By Julia Williams
There’s hardly a man, woman or child alive today who doesn’t know who Lassie is, but do you know how she became one of the world’s most famous and beloved dogs? If you’re like me, you may vividly remember watching Lassie on TV or the big screen but not know a thing about the history of one of our most popular animal stars. I did a little digging on the origins of Lassie, and found it interesting. I hope you do too!
Lassie was the main character in a short story called Lassie Come Home, written by Eric Knight. It was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. The touching tale was reportedly inspired by real life Depression-era events in Yorkshire, England. It told of a collie’s arduous journey to reunite with her family after they were forced to sell her for money. The story was so popular that in 1940 it was expanded and published as a book. The novel immediately became a best seller; the publisher released 5 printings in the first 6 months alone.
Because the book was so well received, MGM Studios released the first Lassie movie in 1943, also titled Lassie Come Home. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography and featured Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor and the canine actor Pal in the role of Lassie. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) reports that Pal earned $250 per week while the young Ms. Taylor – just 11 at the time – was paid $100 per week! After this first Lassie film debuted, scores of people wrote to the studio begging for another Lassie film, and in 1945 they got their wish. Son of Lassie was released, starring Peter Lawford and June Lockhart. To no one’s surprise, this film was also a huge success.
Five more Lassie films were released from 1946 to 1951. One of the more memorable Lassie movies was 1979’s The Magic of Lassie with Jimmy Stewart and a cast of interesting characters including Mickey Rooney. To date, there have been 11 Lassie films. The last one was a remake of the original Lassie movie; released in 2006, it was simply called Lassie and starred Peter O’Toole.