Asta was originally named Skippy in his first movies, but when he was cast as Asta in the popular Thin Man series, his name was changed to Asta, although from all accounts he answered to both names when noms were involved.
The Thin Man was based on a story by Dashiel Hammett, in which the dog is a female Schnauzer. However, because of Skippy’s popularity in his first movies, he won the role and became Asta.
The Thin Man was one of the most popular films of 1934 and was nominated for four Oscars. It was followed by five sequels, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Song of the Thin Man, as well as a radio and television series.
Asta’s owners were sophisticated socialites, Nick and Nora Charles, played by William Powell and Myrna Loy. At one time Nick had been a well known private detective, but when he married the wealthy Nora, he gave up any pretense of actually working.
The movies are best described by Roger Ebert as a “drawing room comedy with dead bodies.” Solving murders was something Nick and Nora did in their spare time since they were more concerned with leading the lives of fun loving, hard drinking socialites. At one time Nick was asked what he thought of a case and he answered to the effect that it was seriously putting him behind in his drinking.
The couple included Asta in their activities (except drinking). As the series progressed, Asta was given more and more screen time. He was the one who actually found clues and did most of the detective work. He was also there to help them out of any trouble they got into, and they got into a lot of trouble.
The plot of the original movie is so convoluted that I’m not sure even the writers could follow it, but as the series went on, the plots got simpler and Asta did more cute things. Audiences seemed to prefer a cute dog to plot twists.
Nick, Nora and Asta continue to be popular, thanks to classic movie channels and newly released DVD’s.
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