Lassie, "the world's most famous dog," is a fictional character who has been the subject of many movies, TV shows, and books over the years.
The character of Lassie is a Rough Collie created by British-American author Eric Knight in Lassie Come-Home, which was published as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post in 1938 and as a novel in 1940. In 1943, the book was made into what would become the first Lassie movie, also titled Lassie Come Home. The television series Lassie aired from 1954 to 1974. The character has proven to be so popular that it is one of only three dogs awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the others being Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. Kermit the Frog appeared in the Lassie Unleashed television special; nine years later, Lassie beat out Kermit for the top spot in Animal Planet's 50 Greatest TV Animals.
The first dog to play the role of Lassie was Pal, who was owned by animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax and his brother Frank Weatherwax. Before Pal's death, he was bred with a number of bitches, resulting in hundreds of offspring, several of which have performed under the name Lassie. Most have been male, because their coats are usually fuller and more impressive than the females'. Because the males tend to be larger, they are considered more physically suitable to perform many of Lassie's stunts. The character of Lassie, however, is female and often referred to as "girl." As is usually the case with canine film stars, several uncredited doubles have been employed in the films and TV shows. Currently, the "official" Lassie is used mainly for "celebrity appearances" at dog shows.
Lassie was frequently mentioned by Rowlf the Dog in many of his appearances on the series, usually in dog-related contexts or as the object of his affection. In one episode, a fantasy sequence shows what Rowlf's life would be like if the two were married.
In the show's first season, Lassie appeared as a guest on the show in two episodes (on December 26, 1963 and again on February 20, 1964). When the show went to Hollywood to tape a pair of episodes, Lassie appeared as a guest in the December 17, 1965 broadcast, where Rowlf attempts a marriage proposal.
In 1964, Rowlf commented to a reporter "Oh, she's beautiful! Just think of a shaggy schnook like me appearing with that Hollywood beauty!" Years later, in a 2011 interview with Yamaha All Access, Rowlf recalled that Jimmy Dean "even introduced me to Lassie. Nice girl. We dated for a while, but it didn't work out. We still exchange Christmas cards, though."
Dean would recall in his 2004 biography that their interactions were "one of the sweetest things you ever saw."
Lassie made a surprise appearance on the show in Episode 3391 (1995). Lassie illustrated the word "DOG" in a march with Big Bird and the Birdketeers and later demonstrated the letter "K" by kissing Oscar the Grouch.
- In The Muppets on Puppets, when Rowlf learns that he's a puppet, he wonders outloud how he's going to explain it to Lassie.
- In The Muppet Show episode 116, Rowlf serenades a portrait of Lassie with the song "May You Always."
- Kermit describes Miss Piggy and Foo-Foo's act in The Muppet Show episode 520 as their answer to Lassie.
- Uncle Traveling Matt and Sprocket see the 1943 film Lassie Come Home in the 1985 storybook Sprocket, Dog Detective.
- In the 2001 storybook The Count's Castle, the lost little black puppy reads Lassie.
- In The Jim Henson Hour episode "Miss Piggy's Hollywood", Miss Piggy and Gonzo are visiting the home of a celebrity, but Gonzo is unsure of whose home they are outside of, and he thinks at one point they are at Lassie's residence.
- A photograph of Lassie adorns Rowlf's locker in The Muppets Take Manhattan.
- A photograph of Lassie is on display with a Rowlf puppet in the Center for Puppetry Arts exhibit, Jim Henson: Puppeteer.
“Actually, the [number of copies] of a character is something I don't particularly like to talk about in articles, but just for your information, most characters there's only one. Somebody like a Piggy or a Kermit, there needs to be several versions, and so there will be several of them. I'm not even sure how many, because often we'll also have a photocopy –- a character that's made that we use just for posing for photographs. It would be armatured, that sort of thing, but I don't think it's good to talk about that particularly. I remember hearing that there were several Lassies, and I never liked knowing that sort of thing... and besides that Lassie was always male, which was another one of those disillusioning pieces of information you don't want to know.”
—Jim Henson, in a 1982 Interview
Many of Lassie's human co-stars through the years have Muppet/Henson connections.
- Edward Fox played Hulton in the 2005 Lassie film
- Robert Hardy played Judge Murray in the 2005 Lassie film
- Ron Howard played Gary on the two-part Lassie episode "Here Comes Glory" (1970)
- Ted Knight voiced Ben Turner, the narrator and others on the animated series Lassie's Rescue Rangers (1973-1975)
- Cloris Leachman played Ruth Martin from 1957-1958 on TV's Lassie
- Nicholas Lyndhurst played Buckle in the 2005 Lassie film
- Peter O'Toole played the Duke in the 2005 Lassie film
- Steve Pemberton played Hynes in the 2005 Lassie film
- Mickey Rooney played Gus in The Magic of Lassie (1978)
- Helen Slater played Laura Turner in the 1994 Lassie film
- John Standing played French in the 2005 Lassie film
- Alan Stanford played the defence barrister in the 2005 Lassie film
- Elizabeth Taylor played Priscilla in Lassie Come Home (1943) and Kathie Merrick in Courage of Lassie (1946)