Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How Lassie Became One of the World's Most Popular Dogs

By Julia Williams

There’s hardly a man, woman or child alive today who doesn’t know who Lassie is, but do you know how she became one of the world’s most famous and beloved dogs? If you’re like me, you may vividly remember watching Lassie on TV or the big screen but not know a thing about the history of one of our most popular animal stars. I did a little digging on the origins of Lassie, and found it interesting. I hope you do too!

Lassie was the main character in a short story called Lassie Come Home, written by Eric Knight. It was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The touching tale was reportedly inspired by real life Depression-era events in Yorkshire, England. It told of a collie’s arduous journey to reunite with her family after they were forced to sell her for money. The story was so popular that in 1940 it was expanded and published as a book. The novel immediately became a best seller; the publisher released 5 printings in the first 6 months alone.

Because the book was so well received, MGM Studios released the first Lassie movie in 1943, also titled Lassie Come Home. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography and featured Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor and the canine actor Pal in the role of Lassie. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) reports that Pal earned $250 per week while the young Ms. Taylor – just 11 at the time – was paid $100 per week! After this first Lassie film debuted, scores of people wrote to the studio begging for another Lassie film, and in 1945 they got their wish. Son of Lassie was released, starring Peter Lawford and June Lockhart. To no one’s surprise, this film was also a huge success.

Five more Lassie films were released from 1946 to 1951. One of the more memorable Lassie movies was 1979’s The Magic of Lassie with Jimmy Stewart and a cast of interesting characters including Mickey Rooney. To date, there have been 11 Lassie films. The last one was a remake of the original Lassie movie; released in 2006, it was simply called Lassie and starred Peter O’Toole.

The Lassie Radio Show began broadcasting in 1947 and lasted until 1950. Each week in 15-minute stories, Lassie played a different dog in different types of situations.

The original Lassie TV series began in 1954 and ran for 19 seasons. The show was a hit from day one, and Lassie episodes can still be seen in syndication today. Lassie consistently ranked at the top of the Nielsen ratings, and won the Emmy award for Best Children’s Series in both 1955 and 1956. In 1957, Jon Provost joined the cast as the boy “Timmy.”

By 1964, the show’s sweet depiction of a boy and his beloved dog was no longer attracting the teenage audience, so the producers decided that Lassie needed a new owner, a strong rugged male figure played by Robert Bray. That same year, the episodes started airing in color. In 1973, the network created a Saturday morning cartoon called Lassie’s Rescue Rangers, which portrayed the famous collie as a “Superdog.”

No other “celebridog” has come close to achieving Lassie’s level of notoriety. Moreover, Lassie is credited with forever changing the way people relate to their dogs. Before Knight penned the Lassie story, dogs were primarily kept as workers for the farm. Lassie, however, was regarded as a genuine family member and her job was to be a “best friend” rather than a working dog. Viewers embraced this special relationship between dog and family, and it inspired them to also bring their dogs indoors.

Lassie Trivia

Lassie is one of only 3 dogs to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the other 2 are silent-film stars Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart). Lassie got her star in 1960.

Although the character of Lassie is female, all of the collies portraying Lassie have been male.

Pal (the first canine actor to play Lassie) retired at age 5; all subsequent Lassie films used direct descendants of Pal.

Campbell’s Soup was the sponsor for the entire run of the Lassie TV series.

The Lassie trademark requires a sable and white collie, with a full white collar, four white feet and a white blaze up the nose. All of the genetic line dogs have had these markings naturally, and have not used makeup.

In 2005, the show business journal Variety named Lassie “One of the 100 icons of the century.” Lassie was the only animal to make the list!

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. We LOVE Lassie (then again, who doesn't?)! :)

    Thanks for the great post about her, and for all those cool facts.

  2. Ahhh, such fond memories this post brings back to the Momster - one of her favorite childhood shows:)

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  3. My Dad says he remembers seeing Lassie on TV in color for the first time. Gosh he must be old! Great post!!!

  4. Love Brians comment. Our Mom is that old too. She remembers all the Lassie TV and movies. They were great and Lassie was the best. Great information. I didn't realize it went that far back. Love this post.

  5. It's interesting that they always used male collies to play Lassie. The males have much more impressive looking coats!

    Critter Alley

  6. Our mommy used to watch Lassie when she was a kid but she cried every episode! Our Grandma hated that show because of it! Mommy had to watch every week though to make sure Lassie was okay even though she bawled. She's silly.

  7. The Human is so old she a-members when Lassie was on TV and she always had to rescue somebody. Seems like it was kinda dangerous to know Lassie, MOL!

  8. Oh yes, I love Lassie! I used to and am still cry whenever I watch Lassie. Now, I've a miniature Lassie which is a sheltie :)

  9. you are talking to a "Lassie Lover" from waaaay back! Lassie paved the way for my love of Shelties (which contrary to what some people think ARE NOT "mini collies")

    When I was 2 I had a "stuffed" Lassie that I took EVERYWHERE!! One night my mom had to put it in the wash.

    I guess I was inconsolable so she sent my Dad out to get another stuffed Lassie. He didn't find one and returned home with (gasp) mother said when they put the impostor in my crib I flung him across the room.

    My Dad had to go back out and FIND a "lassie!" From that point on my Mom said she kept THREE Lassies in the house, one for me, one for when one was in the wash and a back-up!

    Loved the Lassie trivia! Much of that I knew but there was a lot I didn't know as well!

  10. In the original story the dog is described as a Yorkshire tyke, and its breed is not Rough Collie, it would have been a ratting Terrier, like a proper Yorkie, not a miniature pet one a rough coated dog bred and used to kill rats and rabbits and of use to a rich landowner interested in hunting as a flushing terrier when foxes went to ground or to kill "vermin" so the moor was free for the grouse. Obviously these parts of the story were removed! Our Lass' is a typical Yorkshire dialect term ,expressing fondness and kinship/ownership, not neccesaily a given name at all.The original story is quite vague on that score too. The whole Lassie myth of the Collie is an American fairy tale.

    1. Wrong. Lassie, in the original book entitled, "Lassie Come-Home," written by Eric Knight in 1940, was indeed a Collie. I have the book. I'm looking at it. Right on page 1, it states, "...she was the finest collie he had ever laid eyes on." On page 2, it states, "...Sam Carraclough's tricolor collie..." Yes, the original Lassie was a tricolor collie.


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