What dog actor site would be complete without Lassie? I don’t think there is another dog who has spawned off more TV shows, movies, and other publications than the popular collie. Not only that, there isn’t a more recognizable breed or individual animal other than Lassie (not including fictional animals like Mickey Mouse).
Author Erik Knight first created in the short story “Lassie Come Home” that was featured in the Saturday Evening post back in 1938. Two years later “Lassie Come Home” was a published novel. Only three years later, in 1943, it was made into a movie which became an instant hit (it was re-made in 2005 also). In 1945 a sequel came out, “The Son of Lassie” and the following year “The Courage of Lassie” came out.
From 1953 to 1974 Lassie was a very popular TV series in the USA. The first ten series followed the adventures of Lassie and his owners (including “Timmy” who was always getting into trouble and needed rescue from Lassie) in their mid-western farm. Later series included Lassie with adult forest workers and the series finalized with Lassie living in a home for troubled children.
Lassies continuing career has spawned 11 films, a radio show (that ran from 1947-1950), 3 Television series (1953 – 1974, 1989 – 1991, and 1997 – 1999), 59 books, plus countless other “mentions” and references in many other venues.
Due to the longevity of the series and movies, there have been many “Lassies” in the series.
The first was a collie named “Pal” who appeared in the films “Lassie Come Home” (1943), “Son of Lassie”, “Courage of Lassie”, “Hills of Home”, “The Sun Comes Up”, “Challenge to Lassie” and “The Painted Hills”. He was handled by Frank and Rudd Weatherwax as well as Frank Inn. Pal also appeared in the two pilot episodes for the TV series, “Lassie”. His offspring, Lassie Junior, Spook, Baby, Mire, and Hey Hey, all played roles as Lassie in the TV series until 1973 when the series was canceled.
In 1974 Hey Hey’s son, Boy, played Lassie in the film “The Magic of Lassie” and Boy’s son, The Old Man, played the lead role in the TV series “The New Lassie” from 1989 to 1991.
Pal’s progeny (8 generations worth) portrayed collies in many movies and TV series. 8 generations after Pal, Howard, played the lead role in the third Lassie TV series in 1997. Halfway though the series Howard was replaced with a non-Pal descendant and there was such an outcry that they quickly replaced him with a 9th generation (from Pal) – Hey Hey II. Only a Pal descendant could portray Lassie.
All dogs were owned and trained by the Weatherwax brothers and Rudd’s son – Robert. In 2000 Classic Media acquired the trademark on Lassie and in 2003 terminated the contract with the Weatherwax family to supply Pal lined collies to represent Lassie.
In 2005, the remake of “Lassie Come Home” featured a non-Pal lineaged collie, much to the distaste of many Lassie fans around the world – his name was Mason.
In 2006 a PBS based TV series, “Lassie’s Pet Vet” with Dr. Jeff Werber used “Lassie 10” (10th generation Pal) – Rockie.
In 2008, “Lassie” was featured along with “Rin Tin Tin” in Cesar Milan’s 100th episode of the Dog Whisperer.
Starting in the very late 19th century collies had become one of the most stable and family friendly breeds in existence – so much that the few attacks that have happened were not able to tarnish the breeds reputation one bit. Even during the time of the collie’s popularity (which also led to poor breeding practices by back yard breeders and puppy mills) the breed’s temperament reputation was not tarnished at all. This could be one of the many reasons why a collie was chosen as the well known rescuer, companion, and hard working dog that we’ve all come to know and love.