Joe Camp, Filmmaker Behind ‘Benji’ Franchise, Dies at 84

Joe Camp, a pioneering filmmaker who created the groundbreaking “Benji” franchise, which brought a lovable dog in a live-action film to the masses and became a smash success, died on Friday at his home in Bell Buckle, Tenn. He was 84.

The cause was an unspecified illness, his son, the director Brandon Camp, said in a statement.

Joe Camp began thinking about directing as early as 8 years old, but he would first encounter decades of rejections. While attending the University of Mississippi, he tried to transfer to U.C.L.A.’s film school, only to be turned down. After college, Mr. Camp dabbled in advertising at the Houston office of McCann Erickson and then at Norsworthy‐Mercer, an agency in Dallas, while writing unproduced sitcom scripts on the side.

In 1971, Mr. Camp and James Nicodenius, a cinematographer, formed their own production company, Mulberry Square Productions, which was based in Dallas, far from the traditional hubs of the television and film industry, Los Angeles and New York.

The idea for “Benji” came from watching the Disney animated film “Lady and the Tramp” in the late-1960s with his first wife, Carolyn (Hopkins) Camp. Afterward, Mr. Camp observed his own dog’s facial expressions and wondered if a movie could be made starring one in real life told from the dog’s perspective.

Higgins the dog appeared on the series “Petticoat Junction” before finding cinematic fame as the titular character in the first “Benji” film.Credit…CBS Photo Archive, via Getty Images

“I went to sleep with the distinct concept that dogs do talk if you’re really paying attention,” Mr. Camp told The Associated Press in 2003.

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