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Oct 30

'Benji' Puts McKinney on State Film Trail Map

Posted on October 30, 2017 at 1:58 PM by Beth Shumate

Benji movie posterA little dog named Benji is still bringing attention to McKinney more than four decades after he visited here.

More than 40 years ago movie cameras filmed a scruffy little dog and the broken down house in which he lived on South Tennessee. "Benji" was that dog and his adventures were the stuff of a series of Hollywood movies, the first one (the one partially filmed in McKinney) in 1974. (Click the movie poster at right to view the opening credits on YouTube.) 

That little pup is bringing renewed attention to McKinney, thanks to the Texas Film Commission including the "Benji House," a.k.a. the Dowell House, on it's Texas Classics Trail.

"We hope the [film] website will bring lots of visitors to our beautiful city," said Diane Mueller, owner with her husband Fred
of the Dowell House Bed & Breakfast (1104 S. Tennessee). The Muellers have an album of photos documenting the film and renovation of the house that they display for guests.

Dowell house then and nowThe Federal/Classical style home was built in 1870, with the Muellers opening it as a bed and breakfast in 1990. The house seen on film - in disrepair, unpainted and appearing to be abandoned - bears little resemblence to the house as it looks today, a beautiful powder blue with white shutters, window frames and doors. 

For locals and those who know McKinney well, it's fun to see recognizable spots in town, from the time little Benji sticks his head out the window, leaves the house and walks through fields, down home-lined streets and walks north on Kentucky Street then up to a big white house in the opening credits. Parts of the movie were also filmed in Denton, including the courthouse seen in the opening credits.

McKinney is in good company, being one of 25 filming destinations from some of the Texas Film Commission's most iconic projects, including movies like "Giant" (Marfa), "Bonnie & Clyde" (Pilot Point), "Logan's Run" (Fort Worth),  "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (Bastrop County), "Robocop" (Dallas) and TV shows including "Friday Night Lights" (Odessa), "Lonesome Dove" (San Marcos), and of course, "Dallas" (Southfork Ranch in Parker).

"We're excited to have the Dowell House and McKinney recognized by the Governor's Office for inclusion on the Texas Classics Film Trail," said Dee-dee Guerra, Executive Director of the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Despite the years that have passed, people visiting McKinney still ask us about 'the Benji House.'"

McKinney continues to be popular with filmmakers and TV crews, most recently included in TV shows "Prison Break" and "Chase" and independent films including "The Hoovey Movie" and "Language of a Broken Heart."

"As recently as last week, we had two Italian filmmakers scouting McKinney and other locations in Texas for a film they're writing and shooting here," said Guerra. "The same week, we met with a representative from a crew that filmed 'True Stories' here in 1986 who are planning to shoot here for a few days next month on a documentary honoring the film's 20th anniversary special edition re-release." 

Film buffs wishing to follow the Classics Film Trail will wind up touring practically the entire state from the Dallas area south to Houston and Corpus Christi north to San Antonio, west to El Paso and north again to Lubbock. The Texas Film Commission has created a couple other trails, the Richard Linklater Trail and Caught on Film: Texas in Movies and TV, on which the Dowell House is also included.