- Jeff Miller (television character)
name = Jeff Miller
caption = Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller in his debut
first = "The Inheritance" (premier episode, 1954)
last = "Transition" (fourth season, 1957)
cause = Cancellation of character
gender = Male
age = 11 years (in 1954 debut)
occupation = Farm boy • School boy
family = Ellen Miller (mother) • George "Gramps" Miller (paternal grandfather) • Timmy (foster brother) •
episode = Multiple
creator = Robert Maxwell
Jeff Miller is a dramatic character portrayed by
child actor Tommy Rettigin the long running television series "Lassie". [Jenkins, Henry. "Lassie". The Museum of Broadcast Communications, [nd] .] Jeff is a farm boy and the son of Ellen Miller, a war widow. Together, they live on a weatherbeaten farm in the American midwest with Jeff's paternal grandfather and Ellen's father-in-law George "Gramps" Miller. The character was created by producer Robert Maxwell.Collins, Ace. "Lassie: a dog's life". Penguin Books, 1993.] Jeff makes his first appearance in the series premier, "The Inheritance" (1954), and his last appearance in the mid-fourth season episode, "Transition" (1957). The series won its only Emmy Awards during Rettig's stint on the show.
Background and production notes
Jeff is eleven-years-old when the show opens and is the son of slain war hero John Miller and his wife, Ellen. With his mother and paternal grandfather George Miller, Jeff lives on a weatherbeaten farm on the outskirts of the fictional small midwestern town of Calverton. Some fifty miles distant is Capitol City. Jeff attends a one-room schoolhouse and has his own horse, Domino.
Shortly after the show debuted, producers and writers decided Jeff needed a male companion his own age. Auditions were held with young actor Donald Keeler (
Joey D. Vieira) defeating hundreds of other applicants for the role of Jeff's chubby, T-shirt-, jeans-, and beanie-wearing pal, Sylvester "Porky" Brockway. In conjunction with the role, writers created Porky's father, Matt Brockway (who became Gramps' checkers-playing buddy), Porky's mother Birdie Brockway, and Porky's basset hound, Pokey (who appeared so frequently he was considered by staff and crew as a regular). Porky debuted in the show's ninth episode, "The Lion" and saw his last appearance in the fourth season episode, "Timmy's Family" (1957). Needless to say, he was scripted into countless episodes with Jeff, but, unknown to the show's audience, neither boy liked the other and feuded constantly off-screen.
Jeff makes his first appearance in the series premier, "The Inheritance" (1954). Filmed in
British Columbia, the episode was one of two pilots shot for the show, the other being "The Well" (filmed in color) which aired late in the first season. Upon viewing the two pilots, CBS offered a contract and Campbell's Soup struck a deal as the show's single sponsor, remaining with "Lassie" for its nineteen season run.
"The Inheritance" brings Lassie and Jeff together when the boy receives the dog as a bequest from neighbor Homer Carey. Lassie however will have nothing to do with Jeff, breaking his heart time and again when she flees nightly from his bedside to sleep on the cold hearth in the dark and empty Carey house. There she remains hour after hour until Jeff solves a mystery involving a cache of hidden money and a hired hand with theft on his mind. The climax involves Lassie battling the thief in the waters of a nearby lake.
In the episode's emotional last moments, Jeff has returned to the Miller farmhouse and waits anxiously on the doorstep with his mother and grandfather for Lassie to join him. Lassie remains at the end of the driveway, undecided and gazing down the road as if contemplating a return to her old home. Then she turns and bounds happily to Jeff. "She's mine now, isn't she, Gramps?" Jeff cries joyously to his grandfather. "Yes, she's all yours," Gramps replies, "She done her deciding."
All dogs on the show were called "Lassie" and all were male, all were descendants of the original film Lassie, and all were trained by
Rudd Weatherwax. Two dogs appeared during the Jeff years of the show: Pal, the star of the several Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer"Lassie" films of the 1940s, and his son, Lassie Junior (or, Junior). After a long and glorious film career, Pal was nearing retirement when he appeared in the two pilots filmed for the show in 1954. Thereafter, Lassie Junior assumed the role. In later seasons, other male descendants of Pal played the role. Though Lassie Junior was a talented dog, he was joined on the set by a stand-in dog for rehearsal, a stunt dog for long distance action shots (such as running through fields), and a "fight" dog for battles with other animals.
As the fourth season went into production, Tommy Rettig was a middle-aged teenager growing tired of playing the Jeff Miller role. Recognized wherever he went, he wanted to experience the anonymous "real life" of a normal teenager rather than the life-in-a-bubble existence of a TV star.
Producers were concerned, knowing he couldn't play a boy forever, and decided the series should strike a different tack. A new storyline was fashioned and seven-year-old
Jon Provosthired as Timmy, a foster child on the Miller farm. Provost was a hit and all went swimmingly with Rettig happily expecting a pink slip any day. However, it was not to be. Writers and producers were quite content with the status quo and made little effort to write Rettig out of the show. Episode after episode came and went with Rettig growing increaasingly frustrated.
Things changed drastically however when series star
George Clevelanddied suddenly on July 17, 1957. Producers were then forced to significantly alter the show, and, in the process, finally release Rettig. An episode called "Transition" was quickly scripted with a simple but believable and satisfying plot. Without the help of an adult male on the farm, Ellen and Jeff decide to sell the farm to Paul and Ruth Martin, a young couple new to the area, and then move to the city where Ellen will teach music and Jeff will attend a science high school. The Martins are charmed with Timmy and adopt him. In the episode's final moving scene, the Millers tearfully say farewell to one and all. At the last moment, Jeff offers his beloved Lassie to Timmy, knowing the dog could never be happy in a big city and Timmy could never be happy without her companionship. The Millers drive away for a new life in the city, and Jeff is never referenced on the show again.
Awards and nominations
"Lassie" won its only Emmy Awards (Best Children's Program 1955, and Best Children's Series 1956), during Rettig's years with the show. Rettig and co-star
Donald Keelerjointly accepted the 1956 award. The show also received a 1956 Peabody Awardduring Rettig's stint.
The Miller years of the show were sold into syndication as "Jeff's Collie", playing not only in America but around the world.
Jeff and fellow characters on the show appeared in Whitman novels, toys, and other materials. Several episodes featuring the Jeff Miller character are available on VHS and DVD.
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