The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 37: 'Frasier's' Moose: 'An actor, not a dog'
This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.
Though you may not believe it, I don't devote all of my time to Heidi's career. In my dual identity as an arts writer for Calendar, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing actor John Mahoney about his role in the Conor McPherson play "The Seafarer," which opens Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse.
We talked about the theat-ah -- about the joys of live performance and playing King Lear. But amid all this heady discussion, I couldn't resist asking Mahoney about one of TV's most famous dogs: Moose, the Jack Russell terrier who played Eddie on the long-running sitcom "Frasier." Moose portrayed Eddie -- who belonged to Mahoney's character, retired cop Marty Crane -- for the first eight of the show's 11 seasons, and was replaced by his lookalike son, Enzo, for the final three.
What he said gave me paws -- I mean, pause -- about breaking Heidi into Hollywood.
"I never thought of Eddie as a dog. I thought of him more as an actor," Mahoney said.
"To me, dogs never grow up, as opposed to cats -- there's always a touch of the puppy in a dog," Mahoney continued. "But there was never any of that in Eddie, or Moose, I should say, because Eddie was his stage name.
"He was so highly trained -- obviously very humanely, because he loved his trainer, but his trainer (Mathilde DeCagny) was the only one he would listen to, the only one to whom he showed any affection. I swear to God, for eight years he didn't know me from Adam. If I'd say: 'How are you doing, Moose?' and scratch his head, the tail would never wag or the tongue come out or anything like that, because he had to be told to do that.
"If Mathilde wanted him to do something, she'd have to give him a signal -- if it was to wag his tail, she'd maybe pull her ear, or if it was to jump up in my arms or lick my face, she'd have to actually give him a signal to do that. And he didn't like other people to touch him. He was never aggressive, never mean -- he was just indifferent to us."
Mahoney said Moose did react like a dog in one case, however: When the dog needed to lick a character's face, something tasty would be applied to the actor. "I remember one time, David Hyde Pierce was trying to impress Daphne [Jane Leeves] with how much animals loved him, and the only way Moose would do it is if they put liver pate behind David's ear." When Moose had to kiss Mahoney, the same magic was conjured with sardine oil.
Would I ever want Heidi to be that professional -- to have all the puppy trained out of her? I thought about that while watching her joyously helping herself to some toys out of her basket -- a torn Frisbee, a stuffed elephant and a plastic squeaky hot dog she got from a dog-loving friend who thought all the canines present should get mementos of her summer barbecue (there were also squeaky burgers).
When we first brought Heidi home after being rescued from a Texas storm drain, she didn't know how to play with toys or her ball or anything; she had puppies when she was less than a year old, almost still a puppy herself. It took a while for this very serious young mother to learn how to have fun. Who would want to take that away?
But watching her tear through the den with her squeaky hot dog, I figured I probably didn't have to worry too much about the puppy disappearing from Heidi, even if she finally lands some work in Hollywood. Luckily, I'm not the perfect trainer -- and she's not that good an actor.
-- Diane Haithman
Photo: Moose at work. Credit: Andrew Eccles.