The True Story Of Lassie, America’s Classic Collie

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

July 20, 2016

When most people think of a Collie, the dog that probably comes to mind is the legendary Lassie. Star of film, television, novels, cartoons, and comic strips, Lassie has become a household name and an important icon in American pop culture.

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Lassie is a “Rough Collie,” also known as a long-haired Collie. These pups are very intelligent and sensitive to their owners’ moods, and are great herders. These loyal pups originate from Scotland and have been a recognized breed since the late 1800s.  

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Lassie Come Home (1943) was a box office success starring then-child actress, Elizabeth Taylor. The film catapulted Lassie into stardom, but it was the TV show that solidified this pup as an icon of a courageous and faithful fur friend.

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Who was the dog behind the many legendary role cinematic and television roles? Although the character Lassie (meaning “girl” in Scottish) is a female dog within the series and film roles, the dog was primarily played by a brilliant (male) canine actor named Pal.

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Pal was born in 1940 and lived a long, rich life until his passing in 1958. Rumor has it that Pal’s (hmmm how do we say this delicately?) “nether regions” were closely monitored by film crew to prevent viewers from noticing he was a male. While female canine actresses are just as talented as males, a male was used because their coats are less affected by the shedding process, and therefore photograph better.

Pal, and the puppies bred after him, were used throughout the 19 years of the television series, from 1954 to 1973. The television show portrayed the idyllic and heartwarming American farm life of the Martin family. Starring June Lockhart as Ruth Martin and Jon Provost as young Timmy Martin, Lassie was so popular that it went into syndication in just its third season.

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Although Pal certainly had natural good looks, charm and charisma (as all movie stars do), his onscreen talents were groomed by legendary Hollywood dog trainer and breeder, Rudd Weatherwax. A famous anecdote from Weatherwax about the immense popularity of Lassie:

“The plane’s captain announced over the loudspeaker that there were two important Hollywood personalities aboard. First, he named a well-known film star and the announcement caused a mild ripple throughout the cabin. Then he noted that Lassie was also on the plane… Everyone in the cabin stood up in excitement trying to find Lassie.”

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Sounds about right to us. After all, everyone wanted to meet Lassie — even Marilyn Monroe!

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In the post-World War II era, with rapid modernization and urbanization, many Americans were abandoning rural regions for city life. The picturesque farmlands of Lassie filled a void in many people’s hearts and minds.

Lassie will forever remain a classic, the timeless tale of a true American hero and one of the screen’s greatest stars.

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Featured image via @dogcollarboutique/Instagram

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Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

July 20, 2016

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