Hollywood. -- Eric Knight's "Lassie Come Home" provides at
least a partial solution to the present dearth of Hollywood leading men.
it has none. The casting problem therefore was negligible, calling for a
character actor, a boy and a dog. Those selected to fill the bill were
Roddy McDowell [sic] and Lassie, a
3-year-old collie newcomer, and one of the few feminine movie stars born with
her own fur coat.
If Lassie had her curves in the right places and fluttering
lashes to go with her big brown eyes, she would have been an apt subject for
concentrated film press agentry. She has a good story, being a Cinderella
of the canine world. In common with
Clark Gable, whose career in its early phases was hindered and embarrassed
by big ears, Lassie got nowhere during her early years, having been the runt of
her litter, with a head too broad, eyes too large, and hair too dark for
acceptance on the best collie circles.
Lassie is the discovery of Rudd Weatherwax, who worked for
cinema dog trainer Rennie Renfro before setting out on his own. Lassie was
his first purchase. Her bright intelligence sold him, despite the
blemishers that made her a show bench outcast. Also her price tag, which
was ten dollars. Picture trends ran against her from the first, with lap
pooches and cute mongrels mostly in demand, and collies not at all. In
time, Weatherwax gathered together a kennel of forty assorted types.
Needing space for his breadwinners, Lassie was affectionately sent to live a
careless life on the Weatherwax ranch.
When MGM purchased
Knight's tender story about a Scottish [sic] boy and his collie dog, Lassie was
hastily groomed for a crack at the role. She was a sorry sight.
Roaming through the brush had ruined the natural beauty of her ruff. It
was torn, tattered, and packed with burrs and stickers. Paraded before
Director Fred Wilcox with more regal members of her clan, she was passed by with
a disdainful flick of the hand. No one even bothered to ask about her I.Q.
Director Wilcox hurried off to San Francisco to interview the
blue ribbon winner of a show in that city. The dog was handsome but dumb.
So he headed for New York and Boston to look over other candidates staked out by
his talent scouts. There were plenty of photogenic collies to be had, but
none with the near human attributes Knight had lavished on his heroine.
Wilcox returned disgustedly in two months, his search a flop.
New Coat for Lassie
During the director's absence Weatherwax lavished attention on
Lassie. Her ruff was brushed until it sparkled. She was taught every
trick required by the part, and proved a remarkable student. A tomcat
could walk up, bat her on the snout, and Lassie wouldn't move a muscle.
She worked to silent signals. She could escape from a leash, would attack
a man upon command, stagger as though near exhaustion, and pose proudly by the
hour without tiring.
Weathewax anxiously telephoned Wilcox on the day of his
return. He had another collie to show. Wilcox retorted that if it
was the same collie, he knew what he could do with the beast. Weathewax
told Wilcox he was making a mistake if he didn't see the new animal.
Wilcox did, and the rest has a familiar ring.
Technicolor-tested, the points that made Lassie undesirable
for show elevated her to the rank of movie queen. Her oversized head, big
eyes and dark coat photographed with superior results. Lassie emerged from
a finale conference with a fat contract for $250 a week, insurance against bombs
and accidents while traveling, and two Victory Bonds purchased from her first
She was transported in style to the State of Washington to
work along the rugged California coast line at Monterey, and in the San Joaquin
Valley, where backgrounds were found to simulate those of Scotland.
Lassie's life is now one of congenial labor, ease, plenty and comradeship with
young McDowell [sic]. She seems
to relish it. There is only one blemish on her personal life so far
revealed. Her real name is, prosaically, Pal. She is a him.
© 1943 New York Times