Joe Camp, creator of 'Benji' film franchise, dead at 84

Joe Camp, Visionary Creator of the ‘Benji’ Film Series, Passes Away at 84

In 1974, a film about a cherished stray dog, primarily shot in McKinney, captured the hearts of many and became a blockbuster.

Joe Camp, the visionary behind the “Benji” movie series, which tells stories from the perspective of a lovable dog, has passed away at the age of 84. His son, filmmaker Brandon Camp, announced that his father’s death was due to an unspecified illness, as covered by the New York Times among other news sources. Kathleen Camp, his wife, shared a heartfelt message on Facebook with a picture of Camp, saying, “Fly free my sweetie!”

Joe Camp’s journey in the film industry began after he graduated from the University of Mississippi. He established his own film company, Mulberry Square Production, in Dallas in 1971. It was through this company that the first “Benji” movie came to life. Camp shared his experiences with WFAA last year, detailing the filming of the original movie in 1974 and why McKinney was chosen as the main filming location.

Despite facing rejection from most major Hollywood studios, Camp managed to raise $500,000 to produce the film. The movie was a massive success, earning $45 million at the box office and becoming a beloved family classic. Its theme song, “I Feel Love” by Charlie Rich, even received an Academy Award nomination. Camp explained to WFAA, “We say that nobody has ever done a movie like this because it’s from the dog’s point of view.”

The star of the film, a dog named Higgins, was discovered by renowned animal trainer Frank Inn at a California animal shelter. Following the success of the original, several more Benji movies were made, including a 2018 reboot that Camp co-wrote and was directed by his son, Brandon.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the movie, the city of McKinney held a parade and unveiled a sculpture of Benji in Mitchell Park last year. The USA Film Festival, a Dallas-based nonprofit film and video arts organization, remembered Camp as a “longtime USAFF supporter and friend.” They highlighted how Camp disregarded W.C. Fields’ famous advice to “never work with animals or children,” leading to the creation of a beloved canine star and a successful film franchise. The organization expressed its condolences, saying, “Our thoughts are with Joe’s family and many friends.”