- Lassie (1954 TV series)
show_name = Lassie
caption = Title screen of "Lassie", seasons 1-10
show_name_2 = Jeff's Collie (episodes 1-116)
Timmy and Lassie (episodes 116-352)
creator = Robert Maxwell
Tommy Rettig Jan Clayton George Cleveland Jon Provost June Lockhart Hugh Reilly Robert Bray Jack De Mave Jed Allan Ron Hayes Larry Wilcox Pamelyn Ferdin
theme_music_composer = Les Baxter
opentheme = Whistle
country = USA
language = English
num_seasons = 19
num_episodes = 588
list_episodes = List of Lassie episodes
Sherman A. Harris
producer = Robert Maxwell
Robert Golden Dusty Bruce Leon Fromkess
Rudolph E. Abel Bonita Granville Don Castle Peter Frank
runtime = 26 minutes
September 12, 1954
March 24, 1973
related = "
The New Lassie"
imdb_id = 0046617
tv_com_id = 1110
"Lassie" is an
Emmy Award-winning American television seriesthat follows the adventures of a female rough collie named Lassieand her companions, human and animal. One of the longest running dramatic series on television, "Lassie" was first broadcast from September 12, 1954, to March 24, 1973. The show saw seventeen seasons on CBSbefore entering first-run syndication for its final two seasons. Filmed initially in black-and-white, the show transitioned to color during the 1960s.
The show's first ten seasons follow Lassie's adventures in a small farming community with two boys, Jeff Miller (1954-1957) and Timmy Martin (1957-1964). When her exploits on the farm end in the eleventh season, Lassie finds new adventures in the wilderness with Forest Rangers Corey Stuart, Bob Erickson, and Scott Turner. Following a year without human leads (1970), Lassie finally settles at a children's home for her final seasons.
"Lassie" found critical favor from its inception and won two
Emmy awards in its first years. Merchandise produced during its run included books, Halloweencostumes, clothing, toys, and other items. Campbell's Soup offered two premiums (a ring and a wallet), and distributed thousands to fans. A multi-part episode was edited into the feature film, "Lassie's Great Adventure" and released in August 1963. In 1989, " The New Lassie" brought series' star Jon Provostback to television as Steve McCullough, a man denying his identity as Timmy Martin after learning the Martins did not properly adopt him. "Lassie" is occasionally seen in reruns and some episodes are available on VHS and DVD.
Concept and development
In the 1940s,
Eric Knight's fictional collie, Lassie became the central character in six popular MGM films. Rudd Weatherwax, owner and trainer of Lassie's canine portrayer, Pal, took all rights to the Lassie trademark and name in lieu of back pay owed him by MGM. Producer Robert Maxwell then sold Weatherwax on his concept of a Lassie television series with a "boy and his dog" theme set on a weatherbeaten American farm. After viewing the two pilots, CBS executives gave the show a full-year contract. "Lassie" went into production, debuting on Sunday, September 12, 1954.
Jack Wrather, owner of the hit western " The Lone Ranger", purchased the Lassie trademark and the show's production company. When Maxwell left, Wrather guided the show through the popular Timmy and Lassie seasons. As 1964 and the show's eleventh season approached, the decision was made to completely rework the show by teaming Lassie with a succession of Forest Rangers. In 1970, however, Lassie became a loner for a season, and, in 1971, when new rulings regarding primetime were handed down from the FCC, CBS cancelled the show. The show then entered first-run syndication for two seasons with Lassie living at a children's home. The last first-run episode aired March 24, 1973.cite book |last=Collins |first=Ace |title=Lassie: A Dog's Life |date=1993-10-01 |publisher=Penguin Books |location=New York |isbn=978-0140231830|oclc=29878000 ]
Two pilots were filmed in
Calgary, Alberta, Canadawith associate producer Rudy E. Abel, writer Claire Kennedy, and director Leslie Goodwins. "The Inheritance" became the premiere episode and "The Well" was filmed to give potential sponsors and network buyers an idea of a typical episode. After viewing the pilots, CBS placed the show on its fall 1954 schedule and Campbell's Soup signed on as the show's sole sponsor. As word spread through the Hollywood community about the series, the MGM legal office halted production and drew up a copyright infringement lawsuit, claiming the studio still owned the Lassie trademark and name. Before court action began, Weatherwax produced documentation proving the studio had given up all rights to Lassie two years before for $40,000. Filming for the series went forward in the summer of 1954.
The show's titular character is portrayed in the two pilots by Pal, the MGM film Lassie. Thereafter, five of his male descendants played the role. His son Lassie Junior performed through the Jeff years and first two Timmy years (1954-1958), retiring in 1959 to battle cancer. Though he recovered, Lassie Junior never worked the show again. His son Spook was rushed into the series while his brother Baby was in training for the role. Spook was inadequately prepared and never became comfortable on the set after an overhead light crashed to the floor on his first day. Weatherwax, however, coaxed a natural and seemingly confident performance from the frightened dog, and, for some, Spook's portrayal represents Weatherwax's finest work. Spook played the role in the spring and fall of 1960. Baby, son of Lassie Junior and brother to Spook, appeared in the last Timmy years, and two of the Ranger years (1960-1965). His large expressive eyes and unquestionable talent made him an audience favorite. Baby died at eight years of age, the only Lassie not to live at least seventeen years. He was succeeded in the role by Mire who appeared in the last Ranger Years and the Lassie Alone Year (1966-1970). Hey Hey portrayed Lassie during the two syndicated seasons (1971-1972).
With the pilots written and ready to film,
Jan Clayton, a Broadway star and quiz show panelist was hired to play farm woman Ellen Miller with George Cleveland, a septuagenarian with two hundred film roles to his credit, playing her father-in-law, George “Gramps” Miller. Child actor Tommy Rettigauditioned for the role of Ellen’s eleven-year-old son Jeff Miller and found himself in competition with two other boys. The three juvenile actors spent a week at Rudd Weatherwax's home in North Hollywood, Californiawith Pal, and, as Rettig recalled, “Lassie liked me better than the other two kids. I loved animals, and this seemed to be very important to Rudd.” Rettig won the role.
With the show in production, producers decided Jeff needed a boy companion his own age. Donald Keeler (
Joey D. Vieira, 1954-1957) was cast as Jeff's friend, "Porky" Brockway, after defeating 1,500 other children for the role. Keeler made his debut in the first season's "The Lion" (1954). Paul Maxeywas cast as Porky's father Matt Brockway and Arthur Spaceas veterinarian Doc Weaver. Porky's basset houndPokey is a recurring animal character through the Miller Years.
In 1957, Rettig was outgrowing his role and Clayton wanted to return to musical theater. The decision was made to find a new boy and ease the Miller family out of the show. Two hundred boys were interviewed unsuccessfully. Wrather’s wife
Bonita Granvillethen followed a friend’s tip and brought six-year-old film star Jon Provostto the proceedings. After one interview (and a few days at Weatherwax’s home with Lassie Junior), Provost was hired with a salary of $350 a week and made his debut as Timmy in the fourth season opener, "The Runaway". In the middle of the fourth season, George Cleveland's sudden and unexpected death forced producers to drop Clayton, Rettig, and Keeler. Cloris Leachmanand Hollywood newcomer Jon Shepoddwere quickly hired as Timmy’s adoptive parents Ruth and Paul Martin with George Chandlerplaying Paul’s uncle, Petrie. Leachman grew unhappy playing a tired farm woman, feuded on-set with co-workers, and proved unpopular with viewers. Ratings dropped. When filming was completed for the 1957-58 season in February 1958, Wrather severed ties with Maxwell and dropped Leachman and Shepodd. Bob Goldenwas chosen as producer while film veteran June Lockhartand Broadway stage star Hugh Reillywere hired in the roles of Ruth and Paul Martin. The two performers made their debuts in September, 1958. In 1958, Chandler was dropped and replaced in 1959 by Andy Clydeas eccentric farmer Cully Wilson in the show's "grandfather" role. In 1958, Todd Ferrellplayed Timmy's friend Boomer Bates and his dog Mike was a recurring character. Guest appearances included baseballgreat Roy Campanella, Olympian Rafer Johnson, and Clayton Moore( The Lone Ranger). The offspring of cast and crew played background schoolchildren, 4-H members, and church-goers.
In 1964, Wrather grew concerned about the show's future. Jon Provost was fourteen and no longer wanted to play a child, while teen viewers were leaving the show's homey family format for more exciting fare. Producers decided "Lassie" needed to be reworked. The Martin family was dropped and
Robert Bray, a former Marine and Gary Cooperlook-alike who had appeared in the multi-part wilderness adventure "Disappearance", returned to the series in his role as Forest Ranger Corey Stuart. As time passed, however, Bray's emotional and alcoholic problems forced him from the show. Jack De Maveand Jed Allanwere then hired to play Forest Rangers Bob Erickson and Scott Turner for the 1968 and 1969 seasons. Guest stars included Ken Osmond, Jerry Mathers, Tony Dow, Paul Petersen, Suzanne Sommers, Victor French, and Morgan Brittany.
Lassie wandered alone for a season then settled at a children's home where director Garth Holden (
Ron Hayes, 1971), his brother Keith ( Larry Pennell, 1972), his college-age son, Ron ( Skip Burton, 1971-1972), and Ron's friend, Dale Mitchell ( Larry Wilcox, 1971-1972), provided for her. Sue Lambert ( Sherry Boucher, 1971), played a veterinarian, and Lucy Baker ( Pamelyn Ferdin, 1971-1972), a deaf child.
Some scripts were produced by writers blacklisted during the heyday of
McCarthyismand the House Un-American Activities Committee. These writers included Robert Lees(as J. E. Selby) and Adrian Scott, one of the Hollywood Tenwho went to prison for contempt of the United States Congress. His wife, writing as Joanne Court, attended story conferences and gave her husband notes so he could do rewrites. [http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/16/arts/television/16lass.html?_r=1&oref=slogin "At Lunch With June Lockhart, Jon Provost and Lassie"] "New York Times", September 16, 2004.]
Typically, there were two dog trainers on the set, each teetering on a stepladder only Lassie could see and waving a chunk of meat at the dog. "It would look as though Lassie was looking at Jon (Provost), but he was really looking past Jon at the piece of beef," Lockhart recalled in 2004. When Provost delivered his line, the trainer behind Lockhart would whisper "Lassie!" and wave another piece of meat. Lassie's head would turn to Lockhart who would deliver her line. Then the trainer behind Provost would get Lassie's attention again, and Provost would deliver his next line. "The sound editor would cut out all that," Lockhart said, "You finally got to where you never heard the trainers. Often, if the scene had gone well, and maybe we hadn't gotten the dialogue quite right, if the dog was right, they'd print it." In addition to the main Lassie, three other Lassies might be involved in an episode shoot: a stand-in for rehearsals, a stunt double, and a "fighter" for scenes involving battles with other animals.
The show's first studio was Stage One of KTTV in Los Angeles, California with the production moving to
Desiluin 1957. Iverson Ranch, Chatsworth, California, Kanab Movie Ranch, Kanab, Utah, and Red Rock Canyon State Park, Cantil, Californiaalso saw shootings. During the Timmy seasons, episodes were filmed at the Grand Canyonand the United States Air Force Academyand, during the ranger seasons, Monument Valley, Sequoia National Parkand other locations.
"Lassie" used several pieces of theme music during its long broadcast history. For the first season, "Secret of the Silent Hills (Theme from the Lassie TV Series)," is used for both the opening and ending theme. Composed by
William Lava, the orchestral theme was originally created for the 1940 radio show " The Courageous Dr. Christian" and can also be heard in the "transformation" scene of the Ed Woodfilm "Glen Or Glenda.". For the second and third season, a variation of this theme, titled simply "Lassie Main & End Title", was used for the opening and ending theme. Raoul Kraushaar, the music director for the series, is the listed composer for the theme, however the changes he made to the original are so slight that only a trained ear can tell the difference. The third theme used for the series is the aria"Dio Possente" (Even Bravest Hearts May Swell) from Charles Gounod's opera "Faust". The exact time this theme started being used is uncertain due to conflicting records, however it is agreed that it was the third series, and used for at least part of season 4 for the change of ownership of Lassie.
The most famous of the Lassie theme songs, appeared at the start of the fifth season. Copyrighted as "Lassie Main & End Title", the song was created by
Les Baxter, with the whistling itself performed by Muzzy Marcellino. Nicknamed "Whistle," it remained the series theme for the rest of the Martin Years. With the coming of the Ranger Years, the opening and ending theme is changed to Nathan Scott's arrangement of the traditional folk tune " Greensleeves". "Whistle" returned as the series theme during the thirteenth season for the seven-part "Voyager" episode, and would remain the series theme for the rest of its run.cite web |url=http://www.classicthemes.com/50sTVThemes/themePages/lassie.html |publisher=The Media Management Group |work=ClassicThemes.com |title=Lassie /Jeffs Collie /Timmy and Lassie |accessdate=2008-02-16 ]
Campbell's Soup Companysponsored the entire 19-year run of "Lassie". The company asked that their products be visible on the set and so, in episode after episode, Campbell's products are seen in background shots. Campbell's also required the show's stars to avoid appearing in any film or theatrical production that undermined their All-American images.
In 1956, the company held a "Name Lassie's Puppies" contest with the grand prizes being Lassie's pups and $2,000. Company executives hand-delivered puppies to the winner's homes. Two premiums were offered in connection with particular episodes. In 1958, for twenty-five cents and a label from a Swanson's TV dinner, viewers could receive a Lassie portrait friendship ring based on the one Uncle Petrie fashions for Timmy in the fourth season episode, "The Ring" (1957). The company mailed 77,715 rings to viewers. In 1959, the company offered a wallet "made of rich brown plastic" emblazoned with a picture of Lassie in conjunction with the episode, "Old Henry"; 1,343,509 wallets were mailed to viewers who sent in five different labels from Campbell products. The labels represented 6.5 million cans of Campbell's products sold. Campbell's paid the Wrather Company $7 million a year to air its commercials. The soup company's profits rose seventy percent over its pre-"Lassie" days.
Lassie was spokesdog for Recipe Dog Food, a Campbell's product introduced in 1969, which was reportedly based on the homemade stew mixture Weatherwax prepared for Lassie. Printed advertisements for the product announced, "Now all dogs can come home to the dinner Lassie comes home to." In its first year, Recipe earned $10 million for Campbell's, and, in its third year, $40 million. To help boost sales, Campbell's paid Weatherwax to write a dog-training manual called "The Lassie Method" which the company used as a premium offer.
Plot and themes
Plots during both the Jeff and Timmy seasons were similar: the boy got into some sort of trouble, usually with a wild or misunderstood animal. Lassie then dashed off to get help or rushed in to save her master's life herself. After being reunited with family and breathing a sigh of relief, the boy received a light lecture on why he shouldn't have done what he had done. In 2004, June Lockhart described the show as "...a fairy tale about people on a farm in which the dog solves all the problems in 22 minutes, in time for the last commercial."
Two Timmy and Lassie episodes launched Campbell's Soup premiums while two others promoted a
UNICEFHalloween project and the Peace Patrol, a children's savings bondprogram spearheaded by Lassie and The Lone Ranger. The same seasons saw several Christmasepisodes while conservation and environmentalismwere brought center stage. Some scripts dealt with race and ethnicity with both Jeff and Timmy championing Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Aging Americans were presented in a positive light during the years when Andy Clyde was a cast member. Color filming was exploited during the Ranger Years with Lassie and her friends sent to exotic locations such as Sequoia National Forestand Monument Valley, creating miniature travelogues for viewers. In the seventeenth season, Lassie wandered alone, with some episodes being animals-only. In her final seasons, Lassie found a domestic setting reminiscent of the early years of the show yet enjoyed rugged outdoor adventures recalling her wilderness years.
"Lassie" themes explored the relationship between boys and their dogs with the show helping to shape the viewer's understanding of mid-twentieth century American
boyhood. "Lassie" was associated with the wholesome family values of its period but some parents' groups monitoring television content found cliffhanger plots showing children in danger too intense for very young viewers and objected to some of Timmy's actions which were believed to encourage children to disobey parents. Lassie, however, was consistently depicted as caring, nurturing, and responsible with a commitment to family and community, often rescuing those in peril and righting wrongs. She was the perfect 'mother' within the American ideology of the 1950s and 1960s.Jenkins, Henry. [http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/L/htmlL/lassie/lassie.htm Lassie.] Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2008-04-25.]
First-run "Lassie" was televised
September 12, 1954to March 24, 1973with its first seventeen seasons airing on CBS Sunday evenings 7:00 P.M. EST. In 1971, in order to promote community-related programming among local affliates, the Federal Communications Commissionmoved primetimeSundays to 8:00 P.M. EST. CBS executives felt "Lassie" would not be well received in a time slot other than its seventeen-year held 7:00 P.M. slot, and, with the network's other family programs set, the show was cancelled. "Lassie" then entered first-run syndication with Jack Wrather and Campbell's Soup still on board, and remained on the air for another two years Sundays 7:30 P.M. EST with its final episode airing March 24, 1973. The Miller years were sold into syndication in 1958 as "Jeff's Collie". In rerun syndication, the Martin family episodes aired under "Timmy and Lassie." Classic Mediacurrently owns the rights to the entire "Lassie" television series, as well as the Lassie trademark.
Merchandise specific to the television series produced during its first-run includes children's pyjamas, shirts, and sneakers, Halloween costumes, Viewmaster reels, a variety of storybooks, novels, activity books, and other items. In 2005, Karen Pfeiffer released "The Legacy of Lassie: an Unauthorized Information and Price Guide on Lassie Collectibles" (ISBN 978-0975887066).
The original TV series had no direct spinoffs. However, a few subsequent productions cashed-in on the Lassie character and her enduring popularity. In 1973, CBS created a Saturday-morning animated program called "
Lassie's Rescue Rangers". Rudd Weatherwax described the series as "trash". In 1989, " The New Lassie", starring Jon Provost as Steve McCullough, aired in first-run syndication. In its seventh episode, June Lockhart reprised her Ruth Martin role when Steve McCullough is revealed to be Timmy Martin. The viewer learns Timmy was never properly adopted by the Martins and consequently forced to remain in the States when the couple emigrated to Australia. Timmy was then adopted by the McCulloughs and began using his middle name, Steven.cite episode |title=Roots |episodelink= |series=The New Lassie |serieslink=The New Lassie |credits=Director: Alan Cooke, Writer: Bud Wiser |airdate=1989-10-21 |season=1 |number=7] Tommy Rettig made guest appearances as professor and computer specialist, Jeff Miller. In 1997, another series called "Lassie" aired. The show was filmed in Canada, set in Vermontand briefly employed Weatherwax dogs and trainers. While maintaining the "boy and his dog" theme of the original, the series was criticized for relegating Lassie to the background.
Thanksgivingweek 1962, a five-part color episode was filmed in the High Sierrascalled "The Journey".cite book |last=Provost |first=Jon |authorlink=Jon Provost |co-author=Jacobson, Laurie|title=Timmy's in the Well: The Jon Provost Story |date=2007-11-01 |publisher=Cumberland House |location=Nashville, Tennessee |isbn=978-0140231830 |oclc=154674404] First broadcast in February and March 1963, the episode follows Timmy and Lassie as the two are swept away in a carnival hot air balloonthat eventually comes to rest in the Canadian wilderness, forcing the voyagers to face many perils before being rescued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Richard Simmons, star of another Jack Wrather property, " Sergeant Preston of the Yukon", made an appearance while "Lassie" star, Jon Provost, performed his own whitewaterstunts. "Lassie" sponsor Campbell's Soup objected to multi-part episodes, believing viewers would not want to tune in week after week to find out what happens from one segment to the next, but three of the five segments from "The Journey" hit the top-ten for the weeks in which they aired. The five segments were edited into a feature length film and released in August 1963 through Twentieth Century Foxas "Lassie's Great Adventure". The film is approximately 73 minutes in length and is available on DVD.
Every year of its 17-year run on CBS, "Lassie" placed first in its time slot, Sunday 7:00 p.m. EST, and often ranked among the top 25 shows on television. The show's highest ranking years in the Neilsen rankings were the Martin years when the show placed #24 in 1957, #22 in 1958, #15 in 1959, #15 in 1961, #21 in 1962, #13 in 1963, and #17 in 1964. The only Martin year "Lassie" 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 first episode of the eleventh season, the show began a steady decline in ratings.
"Lassie" won Emmy Awards for Best Children's Program in 1955 and for Best Children's Series in 1956.cite web |url=http://www.cbs.com/specials/cbs_75/timeline/1950.shtml |publisher=
CBS|title=CBS at 75: 1950s |accessdate=2008-02-22 ] Jan Clayton was nominated for two Emmys in 1957 and 1958 for her portrayal of Ellen Miller, while June Lockhart was nominated for an Emmy in 1959 for her role as Ruth Martin. The show received another Emmy nomination in 1960 for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Children's Programming. The show was awarded a Peabody Awardin 1956. [cite web |url=http://www.peabody.uga.edu/winners/PeabodyWinnersBook.pdf |title=Peabody Winners Book |format=pdf |publisher=Peabody Awards |accessdate=2008-02-14] Honors for the show were also received from the PTA, the National Association for Better Radio and Television, Gold Star, and "Billboard". In 2003, Jon Provost was nominated for TV Land's Favorite Pet-Human Relationship Award (Timmy and Lassie).
In 1960, the Lassie character became one of only three animal characters to receive a star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. [cite web | title=Lassie (History timeline) | publisher=Classic Media | year=2005 | url=http://www.lassie.com/lassie_star.html | accessdate=2007-10-29 ] [cite web | title=Hollywood Walk of Fame: MP | publisher=Hollywood Chamber of Commerce |url=http://www.tibp.com/cgi-bin/foxweb.dll/wlx/dir/wlxdirecatn?catid=5&Client=WOFAME&lcTemplate=DIRENAME.HTM&CITY= | accessdate=2008-02-14 ] Jon Provost's Kedssneakers are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. [ [http://americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/small_exhibition.cfm?key=1267&exkey=143&pagekey=254 Jon Provost's Keds sneakers.] Smithsonian Institution.] Lassie and the show's stars have appeared on nine " TV Guide" covers. In 1967, in conjunction with Lassie's unofficial role with the United States Forestry Service and her perception by many Americans as an environmental activist, Lassie was welcomed to the White Houseby Lady Bird Johnson. In January 1968, President Lyndon Johnsonsigned into a law a bill that targeted soil and water pollution unofficially called by many "the Lassie program". Lassie was honored with a luncheon in the Senate Dining Room on March 19, 1968 when a plaque recognizing her commitment to environmentalismwas presented her by senators Edmund Muskieand George Murphy.
catch phrase"Timmy's in the Well!" (in response to a dog barking) was used by John Provost, who played Timmy, as the title of his autobiography. He points out that Timmy fell into abandoned mine shafts, off cliffs, into rivers, lakes and quicksand, but never fell into a well. [cite book |last=Provost |first=John |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title=Timmy's in the Well |origdate= |origyear= |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |volume= |date= |year= 2007 |month= November |publisher= Cumberland House Publishing|location= |language= |isbn= 1581826192 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote= |ref= ] The episode, "The Well" concerned a snoopy inspector from the water department who insisted on seeing the Miller well.
*"Lassie ... My Best Friend". "Jack and Jill", November 1959.
*"The Life and Times of Lassie". "TV Guide", July 4, 1959.
*"The Man with Dog Appeal". "TV Guide", August 14, 1965.
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