New movie. “Togo.” Not pronounced as in “burger to go.” Pronounced as in “toe-go.” You may not care. But the dog — that was his name — he’d care.
The human star is Willem Dafoe. The animal star portrays Togo. One’s a Siberian husky. Tieless Willem in gray cashmere sweater and black slacks is not. One’s runt of the litter. The other, an award winner.
This heretofore untold true story unfolds on the tundra. It’s winter 1925.
Nome, Alaska. A deadly epidemic. The only cure is for this champion sled dog trainer to mush 600 miles for an antitoxin serum.
Willem: “We had a long shoot. Five months and difficult conditions. Bad weather. Strong wind. Because of this killing plague, the story was the deadly leg of our journey across the snow in a massive storm. We actually worked in 50-below temperature. In Alberta. Near Lake Louise. And in the Rocky Mountains.
“We couldn’t exactly live there, so our 8 a.m. call time meant a four-hour trip up to the 8,000-foot site where we could actually film. And then only three hours of light was left, which was the only amount of work we could do and then another four-hour drive back down.
“It was lots of dogs. Stand-in dogs. Extra dogs. Sleigh dogs. They’re very athletic. You learn from them. Their instincts are so strong.”
How did he keep warm?
“Costumes were authentic. Very thick fake fur. Underneath were layers and extra leggings. We always kept our faces covered. Leave anything uncovered, and you’d get frostbite. Sometimes the landscape would incline or the frozen river would have an ice shift. Our makeup people were terrific. They kept watch.
“The story had flashbacks. Multiple mushers. Multiple dogs. Once the lead had to be exchanged, and in another scene [it] didn’t exactly look like the same sled dog leader. When things happened, there were substitutes. Going up the mountain one started to fall, lost traction and we had to cut him out with an ice pick.
“The real Togo risked his life to save a human being. It shows the unbreakable bond between man and dog and the intense depth of my character’s feeling for Togo even as he risked running this lead dog to his death. Togo goes down in history as the greatest sled dog ever.”
The Cinema Society screening was on a night of a torrential downpour. Actors were mushing through a snowstorm. Guests were rushing through a rainstorm.
They’re blessed, so am I
Speaking of dogs, Sunday, my 11th annual Blessing of the Animals at 60th and Park’s Christ Church was jammed. Timothy Cardinal Dolan blessed Catholic ones, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein the Jewish ones, Minister Stephen Bauman every creature including a turtle and rabbit.
Thanks to Stephanie Kempadoo, the NY Post, Robert Zimmerman for press, Roseann DeGennaro for the church, Humane Society, Akira Regan’s Roosevelt High School Choir, Farm To You Rescue for alpacas, plus Cornell, Catsimatides, Kalikows and Wilpons for contributions. The NYPD for officers and police dogs, former Comm. Bill Bratton for help, NYC for street closings. Also buses, trucks, vets Douglas Palma and Brett Shorenstein, volunteers, printers. And Channel 5, NY-1, CBS radio, WOR, WNYM, WMCA, Town + Country for their help.
It takes a village. Being New Yorkers, our pets also need their holiday blessing. So thank you thank you thank you.
Apologies to New York Women in Film & Television for missing Gloria Estefan’s honors. But I know she wore Donna Karan and has two films coming out.
So thanks to WIFT for another example of only in New York, kids, only in New York.
Article Credit Pagesix