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In the 1940s, the rough collie Lassie became a household name after starring in a series of six feature films produced by MGM, beginning with Lassie Come Home, which was based on a short story by Eric Knight. In lieu of back pay owed to him, Lassie's owner and trainer Rudd Weatherwax took all rights of the trademark, and of course the small collie named Pal who played Lassie. They left Hollywood and did shows at fairs and rodeos for two years until producer Robert Maxwell sold Weatherwax on the concept of television series starring Lassie. A pilot was quickly produced, with Maxwell and Weatherwax agreeing that the series needed to be centered on "a boy and his dog." CBS executives were impressed with the pilot and gave the show a full-year contract, while the Campbell Soup company was so impressed, it bought up every commercial spot for the series, becoming its only sponsor.

Lassie and Tommy RettigTommy Rettig, Lassie, Jan Clayton, George ClevelandLassie, June Lockhart, Hugh Reilly and Jon Provost


Lassie went into production, and debuted on Sunday, September 12, 1954. Millions watched the first episode, and the ratings grew for the second episode. The show would continue to rule its time slot for another three years, however Maxwell and Weatherwax were concerned the run would soon be over as they wondered how many more stories about a boy and his dog could be written. Jack Wrather, who owned the hit western The Lone Ranger purchased the Lassie trademark and the show's production company in 1957. Though Maxwell left, Weatherwax agreed to stay for however long the show lasted. George Cleveland, who played Gramps, suddenly died a few weeks after the deal was finalized. With this loss, and Tommy Rettig, now a teenager, growing to old to be the "boy" in the boy and his dog equation, the series was reworked and in December 1957, Lassie was given a new family, the Martins.

In continuation of the "Jeff's Collie" Lassie series. Shortly after the death of Gramps, a seven-year-old boy named Timmy runs away from an orphanage. Found by Lassie, he is brought to the Miller farm and given a temporary home. Ellen, who is alone and unable to run the farm, sells it to Paul and Ruth Martin, a childless couple who later adopt Timmy. Jeff, who is unable to take Lassie to the city with him, gives her to Timmy. Stories relate the adventures shared by a boy and his dog. "Timmy and Lassie" is the syndicated title for the 1957-1964 episodes of "Lassie."

Broadway and television actress Cloris Leachman was selected to play Ruth Martin with Hollywood newcomer Jon Shepodd portraying her husband Paul Martin. Leachman, however, did not want to be a supporting player to a dog, and did not like playing the character of Ruth, who was often shown as being a tired and disheveled farm woman. To try to recreate some of the warmth of the Miller years, George Chandler was hired for the role of Petrie Martin, to fill the grandfatherly role of Gramps. Chandler and Leachman did not like one another and began feuding on-set. At the end of the season, with ratings plummeting, Wrather fired Leachman and Shepodd. June Lockhart, who played opposite Lassie in Son of Lassie was hired to take over the role of Ruth, while Hugh Reilly took over as Paul. They debuted in the first episode of the fifth season. This combination of Lassie and the Martins would be the most successful of the Lassie ensembles, running for six years, earning high ratings, and winning the show various awards.





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