporary purpose of making a film and was not to last.

Charlie went away!

As all humans do. It is our nature. And Mut pined away, as only the finest dogs will do.

The lesson, of course is that all things are temporary.

The tragedy is that dogs are not in a position to understand it.

Hell, even those of us who are able to understand it still can’t accept it.