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Lassie: The Collie Who Saved People On TV For 60 Years

Entertainment | February 6, 2018

Left: A 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor with Lassie in the 1946 film 'Courage of Lassie.' Right: The classic TV show cast of Lassie, June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly and John Provost. Sources: API/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images; Wikimedia Commons

Of all the TV and movie dogs, the collie named Lassie is top dog in every measurable way. The Lassie TV series ran for 19 seasons, tallying 591 episodes. The TV show (in some form) has been revived on three separate occasions. There have been 10 Lassie movies, and there was even a Lassie Playstation video game. And at least 13 different dogs have portrayed Lassie on screen. Rin Tin Tin had an impressive run before Lassie, and latter-day would-be Lassies like Benji, Beethoven, and Hooch have all seen their moments in the sun, but Lassie is the institution.

Lassie was last seen on TV in the 2015-16 animated series Lassie, which lasted for 26 episodes.

The 'Lassie' TV Series Lasted 19 Seasons, Going Through Three Families And The Forest Service

The charismatic collie was the real star of the show -- over its run from 1954-74, Lassie faithfully served the Miller family (1954-57), the Martin family (1957-64), the U.S. Forest Service (1964-70). In the 1970-71 season, with no explanation, Lassie struck out on her own, sometimes getting into plotlines that involved humans, although some episodes in this season were animals-only. For the series' final two seasons, Lassie lived with the Holdens on their ranch, which was a home for orphaned boys.

'Lassie' Started As A 1938 Short Story -- Or Did She?

The 1943 film 'Lassie Come Home,' with Lassie showing classic heroism when faced with an unconscious Roddy McDowall. Source: IMDB

In 1938, The Saturday Evening Post published "Lassie Come-Home," a short story by Eric Knight about a rough collie. The story was made into a novel (published 1940), which then served as the source for the first filmed Lassie entertainment, the 1943 MGM film Lassie Come Home, starring a young Roddy McDowall and an even younger Elizabeth Taylor. 

From there, the Lassie phenomenon was off and running, although there are at least two other possible "first" Lassies. Elizabeth Gaskell's 1859 short story "The Half-brothers" depicts a courageous collie named Lassie who rescues two humans. In World War I, a dog named Lassie achieved dog-celebrity for reviving a sailor who was thought to be among the dead crewmen of the H.M.S. Formidable that had washed up near the British port town of Lyme Regis.

All The Lassies

Lassie, however, was not a “lass”. Lassie was actually a male dog… actually, several male dogs. In fact, counting the pilot episode, there were six dogs in all on the original Lassie TV series. Below is a list of dog actors that portrayed Lassie over the show's 19 years years.

• Pal (Pilot episodes)

• Lassie Junior (1954–59)

• Spook (1960)

• Baby (1960–66)

• Mire (1966–1971)

• Hey Hey (1971–73)

Lassies in TV reboots and further movies have been played by collies named Boy, The Old Man, Howard, Hey Hey II, Mason and Rockie.

Lassie And The Art Of Dog Promotion

Collectors still seek out Lassie memorabilia.

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.

Lassie Sells Cans Of Soup And Dog Food

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. 

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!

Train Your Own Lassie

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! 

The Classic Lassie Lunch Box

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.

The Dog Star

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.

The Myth Of Timmy And The Well

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!

Tags: Elizabeth Taylor | June Lockhart | Lassie | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.