What Happened To Lassie?

It's tempting to just say, "Well, like all of us, Lassie got older, and so she retired to a farm where she could be with other collies and chase rabbits and nap in the sun. The end." Except not. Just as comic book heroes get modified and reinvented for a new generation, Lassie as a character — as an industry, really — just never quite seems to go away, enjoying a longevity and a popularity rarely attained by creatures with actual verbal abilities. The character has certainly outlasted and outsold any other animal star, including Rin Tin Tin; as far back as 1964 The Saturday Evening Post reported that the dog had already brought in more than $100 million through various enterprises. We aren't saying the costars are jealous, but ....

Lassie, as a character, started out in a short story written by Eric Knight and published in 1938 in The Saturday Evening Post. He later expanded the plot into an entire novel, Lassie Come-Home, published in 1940.

Lassie's first film role was in 1943

In the book, Lassie, a rough collie (we aren't being judgmental — that's a breed, says the American Kennel Club), is the beloved companion of a young boy, Joe. Joe's family falls on hard times and the dog must be sold. The dog runs back to Joe repeatedly until it's taken to far-off Scotland. (Spoiler: The dog makes it back to Joe.) The book was quite successful, but what really launched the franchise was the movie in 1943, which lost the hyphen — Lassie Come Home — and helped make stars out of Roddie McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor.

Then, and ever after (at least, in live-action incarnations; more on that in a moment), Lassie was played by a male. It wasn't "boys are smarter than girls," but rather that male dogs, first, tended to be significantly larger than female dogs, and also that they were prettier. Filming, especially on TV shows, tended to happen during the good weather of the warmer months, and while both male and female collies shed prodigiously, the coats of the males tended to look fuller and photograph better.

Timmy and Lassie were besties on TV

The original cinematic Lassie was named Pal, owned by Rudd Weatherwax, says the Lassie Web site. Weatherwax was a dog trainer who supplied animals for films and TV shows. After a series of films and a brief foray into radio, Lassie segued into a TV series that lasted 19 years on CBS, then an additional two years in syndication. Those years saw the dog aligned with a couple of different families, perhaps most famously with a boy named Timmy, played by Jon Provost, who insists to this day that his character never fell down a well (according to Closer Weekly), though of course Lassie helped him out of a number of other scrapes over the years.

There have been revivals of the character since — a couple of syndicated series, a couple more movies, and an animated Lassie's Rescue Rangers on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. Somebody in the pitch meeting held onto that thought, because in 2014 Lassie was animated (or reanimated, depending) once again for The New Adventures of Lassie, from Dreamworks, which is now part of the CBS All Access lineup.

All of that canine family tree tended to live long lives, according to Little Things, though the dog itself had to be replaced regularly, as they got older. Except, we're guessing, for the cartoons. It's not like Mickey Mouse ages.