Asta (born Skippy; birth and death dates unknown) was a Wire-Haired Fox Terrier best known for his acting work in the 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man. He was trained by owners Henry East and Gale Henry East, and Frank Weatherwax. His other notable film performances include The Awful Truth (1937), as Mr. Smith, the subject of a custody dispute between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne; Bringing Up Baby (1938), as George, the bone-hiding pup belonging to Katharine Hepburn's aunt; and Topper Takes a Trip (1938), as Mr. Atlas. Due to the enormous popularity of Asta, interest in pet terriers skyrocketed.
As a character in the movie The Thin Man, Asta was the playful pet dog of Nick and Nora Charles, tugging them around town on his walks, hiding from danger, and sniffing out corpses. ("Asta, you're not a terrier, you're a police dog," Nick tells him.) The character later appeared in the sequels After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, Song of the Thin Man, as well as the 1950s television show The Thin Man. Although Skippy played Asta in the first two Thin Man films, it is believed multiple terriers were used for subsequent films in the series, and he wasn't involved in the television show.
Interestingly, the original character of Asta in Dashiell Hammett's book of the The Thin Man was not a male Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, but a female Schnauzer.
The American Magazine detailed Asta's professional life in an August 1938 profile of the East kennels, titled "A Dog's Life in Hollywood":
- Movie actresses stroke Skippy lovingly. They coo at him and murmur endearing terms in his ears. He takes it all in his stride, because, what with contracts, options, and exacting work before the movie cameras, he hasn't much time for the attentions of Hollywood's most beautiful stars. But if he's paid for it and given the proper cue he will snuggle in the arms of the loveliest of stars, gaze into her limpid eyes, and, if necessary — howl.
- Skippy, a smart little wire-haired terrier, is one of the leading stars in pictures. He leads a glamorous life — a dog's life de luxe. He is rated as one of the smartest dogs in the world, and when contracts are signed for his appearance in a picture he gets $200 a week for putting his paw-print on the dotted line. His trainer gets a mere $60.
- His owner is Mrs. Gale Henry East , once a prominent movie comedienne. ... "When Skippy has to drink water in a scene, the first time he does it he really drinks, If there are retakes and he's had all the water he can drink, he'll go through the scene just as enthusiastically as though his throat were parched, but he'll fake it. If you watch closely you'll see he's just going through the motions of lapping and isn't really picking up water at all. And, because he has a sense of humor, he loves it when you laugh and tell him you've caught him faking but that it's all right with you.
- "Treat a dog kindly and he'll do anything in the world for you.
In an interesting gaffe, at one point when Cary Grant wrestles and plays with "Mr. Smith" in The Awful Truth, he can be heard distinctly calling him "Skippy."
Asta's enduring fame is such that his name is a frequent answer in The New York Times crossword puzzles (crosswordese), in response to clues such as "Thin Man Dog" or "Dog star."