Lassie
Title screen of Lassie (seasons 1–4)
Also known as
  • Jeff's Collie (episodes 1–116)
  • Timmy & Lassie (episodes 116–352)
GenreFamily
Adventure/Drama
Created byRobert Maxwell
StarringTommy Rettig
Jan Clayton
George Cleveland
Jon Provost
Cloris Leachman
Jon Shepodd
June Lockhart
Hugh Reilly
George Chandler
Robert Bray
Jack De Mave
Jed Allan
Clyde Howdy
Ron Hayes
Larry Wilcox
Richard Garland
Pamelyn Ferdin
Lassie (various dogs)
Theme music composerLes Baxter
Opening themeWhistle
ComposerRaoul Kraushaar
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons19
No. of episodes591 (list of episodes)
Production
ProducersRobert Golden
Robert Maxwell
Dusty Bruce
Rudolph E. Abel
Bonita Granville
Leon Fromkess
Production locationCalifornia
Running time26 minutes
Production companiesLassie Television
Robert Maxwell Associates
Jack Wrather Productions
Original release
NetworkCBS (1954–1971)
Syndication (1971–1973)
ReleaseSeptember 12, 1954 (1954-09-12) –
March 24, 1973 (1973-03-24)
Related

Lassie is an American television series that follows the adventures of a female Rough Collie dog named Lassie and her companions, both human and animal. The show was the creation of producer Robert Maxwell and animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax and was televised from September 12, 1954, to March 25, 1973. The eighth longest-running scripted U.S. primetime television series (after The Simpsons, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Gunsmoke, Law & Order, Family Guy, NCIS, and American Dad), the show ran for 17 seasons on CBS before entering first-run syndication for its final two seasons. Initially filmed in black and white, the show transitioned to color in 1965.

Production

Narration

Wrather's wife, Bonita Granville Wrather, who was the series' associate producer, narrated numerous episodes throughout the run of the series, usually the beginning and/or ending of multi-part episodes.[1]

Writers

Many early episodes were written by Robert Maxwell under the pseudonym Claire Kennedy.[2] In later years, the writing partnership of Robert Schaefer and Eric Freiwald was responsible for over 150 episodes. They were also responsible for developing the idea of having Lassie with a forest ranger.[3]

Theme music

Lassie used several pieces of theme music during its long broadcast history. For the first season, "Secret of the Silent Hills (Theme from the Lassie TV series)", is used for both the opening and ending theme. Composed by William Lava, the orchestral theme was originally created for the 1940 radio show The Courageous Dr. Christian.[4]

For the second and third season a variation of this theme, titled simply "Lassie Main & End Title", was used for the opening and ending theme. Raoul Kraushaar, the music director for the series, is the listed composer for the theme; however the changes he made to the original are so slight that only a trained ear can tell the difference. The third theme used for the series is an orchestral rendition of the aria, "Dio Possente" (Even Bravest Hearts May Swell) from Charles Gounod's opera, Faust. The exact time this theme started being used is uncertain due to conflicting records; however it is agreed that it was the third series, and was used for at least part of season four for the change of ownership of Lassie.[4]

The most famous of the Lassie theme songs appeared at the start of the fifth season. Copyrighted as "Lassie Main & End Title", the composer credit has never been definitively claimed to this day. The melody is whistled by Muzzy Marcellino. Nicknamed "The Whistler," it remained the series theme for the rest of the "Martin years". With the coming of the "Ranger years", the opening and ending theme was changed to an orchestral version of "The Whistler". Beginning in season 17 (where Lassie traveled alone), and continuing throughout the Holden Ranch era, the theme was changed again, this time to Nathan Scott's arrangement of the traditional folk tune Greensleeves, which became the series theme song for the rest of its run. For the final two seasons, the familiar closing visual of Lassie standing on a hill and lifting her paw, was replaced by the credits on a green background, and flashing from one slate to the other instead of scrolling as in most of the series run.[4] Television composer Nathan Scott scored the music to nearly every episode between 1963 and 1973,[5] except for four episodes.[6]

Plot and themes

The first 10 seasons of the series saw Lassie living on a farm, first with the Miller family (Jeff, his mother Ellen, and her father George - who was called "Gramps" by Jeff). Season 4 saw the Millers taking in young orphan Timmy, who then lived with them on the farm, as well as the unexpected death of Gramps, (reflecting the real life death of actor George Cleveland, who played the character), and with that the Millers moved off the farm, but Timmy and Lassie would stay behind with his new foster parents, Paul and Ruth Martin, who also took over the farm. All 10 of the Miller/Martin farm seasons would for the most part focus on "boy and his dog" adventures with Jeff or Timmy getting involved in some sort of trouble, and Lassie eventually coming to the rescue.

Seasons 11–16 were the "Ranger years" of the series, as Lassie (because she was not able to go to Australia with the Martins when Paul got a job teaching agriculture there) was taken in by U.S. Forest Ranger Corey Stuart (who appeared in a few episodes of season 10) and began to work with the U.S. Forest Service.[7] Color filming was exploited during the Ranger years with Lassie and her friends sent to exotic locations such as Sequoia National Forest and Monument Valley, creating miniature travelogues for viewers. Other rangers would be featured during the latter part of this era when Robert Bray (who played Stuart) left the series.[8]

For season 17, the program shifted gears again and became essentially an anthology series, with Lassie traveling on her own, getting into different adventures each week (similar in format to The Littlest Hobo and, later, to Here's Boomer). No explanation was given as to why Lassie was no longer with the Forest Service.[9] Some episodes during this final CBS season were animals only.

During seasons 18 and 19 (with the series having moved to first run syndication), Lassie was taken in by Garth Holden (played by Ron Hayes) who was in charge of the Holden Ranch – a home for orphaned boys – which he ran with his college-age son and his friend. This (somewhat) brought the show back to its roots by giving Lassie a farm/ranch home base, which is where she settled in for the final two years of the series.[10][11]

Episodes

Main article: List of Lassie episodes

SeasonSettingEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast airedNetwork
1Miller years
(Jeff's Collie)
26September 12, 1954 (1954-09-12)March 6, 1955 (1955-03-06)CBS
239September 11, 1955 (1955-09-11)June 3, 1956 (1956-06-03)
338September 9, 1956 (1956-09-09)May 26, 1957 (1957-05-26)
4Martin years
(Timmy & Lassie)
40September 8, 1957 (1957-09-08)June 8, 1958 (1958-06-08)
539September 7, 1958 (1958-09-07)May 31, 1959 (1959-05-31)
637September 6, 1959 (1959-09-06)May 22, 1960 (1960-05-22)
736September 11, 1960 (1960-09-11)May 28, 1961 (1961-05-28)
836September 10, 1961 (1961-09-10)May 27, 1962 (1962-05-27)
932September 30, 1962 (1962-09-30)May 19, 1963 (1963-05-19)
1029September 29, 1963 (1963-09-29)May 3, 1964 (1964-05-03)
11Ranger years33September 6, 1964 (1964-09-06)May 16, 1965 (1965-05-16)
1232September 12, 1965 (1965-09-12)May 1, 1966 (1966-05-01)
1330September 11, 1966 (1966-09-11)April 30, 1967 (1967-04-30)
1428September 10, 1967 (1967-09-10)March 24, 1968 (1968-03-24)
1528September 29, 1968 (1968-09-29)April 13, 1969 (1969-04-13)
1622September 28, 1969 (1969-09-28)March 8, 1970 (1970-03-08)
17On her own22September 20, 1970 (1970-09-20)March 21, 1971 (1971-03-21)
18Holden Ranch years20October 7, 1971 (1971-10-07)March 10, 1972 (1972-03-10)Syndication
1924September 16, 1972 (1972-09-16)March 24, 1973 (1973-03-24)

Characters and cast

Human leads

Tommy Rettig starred as Jeff Miller during the early years of the series (1954–1957), which were syndicated as Jeff's Collie
Jon Provost starred as Timmy Martin during the middle years of the series (1957–1964), which were syndicated as Timmy & Lassie
Robert Bray starred as Ranger Corey Stuart during the majority of the Forest Service years of the series from 1964–1968
Jack De Mave (left) and Jed Allan (right) starred as Rangers Bob Erickson and Scott Turner, respectively, during the later Forest Service years of the series from 1968–1970
Lassie traveled on her own in the final CBS season (1970–71), getting into various adventures before settling in at the Holden Ranch for the final two seasons of the series once it moved to first-run syndication. (1971–1973)

1954–1957: Miller Family (Jeff's Collie)

1957–1964: Martin Family (Timmy & Lassie)

1964–1970: U.S. Forest Service

1970–1971: Traveling on her own

1971–1973: Holden Ranch

Dog actors as Lassie

Media information

Broadcast history

First-run Lassie was televised September 12, 1954 to March 24, 1973 with its first 17 seasons airing on CBS Sundays at 7:00 p.m. EST. In 1971, in order to promote community-related programming among local affiliates, the Federal Communications Commission moved primetime Sundays to 8:00 P.M. EST with the institution of the Prime Time Access Rule. CBS executives felt Lassie would not be well received in a time slot other than its traditional 7:00 p.m. slot, and, with the network's other family programs set, the show was canceled.[11] (Lassie was among several shows that CBS canceled during this time period as part of a change in its target demographics.) Lassie then entered first-run syndication with Jack Wrather and Campbell's Soup still on board, and remained on the air for another two years with its final episode airing in March 1973. All totaled, 591 episodes were produced.

An animated reworking, Lassie's Rescue Rangers, followed in fall 1973, immediately after the original series ended (the pilot movie aired in 1972 while the live-action series was still on the air). Lassie's Rescue Rangers was denounced by both Weatherwax and the National Association of Broadcasters, the latter of which made note of the animated series' "violence, crime and stupidity."[14]

Later series

In 1973, ABC created an animated Saturday-morning animated program called Lassie's Rescue Rangers produced by Filmation.[11]

In 1989, what was essentially a sequel series, The New Lassie – featuring Jon Provost as Steve McCullough – aired in first-run syndication. In its seventh episode ("Roots"), June Lockhart reprised her Ruth Martin role when Steve McCullough is revealed to be the adult Timmy Martin. It is revealed that Timmy was never properly adopted by the Martins and consequently was forced to remain in the U.S. when Ruth and Paul emigrated to Australia. Timmy was then subsequently adopted by the McCullough family and began going by his middle name Steven. In 1992, Tommy Rettig made a guest appearance in the final episode, "The Computer Study". This would be his last television appearance prior to his death in 1996.[15]

In 1997, a modified remake – also called Lassie – debuted, airing in the U.S. on the then new Animal Planet cable network. This show (which was filmed in Canada and set in Vermont) also revolved around a boy named Timmy and his dog, though differences in setting and character circumstances precluded it from being an exact remake of the original series.[16]

DVD releases

The series was released to DVD between 2001–2007.

DVD Name # Ep Release Date
Lassie's Great Adventure 5 June 26, 2001
Lassie: Best of the Lassie Show 3 November 25, 2003
Lassie: Lassie's Christmas Stories 3 November 25, 2003
Lassie: Best of Jeff's Collie 3 November 25, 2003
Lassie: Lassie's Birthday Surprise 3 November 25, 2003
Lassie: Lassie's Gift of Love 3 November 25, 2003
Lassie: 50th Anniversary Collection 24 September 14, 2004
Lassie: Flight of the Cougar 3 March 6, 2006
Lassie: A Mother's Love 4 May 1, 2007
Lassie's Greatest Adventures Collection 18 September 17, 2019

Comics

The TV series was adapted into a comic book by Dan Spiegle, distributed by Gold Key Comics.[17]

Reception

Ratings

Every year of its 17-year run on CBS, Lassie placed first in its time slot, Sunday 7:00 P.M. EST, and often ranked among the top 25 shows on television. The show's highest ranking years in the Nielsen ratings were the Martin years when the show placed #24 in 1957, #22 in 1958, #15 in 1959, #15 in 1961, #21 in 1962, #13 in 1963, and #17 in 1964. The only Martin year Lassie did not climb into the top twenty-five was 1960, when it ran opposite Walt Disney Presents on ABC and Shirley Temple Theater on NBC.[18] However, Lassie still ran opposite Disney when the Disney anthology television series moved to NBC in 1961, and still managed to climb into the Top 25. With the advent of the Forest Service seasons, the show began a steady decline in ratings.[19]

Season Rank
1954–1955 Not in the Top 30
1955–1956
1956–1957 #24
1957–1958 #22
1958–1959 Not in the Top 30
1959–1960 #29
1960–1961 Not in the Top 30
1961–1962 #15
1962–1963 #19
1963–1964 #12
1964–1965 #17
1965–1966 #27
1966–1967 #33
1967–1968 #30
1968–1969 Not in the Top 30
1969–1970
1970–1971

Awards and honors

(All awards listed given during the time of, or specifically related to the TV series)

Cultural impact

Jon Provost in a promotional photo for his autobiography Timmy's in the Well! (essentially portraying "Timmy" reading to "Lassie").

Jon Provost called his autobiography Timmy's in the Well! because a well was the one place Timmy never fell into—abandoned mine shafts, off cliffs, into rivers, lakes, and quicksand, but never a well.[23][24]

Mad parodied the show as "Lizzy", where it was revealed that the collie was actually a circus midget in a dog suit, while the real Lizzy was a dimwitted mutt. In an episode of The Flintstones ("Dino Goes Hollyrock"), the character Dino wins an appearance on the smash hit TV show "Sassie" starring a heavily made-up and snobby girl dinosaur and her Lassie-like adventures.[25]

Belgian comics artist Willy Vandersteen created his own version of the TV show with a collie named Bessy in 1954. Apart from the fact that his comic strip starred the same dog breed with a similar name, it had little to do with the series overall, since the comic was a Western comic.

References

Notes
Footnotes
  1. ^ "Wrather narration". Lassie Web. Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  2. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series. Vol. 8, Part 2, Number 1. The Library of Congress. January–June 1954. p. 43.
  3. ^ Jensen, Steve. "Eric Freiwald". Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  4. ^ a b c Lassie /Jeffs Collie /Timmy and Lassie
  5. ^ Burlingame, Jon (March 3, 2010). "Nathan Scott, 94, scored TV shows – Composer's credits included 'Dragnet,' 'Lassie'". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved March 10, 2010.
  6. ^ McClellan, Dennis (March 4, 2010). "Nathan Scott dies at 94; film and TV composer, arranger and conductor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  7. ^ "Lassie season 11". Lassie Web. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  8. ^ "Lassie season 15". Lassie Web. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  9. ^ "Lassie season 17". Lassie Web. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  10. ^ "Lassie season 18". Lassie Web. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  11. ^ a b c Collins:
  12. ^ "Clyde Houdeshell Dies". The Signal. Santa Clarita, California. October 8, 1969. p. 15. Retrieved July 15, 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Closed access icon
  13. ^ Scott Freese, Gene (April 10, 2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, 2d ed. McFarland. pp. 134–135. ISBN 9780786476435 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Erickson, Hal (2005). Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949 Through 2003 (2nd ed.). McFarland & Co. pp. 487–488. ISBN 978-1476665993.
  15. ^ "Tommy Rettig". IMDb. Amazon. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
  16. ^ "Filming locations for "Lassie" (1997)". IMDb. Amazon. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
  17. ^ "Dan Spiegle".
  18. ^ Collins 1993, p.166
  19. ^ Jenkins
  20. ^ CBS at 75
  21. ^ Peabody
  22. ^ "Lassie Awards". Lassie.net. Archived from the original on 2013-07-14. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  23. ^ Provost:
  24. ^ Thriving Canine Radio
  25. ^ "Flintstones' Lassie takeoff". Fandango.com. Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2014-06-21.
Works cited
Bibliography
  • Jenkins, Henry (2007). "'Her Suffering Aristocratic Majesty': The Sentimental Value of Lassie". The WOW Climax: Tracing the Emotional Impact of Popular Culture. New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4282-2.
  • "Lassie ... My Best Friend". Jack and Jill. November 1959.
  • "The Life and Times of Lassie". TV Guide. July 4, 1959.
  • "The Man with Dog Appeal". TV Guide. August 14, 1965.