Archive for December, 2008

My Dog Woodson

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Woodson snoozing by the woodstove at our home in Pennsylvania.

In anticipation of the Marley & Me movie coming out Christmas Day, the editors at USA WEEKEND asked me to write about our new Lab, Woodson, whom we adopted from the movie set. Woodson is just about the most beautiful dog I have ever seen, even more handsome, I believe, than Marley. And that’s saying a lot. Beside that, he has a delightful personality — a wonderful mix of joyful mischief and loyal affection. He has fit into our family seamlessly, and our other Lab, Gracie, acts like a puppy again with her new playmate. Our new pup makes us all laugh and we love him beyond words.

But Woodson has a back story I had not before written or spoken publicly about. When I accepted the USA WEEKEND assignment, I knew I couldn’t tell his story without telling the entire story. Below is the piece, which ran yesterday in newspapers across the country:

FROM USA WEEKEND, December 21, 2008

Woodson & Me

The best-selling “Marley & Me” author shares the secret of his “celebrity” puppy.

By John Grogan

Sometimes amazing gifts come in small packages, and sometimes they come wrapped in soft white fur. So it was with Woodson.

He came into my life at a most unexpected time — as I stood with my wife and 11-year-old daughter on a movie set outside Philadelphia counting my blessings that the comically mischievous canines lined up to portray Marley, “the world’s worst dog,” were not my headaches to worry about.
After all, I’d already paid my dues on that front. I’m the guy who lived with the real Marley for 13 years and who wrote the book “Marley & Me,” on which the upcoming movie is based.

But as we stood off camera watching Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston prepare to film another scene from our life, in walked Mark Forbes, the movie’s chief animal trainer, and with him was a little white fur ball with a black nose and bright eyes. Woodson was one of several puppies drafted into service to portray the young Marley, and at the ripe age of 15 weeks, his acting career was over.

My daughter’s eyes brightened, and Forbes asked, “How would you like to take this little guy home with you?” She looked at me with the most hopeful expression I have ever seen. I knew the offer was coming and already had told the movie’s producers my family would be honored to provide a home for one of the fluffy canine actors.

What we did not know that day — what no one knew, not the trainers or the producers or the breeders — was that Woodson was, indeed, special. And not just because he had enjoyed a brief run as a movie star.

From the start, Woodson adopted his new family with gusto. He joyfully knocked over the trash, stole shoes, chewed eyeglasses, attacked pillows and dumped his water bowl just for fun. He was calmer than our famous bad boy Marley, but equally mischievous. It was hard to stay mad at him. Just as he stole our socks, Woodson quickly stole our hearts.

But as the weeks passed, we noticed that our pup seemed unable to do the things Lab puppies do so effortlessly — leap onto furniture or hop into the back seat of the car. The stairs were almost impossible for him. At first we thought he was clumsy, but with each passing week the signs became harder to ignore.

The veterinarian delivered the news we knew in our gut was coming: Woodson was suffering from a severe birth defect. Both rear hips were so malformed, the balls and sockets did not connect. With each puppy step, bone was scraping bone. No wonder our little actor hobbled around like an arthritic senior citizen.

I called the breeders, not to complain, just to inform. They were mortified. I told them what the vet told me, that it was no one’s fault, that sometimes nature delivers surprises. Silently, I counted my blessings that our surprise came with a puppy and not one of our three kids.

“Just bring him back,” one of the breeders said, “and we’ll swap him out for a new puppy, your pick of the next litter.” I have to admit the offer was tempting, like turning in a lemon automobile for a gleaming new model. But dogs are not commodities to be discarded when they break, and I assumed that if Woodson were returned, he would be euthanized.

My wife and I thought about it overnight before realizing there was really nothing to consider. Woodson was part of our family now. I got on the floor with our special-needs dog and placed my lips against his snout. “You’re not going anywhere, Woodsy,” I whispered. “We’re in this together.”

And we are. With the help of an excellent orthopedic specialist at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school, we have Woodson on a special diet and a regimen of cartilage builders and medicines. We lift him into the car for rides and up the stairs for bed. Surgery might be in his future, but for now he’s comfortable and enjoys his life as a pampered house pooch.

Woodson will never go hunting or hiking or even on long walks, and that’s OK. Some dogs are put on this Earth just to love you.

More photos from the premiere

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Here are some moments from the premiere of Marley & Me in Los Angeles last week:

Jennifer Aniston and the Grogan brothers, Patrick (left) and Conor.

Owen Wilson and I jawboning at the post-movie party

The real Colleen Grogan with (the very tired) Lucy Merriam, the actress who plays a young Colleen in the movie

Eric Dane, who plays the fictional character Sebastian in the movie, with director David Frankel

Group shot on the red carpet: David Frankel and me with the stars: Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson and Eric Dane

Posing with my main man, Clyde

The Marley & Me Premiere

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

The Marley & Me film premiere was last week, Thursday, Dec. 11, at the Mann Village Theater in Los Angeles, and the whole Grogan family was on hand. Even though my rational side kept telling myself all the glitz and glamor were manufactured for the purpose of creating buzz about the new movie, I couldn’t help getting swept up in the moment. The huge expanse of red carpet, the bright lights, the banks of photographers, the crowds, the VIPs, the arriving stars… it was pretty damn cool. Even my blase teenage sons thought so.

We hung around on the red carpet for the better part of an hour where I had a sloppy slobbering reunion with my favorite new actor, Clyde the crazy Labrador retriever who plays Marley at his wildest. He was on hand (paw?) with his trainers and didn’t hesitate to give me a big wet face kiss.

Then Owen Wilson arrived and the crowd went wild. A few minutes later Jennifer Aniston pulled up, looking dazzling as ever, and the crowd went *really* wild. Co-stars Eric Dane and Alan Arkin, and the child actors from the movie were also on hand, as were some other highly recognizable faces, including Courteney Cox, John Mayer, and Katherine Heigl.

My family and I saw the movie a few weeks ago in a private screening in New York. But watching it with 1,400 people Thursday night was a whole other experience. It was fascinating to watch which scenes brought bursts of spontaneous laughter — there were a lot of them — and to hear the weeps and sniffles at parts, too. For the record, let me say that Aniston and Wilson did an incredible job portraying Jenny and me. We all know how funny they can be — and they are definitely funny here — but both delivered tender, poignant performances, too. Owen especially showed a side of himself I had not seen in earlier work of his. There’s deep and real emotion here.

The post-movie party was a riot — even if the jet-lagged Grogans were dragging a little, our bodies telling us that L.A. midnight feels a whole lot like Philadelphia 3 a.m. We hung around Los Angeles for a couple more days to relax, thaw out, and see some attractions. A highlight for our kids was the boardwalk scene at Venice Beach — despite howling winds and nippy temps.

My one disappointment at the premiere was that I did not get the chance to meet Alan Arkin and to tell him how much I loved his performance. He plays my (fictional) curmudgeonly editor at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and he nailed it in a hysterically understated way. A total hoot. But on our last day at our hotel, Jenny and I stepped into the elevator and there stood Arkin on his way to check out. So we got to say hi and exchange notes on the movie and the book and all things Marley. He’s a very nice man.

When we arrived home to Pennsylvania, the weather was cold and grey and a heavy rainstorm had washed out our gravel driveway. Ah, sweet reality. The film premiere was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one I won’t soon forget, but it was good to be back home, reality and all.

A glimpse behind the movie

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

I should be packing for the premiere of the Marley & Me movie, which is Thursday night in Los Angeles. The whole family is going, and I have a million things to get done before we leave. But I wanted to take a second to share this short clip that ran on Access Hollywood about the movie.

Both Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston are on the media circuit promoting the movie, and there are many new interviews and clips out there, but this one shows Clyde, the crazy Lab who plays Marley in his prime, doing his best Marley imitation.

I’ll let you all know how the premiere goes. Should be fun!