Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: SATURDAY, December 4, 1993                   TAG: 9312060203
DATELINE: NEW YORK                                 LENGTH: Medium


It has taken Hume Cronyn 62 years to confront that eternal verity of the actor's craft: Never work with children. Or animals. Especially animals.

Perhaps Cronyn was lulled into a false sense of security. After all, he won an Emmy for his work with young Fred Savage (``a very, very intelligent young actor,'' said Cronyn) in a TV film called ``Christmas on Division Street.''

And then there was ... Crystal, his current co-star, a 2-year-old Australian shepherd dog and the title character of ``To Dance with the White Dog,'' which airs Sunday on CBS (at 9 p.m. on WDBJ-Channel 7). The program opens the 43rd season of ``Hallmark Hall of Fame'' specials.

``You don't get very many stories like `To Dance with the White Dog' because it's a gentle story,'' Cronyn said. ``No shoot-em-ups. No rapes. No violence. No car chases.''

And working with a dog was a first for Cronyn, who is 82.

She was ``sweet,'' he said. She was ``endearing,'' he said.

Aha! Friction on the set, Mr. Cronyn?

``It wasn't the dog's fault, really,'' said Cronyn, settling back in his armchair, charging his pipe with tobacco and firing it up. ``The dog was bewildered. She'd never made a film before and she wasn't very well trained.''

Cronyn plays Sam Peek, an elderly nurseryman, living alone among his pecan groves and mourning the death of his wife, Cora (played by Jessica Tandy, Cronyn's wife).

Then, one day, the unnamed female White Dog comes to Sam's door. He takes her in. A bond is formed. And yet, the dog seems to vanish whenever any other member of Sam's family is around.

Cronyn and Crystal had started off on a solidly professional basis.

``I spent about four days with her alone. Nobody else was supposed to touch her because they didn't want our bonding to be sullied,'' he said, dwelling luxuriously on the word ``sullied.''

``We got along absolutely wonderfully until we went before the camera and then the poor dog would look around,'' he said. ``Camera, crew, grips - electricians running around with lights - clap boards slapping in front of her face.'' Poor Crystal was out of her depth.

And yet, ``To Dance with the White Dog'' is named for a moment when the dog puts her paws on Sam's walker, Cronyn said.

``That's her trick. He moves and the dog moves with him. I say, `First time I ever danced with a white dog,''' Cronyn explained.

Crystal did it perfectly in rehearsal, but when shooting started she could only gawk at the filmmakers at work.

``She'd get up on the crossbar and she'd look (off camera),'' he said. ``I couldn't say anything, of course. I couldn't even say, `Crystal!'

``She had her trainers, two perfectly nice ladies, and they were `on,' and they knew they were on. These were their moments of glory.

``And they would stand off camera and they would say, `Feet up, Crystal! Head down! Look at him, Crystal! Look at HIM!' Over and over and over,'' he said, shaking his head, smiling ruefully at the memory.

Cronyn acknowledged that not every production problem could be blamed on poor Crystal. There were human failures as well. In one difficult scene, Cronyn got seven takes in the can - out of about 30 tries - before another actor noticed Cronyn's reading glasses - not Sam's - hanging around his neck.

``Everybody missed it,'' he said. ``And it all had to be thrown out.''

And then there was the indignity of the peanut butter incident.

Crystal watched one day as Cronyn acted out a perilous scene. ``She saw me being hauled out of the river and felt it was a genuine emergency,'' Cronyn said. ``She rushed up to me and licked my face.''

Unfortunately, the cameras had stopped rolling.

``The director (six-time Emmy winner Glenn Jordan) said `Great! That's wonderful! Now, let's shoot it!'''

Cronyn rolled his eyes heavenward. ``I said, `Great. Good luck.'''

``And that was when the peanut butter came into play.''

Peanut butter?

``In my beard. Crystal loves peanut butter.''

 by CNB