The Magic of Lassie
Baby, Lockhart, & Provost In 'Lassie' Promotional portrait of American animal actor Baby, as Lassie, actress June Lockhart, as Ruth Martin, and Jon Provost, as Timmy, as they read the book 'Lassie' for the television series of the same name, 1960. (Photo
Lassie was a beloved television dog that stole the hearts of America. In fact, Lassie was one of many television dogs that came to be just as recognizable, if not more so, than her human co-stars.
The stunning collie was the real star of the show. She may have been able to carry the show without any help from her regular television family, the Martins. In fact, one season (1970 – 1971) Lassie did just that. “Traveling on Her Own” was the way it was billed. For some reason, which was never really explained in the series, Lassie traveled with a gentleman that was in search of the ocean. He had never seen the ocean before and fortunately for him, Lassie was his traveling companion.
Lassie was a very smart, well-behaved dog actor; possibly more so than her human counterparts.
Lassie, however, was not a “lass”. Lassie was actually a male dog… actually, several male dogs. In fact, counting the pilot episode, there were 6 dogs in all. Below is a list of dog actors that portrayed Lassie over the years.
• Pal (Pilot episodes)
• Lassie Junior (1954–59)
• Spook (1960)
• Baby (1960–66)
• Mire (1966–1971)
• Hey Hey (1971–73)
Audiences were so over the top for Lassie that advertisers thought it wise to capitalize on her popularity. In 1956, the Campbell's Soup company sponsored a contest, “Name Lassie’s Puppies”. The winners of the contest each received one of the puppies and $2,000.00 prize money.
In 1958, by mailing twenty-five cents and a Swanson frozen dinner proof of purchase label to the company, a person would receive a Lassie portrait friendship ring. 77,715 rings were mailed to viewers and fans.
In 1959, the company promoted another tempting offer. By mailing in 5 Campbell’s food labels, viewers would receive a handsome prize; an authentic wallet “made of rich brown plastic” embellished with Lassie’s face prominently featured on the front. Over the course of that particular promotion, 1,343,509 wallets were mailed out. By crunching the numbers, you will find that just that one offer generated the sale of no less than 6.5 million cans of Campbell’s soup. That’s a lot of soup, folks!
Lassie also appeared in commercial ads. She was a “spokes-dog” for Recipe Dog Food. The dog food was billed as a homemade stew mixture that was to be what Lassie was fed. Ads stated,
“Now all dogs can come home to the dinner Lassie comes home to.”
Well, who wouldn’t want their dog to eat as well as Lassie? After all, she was a big star!
As if that weren’t enough, consumers could also purchase a dog training manual called, The Lassie Method. The books flew off the shelf with consumers hoping to end up with a perfectly disciplined dog if not the next star!
Other products including books, lunch boxes, figurines and toys were produced and gobbled up by fans. After it was all said and done, Lassie had made a lot of people a lot of money.
Collectors still seek out Lassie memorabilia.
Lassie was a phenomenal dog and was considered to be a hero many times over. Lassie even earned her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even today, tourists flock to see it and get a picture of the star with their own dogs.
There is just something so heartwarming about a boy and his dog. Contrary to popular belief, little Timmy never actually fell down a well; but if he had, Lassie would have saved the day!
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