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Meet one of the biggest movie stars ever to come out of Maine

And here’s the thing: you’ve never heard of her.

WATERVILLE, Maine — Long before Air Bud and Lassie and Rin Tin Tin became true Hollywood stars (Rin Tin Tin made so much money for Warner Bros. that he was known inside the studio as “the mortgage lifter”), there was Jean the Vitagraph Dog. A Scotch collie born in 1902, Jean was the first canine to make it big in motion pictures. Not bad for a dog from Eastport, Maine.

Chances are excellent you’ve never heard of Jean, but her story will be reaching a lot of people this month thanks to a film series called “Maine in the Movies.” It consists of 35 movies with connections to the state (many were at least partly shot here) that will be shown in seventeen communities from March 5 to 15. The Maine Film Center and nineteen other arts and education organizations and independent theaters are presenting the series as part of Maine’s 200th birthday.

“The films span 110 years, but they also span a variety of genres,” says Maine Film Center executive director Mike Perrault. “We have horror. We have family [films]…Classics like ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ and ‘Peyton Place’ that a lot of people feel connected to. It’s a great way to show these stories again in a new light in celebration of Maine’s bicentennial.”

And, of course, there’s Jean, who made about two dozen films for Vitagraph Studios and was as popular as any of its human performers. “Jean the Match-Maker,” her silent film from 1910, was lost for decades until being discovered in an archive in New Zealand. This work is considered Maine’s oldest narrative movie, and it will be shown at several of the “Maine in the Movies” screenings.

By the way, in case you think the seemingly insatiable public appetite for news about movie stars is a new phenomenon, consider this: When Jean gave birth to six pups in 1912, the studio did what movie studios do best—it figured out a way to make money off the event. The result was a short documentary: “Jean and Her Family.”

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