Famous Dogs: Lassie, Part 1

Everybody loves Lassie!
Lassie, a fictional collie, is certainly one of the most iconic dogs in the world. The character of Lassie has been around since 1938, when an English American writer named Eric Knight wrote a short story about a rough collie called Lassie Come Home. The story was featured in the Saturday Evening Post and was a classic Homeward Bound-type story, featuring a collie, separated from her young master. Of course, she then proceeded to travel across many miles, and experience more than her fair share of adventure and tribulations, to ultimately reunite with him. The short story was later expanded to novel length and published in 1940. It was a big success in the reading world, and three years later, in 1943, MGM purchased the rights to make it into a movie.

The Real Lassie Is Not A Girl

Lassie the collie was first played by a male dog named "Pal". Every portrayal of Lassie throughout the years of films and TV shows portrays Lassie as a female dog, but Lassie has always been played by a male "rough collie", as opposed to a "smooth collie". We're talking about fur here, not temperament! This choice was said to be largely due to the coloring in the male coat, because it has better “pop” on the silver screen. Personally, I was always under the impression that female dogs couldn't be used because they wouldn't stay on task when in heat, but why wouldn't they just spay them!

I mean, if they were all male dogs playing female roles, they must have been neutered, or we probably would have seen a lot more than we bargained for on screen! Then again, if they are all descendants of each other, I guess maybe they just had a good hairstylist?

A Family Destined For Stardom

Pal was the first collie dog actor to portray Lassie, and his direct descendants continued through years of both film and television series of brand new Lassie stories. Boy, that’s a lot of work for one family! And if that doesn't seem like a lot, consider this: the trainers of these dogs were all from the same human family...who then also employed a few others, eventually becoming a dog training organization that trained all of the Lassie doggy actors!

The Real Life Inspiration

A little history about the original inspiration for the short story of Lassie is in order, and it comes to us from World War I era England, circa 1915. The story goes that a German sub torpedoed the Royal Naval Battleship, the HMS Formidable, killing over 500 men on board. One of the life rafts washed up on shore in Dorset, and the bodies of the men were taken to a local pub and laid out on the bar there. The owner's dog, a half-collie named...wait for it...Lassie, was licking the foot of one of the bodies thought to be a dead man. This alerted the people around to the man's condition, and they saw him reacting to the dog, so they set to work on him and were able to nurse him to health.

Lassie Or Not Lassie: The Film & TV Legacy

The character of Lassie the Dog was the star of at least 10 Lassie films. The numbers get confusing, since some of the time the dog in a Lassie film was called something other than Lassie, such as the collie "Bill" in the film Courage of Lassie. Why Bill? I don't know. How having "Pal", who normally played "Lassie", playing "Bill", in a movie called "Courage of Lassie" made sense to the writers and producers, I'm not sure. So these other films had collies that were named differently, but had the same type of role.

"Lassie the Dog" was also the star of the Lassie television series which ran for 20 years, radio shows that aired for several years before and after television came into our homes, and a whole bunch of books and short stories. The Lassie character sets a high bar for pet dogs everywhere. I mean, wouldn't you want a dog that could communicate with you seemingly telepathically? Lassie also helped the working dogs of the world get more of a pet role. People used collies and other herders for just that, herding, before the movies and shows portrayed her breed as a viable option for pets. Suddenly, collies around the world found themselves inside the house on couches in front of the telly (watching Lassie, perhaps?), instead of outside in a dog house or barn.

Lassie has been a beloved dog figure for many years, and the show won Emmy awards for Best Children's Series for two years in a row in 1955 and '56, followed by Lassie the dog winning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960! Even though the show itself was canceled, Lassie continues to this day to be known and loved the world over. She teaches children about life and love and she is the world's most famous pet dog.

The most recent Lassie movie release was in 2006, created in the UK. It aired worldwide on September 1, 2006.

(More to come on Lassie in our upcoming post: Lassie, Part Two!)

1 comment:

  1. collies have such fluffy fur back there they would have never seen the "boy bits" All were unneutered males. The two reasons for using males are
    1) THe coat.. Males have nicer, flufifer coats and don't blow coat and shed the way females do, which can make a girl look pretty scraggly a few weeks every 6 months or so..
    2) Males are considerably larger, and they wanted a bigger dog so as the child actor grew he wouldn't look like he'd "outgrown" the dog so quickly