In the mid-1950s, when TV was still young and new, Lassie captured the minds and imagination of audiences, thus turning the titular canine into a household name.
When Lassie hit television screens, fans of the lighthearted series were nothing short of elated. The border collie who served as the star of the show was easy to love. Lassie might not have actually ever saved Timmy from falling down into a well, but the enduring popularity of that oft-referenced cliche just goes to show how iconic of series Lassie really was.
The story of the brave, loyal, and ever-so-lovable dog drew upon several different sources, including a 19th Century novel by a British writer Elizabeth Gaskell as well as a true story of World War II heroism. Before Lassie debuted on television, the character had made appearances in a short story written by Eric Knight that was later adapted into a full-length novel titled Lassie Come-Home.
After Knight’s novel was published in 1940, MGM secured the rights for a Lassie Come-Home film which debuted in theaters in 1943. Lassie would go on to appear in another 6 feature films over the next decade.
Owing to the success of the film series, Lassie got his own TV show in 1954. The series went on to air for 19 seasons in several distinct incarnations. Lassie wasn’t just a hit television and film series either. Lassie radio shows, toys, merchandise, junior novels, and even an animated series were eventually made as well.
It’s been almost 5 decades since new episodes of Lassie stopped airing. Obviously, that means the majority of the show’s cast have since passed away. Join Facts Verse as we reveal how each Lassie cast member died.
This American actor and Newark, New Jersey native got his start performing on Broadway before finding success in film and television. He is perhaps best remembered for playing the father-figure, Paul Martin, on the CBS Lassie television series from 1958 to 1964.
Before landing the part of Paul Martin, Reilly had guest-starred as the character George Cameron in an episode of the CBS adventure series Harbourmaster. The network was so impressed by his performance that they invited him to join the cast of Lassie the following year, making his debut in the fifth season opener ‘The Storm’.
He made his final appearance on the show in the first episode of the tenth season in 1964. In total, he appeared in 140 episodes.
Reilly continued to work sporadically in television throughout the ’70s appearing in shows like The Edge of Night, The FBI, and Father Murphy. He would also often join Jon Provost, the actor who played Timmy, at fan conventions to sign autographs.
In case you were wondering, Provost, at the age of 72, is still alive and well, although he’s been retired from acting since 2013.
Reilly died of emphysema in Burbank, California, on the 17th of July, 1998.
This actor, born on October 23, 1917, was best known for playing the forest ranger Corey Stuart on Lassie. He also made notable appearances in the western series Stagecoach West, and the 1957 film adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s novel My Gun Is Quick.
Bray got his start in the film industry in 1946 when he signed a contract with RKO. After starring in several B Western flicks, he appeared in a variety of roles on television shows like Stories of the Century, The Life Of Legend Wyatt Earp, Riverboat, Laramie, and Stagecoach West,
He joined the cast of Lassie in the show’s 11th season but was written out of the series two years later. After that, he retired from acting and spent the remainder of his days with his wife Joan at his home in Bishop, California.
Bray died of a heart attack on March 7, 1983.
Born on August 26, 1917, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Clayton got her start in show business singing at the age of four. In the early 40s, she was one of MGM’s most promising starlets. Appearing in a number of films, but none of them proved to be very noteworthy.
She then spent the next several years performing on Broadway in productions of Carousel and Show Boat. She can be heard singing on the original cast recordings of both of these musicals.
In 1954, she appeared in an episode of ABC’s Where’s Raymond? She followed that role up by guest-starring in shows like The General Foods 25th Anniversary Show and Dear Phoebe.
Struggling to find work, Clayton took the role of Jeff Miller’s mother, Ellen, on Lassie in 1954. She would stick with the program for three seasons before departing in 1957. After leaving the series, Clayton starred in a TV pilot called The Jan Clayton Show. After that, she starred in two more pilots, The Brown House and Cheers for Miss Bishop. None of these three pilots ended up going anywhere though.
Clayton would continue to make sporadic appearances in television shows until 1967. She died of cancer on August 28, 1983, in West Hollywood, California, just two days after celebrating her 66th birthday.
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And don’t go anywhere just yet. Keep watching to learn all about the various canine actors who played Lassie over the years.
Thomas Noel Rettig was born on December 10, 1941.
When he was six, he started his acting career touring with a play called Annie Get Your Gun. In 1954, he was selected from a casting pool of 500 boys to star in Lassie.
From 1954 to 1957, he played Jeff Miller, a young farm boy who lived with his widowed mother and grandfather.
In addition to his iconic role on Lassie, Miller appeared in 17 films, including The 5,000 Finger of Dr. T, River of No Return, and So Big.
After four seasons of starring on Lassie, Rettig grew eager to live an everyday life as a teenager and subsequently left the show.
Rettig would later co-star with Tony Dow in the 1960s teen soap opera television series Never Too Young. As an adult, Rettig found it hard to transition from being a child star to adult life. He fell into legal trouble related to drug use and eventually left acting for good.
After saying goodbye to Hollywood, Rettig became a motivational speaker. For the last 15 years of Rettig’s life, he was a well-known computer programmer, author, and expert in the field of personal computing.
In 1991, Rettig reprised his role as Jeff Miller in an episode of the Lassie reboot, The New Lassie.
On February 15, 1996, he died after having a heart attack at the age of 54.
This prolific actor appeared in more than 180 films and television shows throughout his decades-spanning career. Cleveland was born on the 17th of September, 1885, in Nova Scotia.
He made his first appearance on stage in a production of The Octaroon when he was a teenager. He then was active on the Vaudeville circuit for several years before relocating to Hollywood in 1936. Once in Tinsel Town, he worked in films as an actor, director, and producer.
Despite his impressive resume, Cleveland was best known for his role as George ‘Gramps’ Miller in the early seasons of Lassie. He appeared on the series from 1954 to 1956. In July of 1957, he died of a heart attack in Burbank, California at the age of 71.
His death was written into the plot of the 13th episode of the fourth season. It was explained that his death prompted the selling of the farm and the Millers’ departure to Capitol City.
Joey D. Vieira
Joseph Douglas Vieira was born on April 8, 1944. He got his start in show biz as a child actor going by the stage name Donald Keeleer playing the chubby little beanie-wearing farm boy ‘Porky’ in the first several seasons of Lassie.
Vieira made several other early television appearances on shows like The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, My Three Sons, and Shirley Temple’s Storybook. He also appeared in films like 1965s The Private War of Major Benson and 2000s The Patriot.
In the 70s and 80s, Vieira also had a moderately successful music career.
At the age of 77, Vieira is one of the only surviving cast members of Lassie.
Pal The Border Collie
Six canine performers played Lassie throughout the show’s run. Pal, the first Lassie, appeared in the show’s pilot episodes as well as all 7 MGM Lassie Come-Home films. The remaining 5 dogs who took on the role were all Pal’s descendants.
Pal died of natural causes at age 18 in June of 1958.
Pal’s son, Lassie Junior, and his grandsons, Spook and Baby appeared throughout the first several seasons of the show. Mire appeared in a few of the later ‘Ranger’ seasons, and Hey Hey appeared in the final two syndicated seasons. Naturally, all of Pal’s descendants have since passed away as well.
Well, that about wraps up this video. Hopefully, we’ve done a decent job paying our respects to these fallen stars.
What are some of your favorite memories of the Lassie television show? And did you know that all of the dog actors who played the titular canine were direct descendants of the original Lassie, Pal? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section down below.
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