Lassie Online

  When people think of a "Lassie type" collie, they always envision a sable (brown) and white dog with some black markings. Most folks will also cite the long white blaze down her muzzle. But the original Lassie, from the seminal novel by Eric Knight, was described as "a beautiful tricolor collie," meaning she is mostly black, with the familiar white markings, and touches of sable. She is also described as having a "perfect black mask" which means she has no blaze. (It was said that people who raised collies had always disliked the blaze and had tried for years to breed out that particular marking, thus it was a great blow when the Lassie films became popular and everyone began clamoring for collies with white facial blazes like MGM's favorite "dog star," but I have since read that this fact isn't true.)
  Because of Lassie Come-Home (which began life as a short story for The Saturday Evening Post), people tend to think of author Knight as primarily a dog writer, confusing him with the more prolific Albert Payson Terhune, who wrote Lad: a Dog and other books about collies in the 1910s and 1920s. (See more about this matter in the FAQ.) At the time of Lassie Come-Home, Knight was most well known for his novel This Above All, later made into a movie starring Tyrone Power and Joan Fontaine. Knight wrote one other book of note, the humorous The Flying Yorkshireman, before being killed in a plane crash (circumstances surrounding the crash are still unknown). Lassie, incidentally, was based on Knight's own collie, "Toots."
  All the dogs portraying Lassie have been male. A female collie was hired to play the lead in Lassie Come Home, but when an opportunity came to film "Lassie" negotiating some rapids, the female reportedly would have nothing to do with the rushing water. Rudd Weatherwax's collie "Pal" was substituted, and not only stole the stunt but won the role. Weatherwax continued to use male collies in the role for a good reason: both sexes shed in the summer (when most movies and television shows traditionally film most of their episodes), an event called "blowing coat," but since the male has thicker fur, he wouldn't look so scrawny during filming. Also, fans tend to think of Lassie as a "big heroic dog." Female collies are usually 10-15 pounds lighter than their male counterparts, therefore a male dog playing Lassie would look more impressive. Female collies were not ignored because they are any less intelligent; in fact, some of Lassie's stunt doubles have been females.
  Weatherwax got Pal as payment for a debt. He ran a kennel that not only supplied movie dogs, but taught "regular" dogs obedience. Pal had several bad habits, which included constant barking and chasing motorcycles. After Weatherwax had the collie awhile, the original owner realized he really didn't want Pal back, so he gave him to Weatherwax in lieu of paying the bill. Incidentally, Weatherwax managed to get Pal to stop barking constantly, but never did break him of chasing motorcycles. Sometimes the habit even came in handy on a set!
  While most books and magazines associate Lassie with Rudd Weatherwax, he and his brother Frank owned the dog in partnership. In fact it was actually Frank who trained Lassie, but Rudd was the one who took Lassie to the Lassie Come Home rapids filming. The Weatherwaxes trained dogs like "Asta" in the "Thin Man" films; Rommy, a little Cairn terrier who appeared in many films including George Washington Slept Here with Jack Benny; and also Spike, who played the title role in Old Yeller and who appeared on many Lassie episodes.
  Did you know two members of Lassie's television cast also had parts in two of the movies? George Cleveland, "Gramps" on TV, played a small part in the movie The Courage of Lassie, and June Lockhart, "Ruth Martin," played Priscilla, the Lassie Come Home-Elizabeth Taylor role as an adult, in Son of Lassie.
  Also in a small part in The Courage of Lassie, as the boy who injures the collie pup, is Carl Switzer, "Alfalfa" from Our Gang, a.k.a. The Little Rascals.
  Pal didn't always play a character named "Lassie" in his movies. In Courage of Lassie he was "Bill," in The Painted Hills he was "Shep," and, in the oddest bit of casting, in Son of Lassie, he plays just that, Lassie's son Laddie. Lassie is played by another dog!
  Challenge to Lassie is based on the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby, a Skye terrier, apparently slept at the foot of his master's grave in the Greyfriars churchyard for fourteen years; a statue of him stands in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has become a symbol of a dog's faithfulness to his owner. Eleanor Atkinson made the dog famous worldwide by writing a book about him. Challenge to Lassie substitutes Lassie for Bobby, and portrays his owner, John Gray, as a shepherd, although in real life he was supposed to be a town watchman. "Jock" (as he's known in the film) Gray is played by Donald Crisp. When Disney made the film Greyfriars Bobby in 1963 (with a real Skye terrier), Donald Crisp was once again in the story, but as James Brown, the graveyard caretaker.
  Lassie's eighth motion picture wasn't really a movie at all, but a compilation of five television episodes from the Timmy era called "The Journey." These five episodes were the only ones prior to 1965 to be filmed in color. Richard Kiel, James Bond's nemesis "Jaws," played a mute hermit in the story. Richard Simmons, who was famous for playing the stalwart Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in the 1950s TV series, has a small role—ironically as another Mounty!
  MGM, feeling Lassie was a failing attraction after The Painted Hills, sold the television rights to the character to Robert Maxwell Productions, figuring Maxwell might get a couple of years of a kiddy show out of the collie, if that many. Lassie went on to run for 19 years, 17 years of them on the CBS television network, and spawned novels, children's toys, and four sequels, two animated and two live-action, not to mention three more theatrical features.
  Florence Lake, who played Jenny, the Calverton telephone operator for the ten-year duration of the farm shows, was the sister of Arthur Lake, "Dagwood" in the Blondie movie series.
  Tommy Rettig (television's "Jeff") was allergic to dogs.
  Jan Clayton (Ellen Miller) originated the role of Julie Jordan in Rogers and Hammerstein's stage musical Carousel. An accomplished Broadway actress, she sang several times on the series, most notably in "The Gypsies."
  Contrary to how good it all looked on TV, Rettig and the boy who played "Porky" really didn't get along. Joey Vieira (whose stage name was Donald Keeler) recalls that he and Rettig were always fighting.
  Vieira took his stage surname from his aunt, dancer Ruby Keeler.
  If you always thought "Porky" and "Pugsley" on the 1964 television series The Addams Family looked a little bit alike, you weren't mistaken. Joey Vieira and Ken Weatherwax are half brothers. (And yes, Ken Weatherwax is related to Rudd Weatherwax; he is the son of Rudd Weatherwax's brother Mac, and therefore cousins with Rudd's son Bob and grandson Robert.)
  Tommy Rettig and Jon Provost appeared together in the movie version of Edna Ferber's So Big four years before Jon Provost was chosen for the role of Timmy.
  Want to ask a sure-fire "stumper" at a TV trivia contest? Ask "Who originally played Timmy's parents, Ruth and Paul Martin?" 95 percent of the time you will either get a blank look or the answer will be, "June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly, of course." Incorrect. From December of 1957 through September of 1958, Timmy's parents were played by Cloris Leachman (later Phyllis Lindstrom of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis) and Jon Shepodd.
  Cloris Leachman got tired of playing second fiddle to a dog and a boy and was about to ask to be let out of her contract when Fate struck. The story (possibily apocryphal, but it fits her peppery personality) goes that Leachman had an interview in which the reporter asked her if she used the sponsor's product (Campbell's Soup, for the run of the series on the CBS network). Leachman quickly replied that she would never use "that stuff," and that she made her own soup! Needless to say, the sponsor was infuriated and she was let go quickly! Jon Shepodd was (IMHO) a pretty colorless Paul Martin, although Jon Provost remembers him as a great guy, but he was let go because the producers were afraid people who saw a new actress as Ruth Martin would think Paul got a divorce, a subject avoided on a family series in those days.
  Character actor Andy Clyde ("Cully Wilson"), also a regular on The Real McCoys, worked with famous movie director/producer Mack Sennett and had once been a Keystone Kop in those noted silent comedy shorts. In fact, he does at least one silent-comedy-type bit in the episode "Double Trouble."
  Lassie was one of the first series in the early 60's to feature an African-American actor in a role that was not a domestic or a train porter. Olympic champion Rafer Johnson (1960 Gold Medalist for the decathalon) portrayed one of a gang of construction workers who helped rescue the collie from a cliff in the episode "Lassie's Ordeal."
  Robert Bray was tailor-made for the role of a forest ranger. He was born in Montana and grew up hunting, fishing, and working outdoors. He had been a cowboy, a lumberjack, and a taxidermist before turning to acting (taxidermy was always his hobby). As a Marine during World War II, he saw action in the South Pacific.
  Lassie was the poster dog for the "Keep America Beautiful" campaign during the mid-sixties and was photographed with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. At least one episode of the series, "Lassie's Litter Bit," revolved around this role. (Lassie didn't remain at the White House long—the First Family's white collie Blanco attacked "America's Favorite Dog" and Lassie had to be taken away.)
  Many movie information sites and books list "Lassie" in the cast of the classic John Wayne Western Hondo. Close, but not true, according to a correspondent who knows the Weatherwax family: the collies in Hondo and the later Wayne Western Big Jake were trained by the Weatherwax kennels and were Lassie siblings and children, but were not played by Lassie himself. There is a story, very probably apocryphal, that says during the filming of Hondo Wayne won Lassie away from Rudd Weatherwax in a very "highly lubricated" after-shooting-hours poker game, then "gave the dog back" in the morning.
  Pamelyn Ferdin, who played the deaf girl, Lucy Baker, in the last two seasons of the series, was the voice of Lucy in several Peanuts TV specials. (Ferdin also played the role of Felix Unger's daughter Edna in The Odd Couple and later became a registered nurse.) Ironically, Ferdin now belongs to an animal-rights group that does not believe in keeping animals—including dogs—as pets.
  In the animated series, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, the name of the family that owns Lassie is "Turner," and Mrs. Turner is named "Laura." Twenty years later, the family that owns Lassie in the 1994 movie is named "Turner" and Mrs. Turner is again "Laura."
  The farm episodes took place in a mythical "Calverton" (check out the FAQ for more on this subject) and most of Lassie's forest ranger episodes took place in fictional National Forests (although there were exceptions). However, the Holden Ranch episodes clearly took place in California, near the town of Solvang, a town founded by Danish immigrants.
  All the Lassies have had a dog companion or companions to keep them company. At one time Lassie's buddies were two miniature poodles named Buttons and Bows. The eighth Lassie had a Jack Russell pal named Mel who "narrated" the Lassie fortieth anniversary special.
  The Cinar Lassie series, which was only seen on the cable channel Animal Planet in the United States, used several "in jokes" to the original series. The protagonist was named "Timmy," who originally makes friends with a girl named "Billie" (paralleling Timmy Martin's friendship with "Willie" Brewster). In later episodes, Timmy's best male friend was named Jeff. The retired town veternarian was named Dr. Stewart, which paralleled the Miller family physician, Dr. Stuart.

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