Frank Freeman, credited as Frank Inn, animal trainer who handled Lassie, Benji and many others, died July 27 of natural causes in Sylmar, Calif. He was 86.
Born in Camby, Ind., Freeman’s long career with animals began after he was hit by a car in the 1930s (even declared dead and sent to the morgue; where an intern noticed him twitch). During his convalescence, he was given a small dog, Jeep, which he taught tricks. After he recovered, he got a janitorial job at MGM and showed off his dog to Henry East, trainer of Asta in MGM’s “Thin Man” series. East immediately put Freeman to work, leading to training animals on the sets of “National Velvet” and the “Lassie” film series.
Freeman trained hundreds of animals to perform on film and television over his six-decade career, including Cat in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Arnold the pig on “Green Acres,” and the many animals in “Doctor Dolittle” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
In 1960, Freeman rescued one of his most recognizable animal from the Burbank Animal Shelter: After appearing in “Petticoat Junction” as a puppy, the dog starred as Benji in the series of popular family films by helmer Joe Camp.
Honored by humanitarian organizations, Freeman became the first inductee into the Intl. Assn. of Canine Professionals Hall of Fame.
Predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Juanita, and a son, he is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, a brother, two sisters and many nieces and nephews.