Hamming it up: Green Acres' Albert and Gabor

Question: I enjoyed the Flipper column where you talked about their using female dolphins, but it got me wondering. What about Arnold, the pig on Green Acres? Boy or girl?


Answer: As you might expect, the rule for pigs was the same as it was with dolphins: Girls (or "gilts" in pig-breeding lingo) may not be made of sugar, spice and everything nice like their human counterparts, but they are easier to deal with. The first pig to play Arnold, farmer Fred Ziffel's brilliant and adorable oinker on CBS' 1965-71 rural sitcom, was male, but after that it was all ladies. And that included the Arnold doubles and stand-ins (not counting the cardboard ones used to set up and light shots), which numbered anywhere from two to four per season.

The reason for the high Arnold turnover is that pigs stop being cute once they hit about 200 lbs. Up until that point, whether they're sounders, suckling pigs, weanling pigs, shoats, boar pigs, stags or barrows — all different terms for immature oinkers — they're good enough for TV. But once they hit the hog stage, whether sows (female) or boars (male), they ain't — and pigs, which weigh about three lbs. at birth, pass 200 at six months. At 20 months, sows weigh in at up to 900 lbs., while boars can hit 1000. (The original Arnold, in fact, was retired when he hit 250, and was a relatively slim 650 when TV Guide first looked into the issue in 1970.)

The Arnolds were all pedigreed Chester Whites working under AFL contracts requiring $7.43 an hour with pay for an eight-hour minimum day and a half-hour lunch break. An American Human Association representative checked the set regularly to make sure they were treated well and, unlike other series leads, they were granted an extra day of rehearsal. That, however, didn't do away with all mood swings. They were Hollywood pigs, after all. "Sometimes Arnold does get temperamental," director Richard L. Bare observed, "particularly in the late afternoon, like the other actors do."

The pigs were trained to open doors, open a mailbox and take out a letter, open a refrigerator and take out food, turn on a TV set, carry roller skates, school books and newspapers, pull a toy wagon, hold a peashooter or pencil in his or her mouth and drink through a straw the way other animals were trained: using Pavlovian conditioning, rewarding them for tricks done right. But there was more finesse involved, according to trainer Frank Inn. "There's lots of psychology in handling pigs," he said. "You can force a dog, a chimp or a horse to do something, but a pig, no. Pigs won't take punishment. Reprimanding will work with a dog, but with a pig, never. If you reprimand a pig, he won't like you, won't respond to you and won't even take food from you. You can see temper in pigs. If I scold them, they scold right back."

In testing, pigs have been ranked right up there with chimps, orangutans, dogs and cats in intelligence, but Inn did draw a distinction from his experiences. "Personally, I doubt that pigs are smarter than dogs," he said, "but I have trained pigs to do more than most people have trained dogs to do. I guarantee I can teach a pig the first thing quicker, but not so many things as I can teach a dog, chimp or horse."

And when it was time to retire the animals, Inn was too attached to part with them, quoting writer Louis Bromfield to explain why: "Look at pigs over a fence, but never bring one into your life, for when you put an end to his existence, you'll forever suffer from memories as cannibal and murderer." Then he added his own spin. "He's earned the right to be fed and taken care of," he said of the original Arnold, then 5 years old. "If I can't eat him, I can't let anybody else eat him."

As for the series stars, who were upstaged by Arnold, both Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor had been around long enough to recognize when they couldn't compete. "I'm not Eddie Albert," Albert said. "I'm that fellow on television with the pig!" Gabor, always preferring to be the center of attention, was fully aware that she wasn't. "Nobody cares if I've powdered my nose," she said. "When the pig is ready, we shoot!"

Lest anyone feel sorry for the two costars, producer Jay Sommers was only too happy to explain the pecking order. "Arnold's won two PATSY Awards," he said, "and that's two more awards than anybody else on our show has won."