Ruth Martin (television character)

Ruth Martin (television character)

: "Not to be confused with Ruth Martin (Neighbours)"

Infobox character
name = Ruth Martin

caption = June Lockhart as Ruth Martin
first = "Transition" (1957)
last = "The New Lassie"
cause = Cancellation of character ("Lassie") • Guest shot ("The New Lassie")
gender = Female
age =
born =
death =
occupation = Housewife
family = Paul Martin (husband) • Timmy Martin (adopted son) • Petrie J. Martin (uncle in law) • Lisa (niece) • Lassie (companion animal)
spouse = Paul Martin
children = Timmy Martin
episode = 173
portrayer = Cloris Leachman(1957-1958) • June Lockhart (1958-1964)
creator = Robert Maxwell • Jack Wrather

Ruth Martin is a dramatic character on the long running television series, "Lassie" (1954-1973). [ Museum of Broadcast Communications: "Lassie"] ] Ruth is a housewife married to Paul Martin, an agricultural school graduate and a farmer. The couple are the adoptive parents of Timmy, a foster child living on a small farm in the American midwest that the Martins purchase. [Ford, Nancy. "Lassie...My Best Friend". "Jack and Jill". November, 1959. Volume 22, Number 1. The Curtis Publishing Company.] Ruth is a practical, competent woman, a loving wife and mother, and an active community member. She makes her first appearance mid-fourth season (1957) and her last appearance in the tenth season (1964). The character is portrayed on the series, first, by Cloris Leachman (1957-1958) and thereafter by June Lockhart (1958-1964). After the fifth season, the character appeared in Campbell's Soup commercials,Provost, Jon, and Jacobson, Laurie. "Timmy's in the Well: the Jon Provost story". Cumberland House, 2007.] , a feature film, and show-related merchandise such as Whitman novels and Dell comic books. Lockhart received an Emmy nomination for her performance in the role. Many episodes featuring the character are available on VHS and DVD including all the Christmas episodes filmed during the Ruth Martin seasons of the show.

Creation and casting

When "Lassie" star George Cleveland died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 17, 1957, producers realized "Lassie" could only be saved by an immediate overhaul. The fictional Miller farm of the series couldn't be worked without an adult male on the premises, and, when it was learned no state in the Union allowed an unmarried woman to adopt a child (making Timmy's adoption by widowed Ellen Miller an impossibility), production staff suggested the plot be saved by having Ellen Miller wed. She would then have a man around the place to work the farm and a husband to make possible Timmy's adoption. The character's portrayer Jan Clayton (who wanted to leave the show to return to her roots in musical theater), rejected the idea.

With a marriage for Ellen nixed, writers fashioned a story in which her farm would be sold to Ruth and Paul Martin, a young couple new to the area. The Martins would then adopt Timmy, a foster boy on the farm, and Lassie would remain on the farm with the boy. Stars Jan Clayton and Tommy Rettig would be written out of the show by having their characters move to distant Capitol City. "Porky" Brockway Donald Keeler, his basset hound Pokey and his parents Matt and Birdie (Paul Maxey and Marjorie Bennett) would be dropped as well, simply disappearing in the fourth season without explanation to the audience.

With the new storyline good to go, Cloris Leachman and Jon Shepodd were hired to play the Martins, debuting in the mid-fourth season episode, "Transition" (1957). There, she and her husband Paul arrive in the fictional community of Calverton to purchase the Miller farm. Timmy, a seven-year-old foster child living on the farm with the Millers, believes he will be returned to his aged and ill aunt and uncle, Abby and Jed Clausen of distant Olive Bridge with the sale of the farm, and runs away, setting off a desperate search by Ellen and Paul. In trying to evade the two, Timmy falls into a lake, but Paul is at hand to save him from drowning. Although no adoption procedure is scripted into the episode, it is understood the Martins adopt Timmy.

Toward the close of the episode, the Millers bid farewell to one and all, and, just before driving away, 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 depart for new adventures in the city. At episode's end, Timmy is seen at his bedside asking God's blesings on his new parents. Jeff Miller would never be referenced on the show again, but Ellen and Porky would make appearances in "Timmy's Family", the episode immediately following "Transition". There, Ellen would return to the farm at Ruth's invitation to give the adoptive mother some tips on raising boys; Porky would help Timmy ship Lassie to the city via a delivery truck.

Leachman quickly tired of playing a farm woman, feuded on-set with co-stars, denigrated the show's sponsor, refused to sign a contract, and generally displeased producers. With ratings plummeting and viewers complaining about Leachman's icy presence in the series, show owner Jack Wrather summarily fired the actress when filming for the 1957-1958 season was completed in February 1958. Producers feared a "new wife" for Paul (and coincidentally a "new mother" for Timmy and Lassie) would be difficult to explain to an audience composed mainly of children, and released Shepodd as well.

A search was conducted to fill the Ruth and Paul roles. Casting Paul Martin involved a good deal of effort, but Hugh Reilly, a Broadway actor recently arrived in Hollywood, had a reputation for being a solid and cooperative performer and was signed. Actress June Lockhart, who had appeared previously in the second of MGM's popular Lassie films "(Son of Lassie)", had been considered for the role of Ruth Martin before Leachman was signed. Lockhart however was working in New York at the time and declined the role. Eight months later, she had moved back to California and was working on both coasts. Once again, she was offered the role and declined. Then she reconsidered:

"...I thought about what I had been offered and I said to myself, 'What am I being so damn grand about? I have two children to support, the part they want me to play has a lot of dignity, the show is already on the air, I wouldn't have to film a pilot, and they have a sponsor. This is really a great gift that has been offered me. I'd be stupid not to at least look into it.'"

Lockhart took the role and debuted with Reilly in the opener of the fifth season, "The Storm" (1958). No explanation was offered the audience regarding the new faces on the show. In order to protect the image of the show, producers introduced long clauses into the players' contracts that forbade them from appearing in other vehicles as anything other than wholesome, All-American characters.Collins, Ace. "Lassie: a dog's life." Penguin Books, 1993.]

Ruth Martin portrayer June Lockhart received a 1959 Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series for "Lassie". At an unknown date, she also received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6362 Hollywood Boulevard for both her film and television performances.

In 1963, the multi-part episode, "The Journey" was edited into a feature film called "Lassie's Great Adventure". The show's three principal human stars appeared in their well known roles. In the film, Timmy and Lassie are swept away in a carnival hot air balloon which finally descends far from home in the Canadian wilderness. The two travelers have several adventures before being rescued by the Mounties. Ruth's role is confined to tearfully worrying about Timmy and finding comfort in Paul's arms. The couple fly to the wilderness to be at hand when Timmy is found. Ruth's image appeared on film posters and lobby cards. The episode was the only episode filmed in color during the Ruth Martin seasons.

As the "Lassie" 1964 season approached, Jon Provost was a fourteen-year-old with his contract up for a three-year renewal. Provost however did not look forward to playing Timmy Martin until the age of seventeen, describing the role as a "vacuum" and stating, "The character wasn't changing. If they had let him grow up a little, maybe I would have wanted to stay on. I knew that I wasn't going to sign up for another three years, and my parents were behind me all the way."

Stars Lockhart, Reilly, and Andy Clyde received their notices, with producer Bob Golden telling the press they'd done all the "boy and his dog" stories possible. With only Provost and producers knowing the real reasons for the show changes, speculation among the cast hinted that the decision to clean house was based on money. Lockhart was quoted as saying Provost's mother wanted too much money, and Reilly later stated that the producers' decision was based upon trading four advanced salaries for [Robert Bray's] starting salary.

Associate producer Bonita Granville Wrather kept the audience guessing through the summer of 1964 about the show's future by stating, "We have built up such an adult audience; we are looking for stories with a wider scope. That's what our whole purpose will be in making any change that people might think we're making...our ratings have jumped in the past two years and it's because we do new things."

Lockhart accepted her fate, telling columnist Bob Thomas: "It was an actor's dream -- steady work, excellent pay, a wonderful cast and crew, and a chance to do a good scene now and then...Now I'm ready to go back playing all those tramps and neurotic and alcoholic women. They're good fun, but motherhood pays off better in the long run."

Without a boy for the show, producers reworked the show from a different angle. Several episodes which featured Lassie in the wilds [Episode: "The Odyssey"] [Episode: "The Journey"] had proven popular with audiences. Jack Wrather and his associates decided to take Lassie off the farm and send her into the wilderness with a Forest Ranger, Corey Stuart, played by Gary Cooper look-alike Robert Bray. [Episode: "Disappearance"] Lassie would become the companion, not of boys, but of rugged, outdoorsy men sometimes working in dangerous places and situations.

Producers rid themselves of the Martin family by sending them to Australia where Paul would teach agriculture. Lockhart commented wryly, "We were supposed to go over there so that Paul could show the Australians how to grow things. We hadn't had a successful bean crop in six seasons. What could they possibly learn from us?" Lassie's three human companions then made their last appearances in the first part of the opening three part episode of the tenth season, "The Wayfarers" (1964). [Episode: "The Wayfarers"]

Lassie was forced to remain in the States due to Australia's strict quarantine regulations, and, though the dog would become the companion animal of a succession of forestry workers and see several seasons of new adventures, Ruth Martin would never be seen, heard, or referenced again on the show.

The actress recalled:

"Back then I didn't realize the power of my character. I didn't realize the image I had created and what it meant to so many people. Ruth was so underwritten, so what I was able to bring to it was what made it special to me. The looks, the affection, the pats on the head, the tone and inflection. I got to bring that to her character, and that was all I thought there was. I didn't know what was being received on the other side of the screen."


Ruth is the daughter of a National Park Service officer and spent considerable time at Yellowstone Park as a girl. [Episode; "Lassie at the Grand Canyon"] In several episodes, she demonstrates remarkable outdoor skills: in one episode, for example, she calmly shoots and kills a mountain lion who threatens her after she steps in a leghold trap on a lonely road near the farm. In another episode, she takes a job as a fire watcher in a forestry tower. In yet another episode, she accompanies Timmy to a Coon Dog Race and pitches a tent as their overnight accommodation.

Ruth's husband Paul is an agricultural college graduate and farmer. Ruth demonstrates what may be a college background herself in her familiarity with authors such as Isaak Walton and mythological characters such as Hero and Leander. When Ruth becomes concerned about the tremendous amount of work overwhelming Paul, she telephones his uncle Petrie Martin of Millvale, Pennsylvania and invites him to join the family to share the work, which he does. Petrie is a fanciful man whom Paul discourages from telling Timmy tales of giants and fairies. Ruth however, supports Petrie, knowing a seven-year-old child needs an imaginative life. Ruth has a young niece Lisa who visits the farm in one episode, and is instrumental in saving her aunt's life when she becomes locked in a shed poisoned by a leaking gas line. [Episode: "The House Guest"]

Ruth is a practical, competent woman and is sometimes solely in charge of the farm when her husband is away. She milks her cow, Bessie [Episode: "Bessie"] and in countless episodes gathers eggs from the hens nesting in the barn. She prepares abundant, nutritious meals for her family from farm-fresh ingredients. Her farmhouse table -- set with gay checkered cloth, eye-catching Blue Willow china, and heaps of wholesome goodies -- is a fond memory for fans of the show.

In spite of being a strong, determined woman, Ruth has a few losing clashes of wills with the other lady of the house, Lassie. In one episode, Lassie won't part with her worn out blanket when Ruth provides a new one, [Episode: "The Blanket"] and, in another episode, Lassie frustrates Ruth when she stubbornly insists upon lounging in a rocking chair festooned with Ruth's newly crafted cushions. [Episode:"The Rocking Chair"] In yet another episode, Lassie annoys Ruth when she refuses to eat anything out of the new family refrigerator. ["'Episode: "The New Refrigerator"]


The highest rankings in the Neilsen rankings for "Lassie" were the Martin family years: #24 in 1957, #22 in 1958, #15 in 1959, #15 in 1961, #21 in 1962, #13 in 1963, and #17 in 1964. The only year the show did not climb into the top twenty-five was 1960, when it ran opposite "Walt Disney Presents" on ABC and "Shirley Temple Theatre" on NBC. With the departure of the Martin family in the eleventh season, the show began a steady decline in ratings.


The character Ruth Martin appeared in several "Lassie" Dell comic books published during the "Timmy and Lassie" years of the show's run as well as in Whitman novels for children, a Whitman punch out book, and other show-related toys and materials. [Pfeiffer, Karen. "The Legacy of Lassie: an Unauthorized Information and Price Guide on Lassie Collectibles", 2005. (ISBN 978-0975887066).]


June Lockhart reprised the role of Ruth Martin in the seventh episode of the syndicated show, "The New Lassie" (1989). There, the viewer learns Timmy was never properly adopted, and, when the Martins emigrated to Australia, the boy was forced to remain in the States. Timmy was then adopted by the McCullough family and changed his name to Steve McCullough. Jon Provost appears with Lockhart in the episode.


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