In the original novel, Asta was a female Miniature Schnauzer. For the Hollywood film adaptation, a male Wire Fox terrier named Skippy was chosen to portray Asta. Skippy’s interpretation was so well-recieved, that Asta as a Wire Fox terrier stuck, and Skippy landed many roles in Hollywood films. At a time when most canine actors eared under $20 dollars for week’s work, Skippy took home an average of $250, which was a very impressive paycheque at the time for anyone. When Skippy retired after a fruitful acting career, his Thin Man role was carried on by several other Wire Fox terriers.
Asta is an interesting dog character historically in film, because true to the terrier spirit, he is shown as being highly perceptive and intelligent, but also mischievous and more often than not, quite unruly. Asta’s rambunctiousness is what made him stand out at the time, and what continues to makes him timelessly irresistible. In these early “talkie” films, having such a scrappy rough-and-tumble dog in the frame was a sharp contrast to the impeccable appearance and amazing fashions of the day’s stars. Not only that, Asta was shown to be a completely respected family member and detective’s assistant, and his instincts are valued by his family. He travels everywhere with Nick and Nora, frequently accompanying them to fancy hotels and restaurants. This was at a time when most dogs including family pets were left strictly outdoors! When Nick and Nora welcome a son to their family, Asta remains just as prominent a family member and character. It is safe to say that Skippy and Astra changed history for their kind by bringing attention to the greater appeal of wild wiry terriers, beyond that of an already treasured working class of dogs.