America’s favorite collie was created for a short story written by a British author.
Eric Knight (1897-1943) used the country of his childhood as the setting for “Lassie Come-Home,” published in 1938 in the Saturday Evening Post. The story was expanded and published as a novel in 1940 as the tale of the love between young Joe Caraclough and his pet Lassie, a rough collie.
Metro-Goldwin-Meyer (MGM) bought the rights and released the story as a film in 1943, featuring child actors Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor. Male collie Pal played the part of Lassie and was trained and owned by Ruddell “Rudd” Weatherwax (1907-1985), an animal trainer who had an acting background himself.
Lassie starred in several more films for MGM from 1946 to 1951 and was also featured in her own radio program, the Lassie Radio Program. Weatherwax obtained the rights to the Lassie name and image from MGM and was ready when the next format, television, was eager to feature Lassie as the star of a weekly program.
The CBS network ran the series “Lassie” for nearly two decades in various story lines. For the first 10 years, Lassie was the best friend of a young boy. In 1954, the family was the Millers, who lived on a farm. When Jeff Miller got to be a teenager, the family that owned Lassie became the Martins, with young Timmy as Lassie’s pal.
After 11 seasons, Lassie took on a career, working with ranger Corey Stuart of the U.S. Forest Service. The change gave the series new adventures, in scenic settings filmed in national forests, and with encounters with wild animals. Lassie was performed by the male descendants of Pal, bred and trained by Weatherwax.
In the final season of the series in 1973, Lassie had no official owner, and had a series of adventures on a ranch for orphans.
In addition to the original novel, Lassie has been featured in multiple books for children. Little Golden Books, Whitman’s Tell-A-Tale, Little Big Books, and Whitman’s Authorized TV Adventures have offered multiple Lassie titles.
“Lassie and the Secret of the Summer” was published in 1958 when Lassie lived on the farm with the Millers. The price listed inside the cover was 69 cents.
The Weatherwax family sold the rights to Lassie in 2002. Lassie earned “her” star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.