It’s a story that spans four countries, over a billion years of geologic time and 350 years of human history. Fascinating science. A legendary curse. But probably the most memorable moment in the making of Smithsonian Channel’s “Mystery of the Hope Diamond” was the Great Dane.
In real life his name was Mike, and he belonged to the dazzling Washington socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean. In the Roaring Twenties, Evalyn was renowned for staging elaborate parties in her mansion, and occasionally even President Warren G. Harding would attend. For kicks – and no doubt to make an impression -- she had a special collar designed for Mike so he could wear the Hope Diamond. Escorting Evalyn with imperial grace, he’d strut through the crowd wearing the world’s most famous gemstone as if it were a mere dogtag.
To recreate the scene, our production team took over a mansion in the business district of London. After scouring through dozens of head shots and enduring a few eventful screen tests (“Action!” is not a command most dogs understand, and explaining their motivation proved a challenge), we finally settled on a handsome brute named Travis. He had already appeared in several commercials and television shows in the United Kingdom, so he knew the drill. He showed no interest at all in gobbling up our Hope Diamond replica, and once the cameras were rolling he hit his marks like a pro. We never told him about the mythic curse (didn’t want to make him nervous), but by all accounts he remains a very happy and healthy canine thespian. You can watch his performance in the full program at www.smithsonianchannel.com/hope or in this behind-the-scenes clip.
Charles Poe, Vice President Production, Smithsonian Channel