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Lassie: The amazing story of the dog who played one of Hollywood’s most famous character

Movie Lassie with a Rough Collie

Find out the true story of Lassie, one of the most famous dogs of Hollywood.

© pas_films - Instagram

Lassie is undoubtedly one of the most famous dogs in the world, having starred in films, TV series and adventure books for decades. We went behind the scenes of Hollywood to tell you all of Lassie’s secrets and how the career of this amazing dog began.

 

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the

Lassie is a fictional character who was first introduced to Hollywood in the 1930s. This four-legged heroine with her beautiful coat was born thanks to writer Tom Knight, who narrated his childhood with his Collie dog (named Toots) in a short story in the Saturday Evening Post newspaper in 1938. The rights were then bought by MGM studios who made it a worldwide success.

Did they suspect, in 1943, such a success? Certainly not. The actors were not stars yet. They were just starting out and their names were Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowell. The dog Lassie was in fact a male dog called Pal. He would make the fortune of Rudd Weatherwax, his owner and film trainer.

Let’s delve into the amazing story of Lassie, the most famous Rough Collie of all time.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What breed was Lassie?

Lassie is a long haired Collie (Rough Collie). These dogs are sweet, kind, loyal, brave, intelligent, protective and children's best friends. These characteristics have been reflected on the screen thanks to the various productions that brought Lassie to life over the decades.

Find out all about the Rough Collie

Who is Lassie?

In 2005, Lassie was named one of the "100 Icons of the Century" by the American magazine Variety. She is the only animal on the list! But who is Lassie? Why is she so famous? Let's find out!

Lassie’s first steps in cinema

Writer Eric Knight wrote a short story about his childhood memories with Toots, his Collie. Published by the 'Saturday Evening Post', the copyright was bought by MGM studios who made a film "Lassie come home" (faithful Lassie) with Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy Mc Dowell.

The huge success of this film prompted the filmmakers to produce a sequel: "Son of Lassie" in 1945, then "Courage of Lassie" in 1946 and "Hills of Home" in 1948. Later, "The Magic of Lassie" was made in 1979 and "Lassie" in 1994.

Career progression: Lassie in a famous TV series

From 1946 to 1949, a radio programme recounted the adventures of the famous Lassie and, from 1954 onwards, television took over and gave Lassie a global dimension. Like the film production, this TV series followed the exploits of Lassie, a lovable Collie who enjoys life with her owner, a mischievous boy who loved to get into trouble. Every Sunday night for 18 years, an episode of Lassie was broadcast.

In 1972, ABC filmed a new series of episodes and finally, in 1988, a third series was filmed and broadcast under the title "The new Lassie".

Thanks to the TV series, Lassie became one of the most iconic animals in the history of television.

The series ran from 1954 to 1973, and according to the show's producers, more than twenty dogs played Lassie.

Is Lassie a boy or girl?

Surprisingly, the character of Lassie was always played by males, despite the fact that the fictional character was a female. It was also the case in the movie, the dog actor who played Lassie was a male who answered to the name of Pal.

Dog trainer Weatherwax said at the time that he used males for a good reason: both sexes change their coats in the summer, that’s when the films and series were often filmed. According to Weatherwax, a male Collie has a thicker coat and during the moult season, he does not look ''so scornful and skinny''.

Pal, the dog who brought Lassie to life

Lassie's original name was Pal, a beautiful Rough Collie that had nothing to do with the cinema world. Indeed, Pal had been brought to Rudd Weatherwax, a dog trainer, because Pal needed to be trained and also its owner wasn’t happy about the fact that Pal kept chasing after mopeds. So, Rudd had to train the Collie to stop doing that. He succeeded in training the dog but not in stopping him from chasing mopeds. For this reason, Pal's owner refused to pay the trainer and left him the dog instead of payment. Rudd therefore became Pal’s new owner. At that time, no one imagined that the animal would become the world's most famous Collie.

Several Collies were "auditioned" for the lead role and for understudy roles. Pal was chosen to be one of the understudies. When the "lead actress" refused to do a scene where she had to swim across a river, Rudd Weatherwax was asked to bring Pal to the scene. Without hesitation Pal crossed the river and washed up on the other side, apparently completely exhausted. In doing so, he had dethroned the star of the film, much to the delight of his trainer Rudd Weatherwax.

Pal went into the water, but Lassie came out,'' said M.G.M. director Louis B. Mayer.

Pal, or rather Lassie, became a star and made millions of dollars for the Weatherwax family.

How did Lassie die?

Lassie, or should we say Pal had a short and sad end to life. At just 6 years old, he crossed the rainbow of dogs after battling cancer.

According to chronicles of the time published on the Internet, many fans of the series knew that something was wrong with the dog as he didn't have the same energy as before in the episodes and this was reflected in the episodes.

After Pal's death, the show's producers decided to use the puppies the dog had in real life as actors. More than 10 different Collies replaced Pal in the series.

How many Lassie films are there?

There are many Lassie films as well as TV series and remakes. Below, in chronological order, are all the classic Metro Goldwyn Mayer productions:

  • Lassie Come Home (1943)
  • Son of Lassie (1945)
  • Courage of Lassie (1946)
  • The Hills of Home (1948)
  • The Sun Comes Up (1949)
  • Challenge To Lassie (1949)
  • The Painted Hill (1951)
  • Lassie's Great Adventure (1963)
  • The Magic of Lassie (1978)
  • Lassie (1994)
  • Lassie (2005)
  • Lassie Comes Home (2020)

Lassie Comes Home (2020)

Lassie comes home (Lassie - Eine abenteuerliche Reise) is a German film directed by Hanno Olderdissen that was released in 2020. This production adapts the story of cinema's most famous dog to the problems of a modern family. Due to financial difficulties, Flo's family is forced to move and part with their beloved dog Lassie, but Lassie is unwilling to part with her friend and embarks on an adventurous journey home. Will they make it?

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