Q: I have a question about Lord Grantham’s dog, a yellow Lab named Isis, on “Downton Abbey.” Is it the same yellow Lab used in all five series? Is it a professionally trained dog? Did the dog die in Season 4 or 5, and is another dog going to be used in Season 6?
A: I don’t know anything about the dogs’ training — although I would think they had some. But I can tell you there have been several. In the beginning, says PBS, there was Pharaoh, a yellow Labrador retriever played by a dog named Roly. According to “Downton” writer-creator Julian Fellowes’ collection of scripts, Roly “was actually quite difficult” and replaced.
Since Roly was a male and the new dog a female, the name was also changed. And so we had Isis, originally played by a dog named Ellie and later by one named Abbie.
The names Pharaoh and Isis are references to ancient Egypt as “a sort of joke,” Fellowes wrote, since “we’re filming at Highclere, home of the man who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb.”
In the fifth series, Isis died. (Abbie retired.) Some have speculated that the name of the dog — also associated with the terrorist group ISIL, sometimes called ISIS — was the reason for its departure. But Hugh Bonneville has called that nonsense. He told reporters that he suggested that Isis be killed off simply because, with the passage of years on the show, the dog would have gotten pretty old.
But there is a new Lab coming in the current, final season; that will be Tiaa, another name out of Egyptology.
Ellen Burstyn by other names
Q: In a recent episode of “Laramie” on Grit TV, I saw a young actress named Ellen McRae in the credits. She looked and talked so much like Ellen Burstyn. I wonder if she is the same person. Since the series is more than 50 years old, could she have changed her professional name as she became more established?
A: Oscar winner Burstyn, now 83, was born Edna Rae Gillooly. According to Ephraim Katz’s “Film Encyclopedia,” she worked professionally as Edna Rae, Keri Flynn, Erica Dean and then Ellen McRae. She kept that last name for about a decade, and in 1970, she switched to Ellen Burstyn — a name that came out of her third marriage, which did not last. So she was indeed Ellen McRae during that guest role on “Laramie” (1959-63).
E-mail questions to email@example.com