Pop Culture Pooches: LassieTue, May 28, 2013,
Lassie is arguably the most famous dog to ever grace our televisions and enter our hearts. She’s taken generations of our families on adventures, taught us lessons, made us laugh and even cry.
Based on Eric Knight’s novel from 1940, Lassie first appeared on the big screen in the 1943 classic Lassie Come Home. The main character, Lassie is a female border collie played by a dog named Pal, who starred in six other MGM feature films through to 1951.
The story of Lassie became an Emmy winning television series debuting in 1954 and winning the hearts of viewers for the next 19 years. During the filming of the Lassie television series, Lassie was played by a succession of Pal’s descendants. In fact, there have been 8 generations of Pall descendants to play Lassie, and to this day descendants of the original star Pal still play the character.
Pal’s beloved owner and trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, acquired the Lassie name and trademark when Pal took on the role, and took "Lassie" on the road to appear at rodeos, fairs, and other events across America in the 1950’s. Rudd was the owner and handler of Pal’s descendents until the early 1990’s when his son took over. At one point during the filming of the1997 Lassie series, a non descendent of Pal was cast. Upon hearing the news, fans of Lassie became outraged and MGM re-cast another ninth generation descendent of Pal. In 2000 Classic Media acquired the Lassie name and Weatherwax retired in 2004. Following the end of Weatherwax’s contract, non-Pal bloodline dogs were used in the 2005 film, however, shortly thereafter Carol Riggins a longtime employee of Weatherwax, supplied 9th and 10th generations to play Lassie, once again pleasing loyal fans!
Surprisingly, while Lassie is a female character, all of the dogs to play her have been male. This is because male border collies retain a thicker summer coat, which looks better on film and males are typically larger, therefore child actors appeared smaller in contrast.
Lassie has taken children and adults alike on adventures through books, televison, radio, film, and events for 70 years. From black and white to colour, Lassie captured our attention and became one of the longest running series on television. While Lucile Ball may be credited as the first television star to make us laugh, Lassie was one of the first to melt our hearts.
Photo credit: MGM Pictures