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Why Jon Provost QUIT Lassie & Never Looked Back

By the time he was just 7 years old, Jon Provost was already a veteran movie and TV star. He rose to fame at such a young age playing the little orphan boy, Timmy Martin, on the iconic television series Lassie. Before landing that role in 1957, Provost played the son of Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in the 1954 Academy Award-winning film ‘The Country Girl’.

Provost had also appeared in a handful of television shows, including The Jack Benny Program. He had additionally given performances in at least five other feature films including the South African jungle adventure film ‘Back From Eternity’, which starred Anita Ekberg and Rod Steiger, and Escapade in Japan’ – a film that then-newcomer Clint Eastwood made an early, uncredited appearance in.

Although Provost already had a pretty impressive resume before he even made it to his teenage years, his portrayal as the adventurous boy with the nearly invincible dog would be the role that would ultimately come to define his acting career. It was such an iconic role, that Timmy’s blue jeans and checkered shirt can still be seen on display alongside the Fonz’s leather jacket and Archie Bunker’s chair at the Smithsonian museum.

Lassie, the television series, was inspired by a novel titled Lassie Come-Home which was published in 1940. After MGM acquired the film rights to the book, seven films featuring the beloved border collie were produced before a television series debuted 1954. The show ended up airing for 19 seasons before wrapping up in 1973.

Provost joined the cast of Lassie in 1957 and stuck with the program for seven seasons. At the age of 14, he voluntarily left the show, although he would continue to act in films and television shows for a number of years after that. The seasons in which he appeared on the series, Lassie enjoyed it’s highest ratings. In fact, for the 1963/1964 season, the show even peaked at number 14 in the Nielsen ratings.

Fans of Lassie might be curious about what happened to Provost after he left Lassie and why he decided to leave the popular series in the first place. In this video, we’ll be giving you an in-depth look into why Jon Provost Quit Lassie and never looked back.

But first, let’s take a peek at his early days in the entertainment industry and how he might never have even had an acting career in the first place if it weren’t for a scheme that his mother had hatched up to get an autograph from one of her biggest showbiz idols.

Jon Provost’s Early Years

Jon was born in LA on March 12, 1950. His acting career began when his mother read an ad in the LA Times stating that Warner Brothers was on the lookout for a two to three-year-old blond boy to appear in a film that was going to star Jane Wyman.

Provost’s mother happened to be a huge fan of Wyman, so she got it in her head that if she took Jon on this audition, she might just get a chance to meet her idol and snag her autograph. Provost would later say that this was in fact the only reason why he went to his first audition to begin with.

For modern audiences, Wyman is best known for playing the conniving matriarch Anglea Channing in the 1980s primetime soap opera Falcon Crest, but before that she was known for being the only woman to ever divorce a man that would later become the President of the United States. That man would be none other than Ronald Reagan.

In the years following the second world war, Wyman was one of the most sought-after actresses in Tinsel Town. From the mid-40s to 1954, she was nominated for a staggering four Best Actress Academy Awards, winning two of those for her performances in Johnny Belinda and The Yearling.

Provost wasn’t even three years old when he landed the role of playing Wyman’s toddler son in the 1953 film ‘So Big’. There had been 200 other boys and even a few girls whose mothers had cut their hair to make them resemble boys competing for the role. So, obviously Provost was pretty lucky to have been given the part.

That film role led Provost to being cast in another. Before he knew it, he had been signed to a contract with RKO pictures to appear in another five movies. Looking back on things, Provost, who’s now 72 and a grandfather, says that his early success was purely a ‘fluke of nature’. He had no training, but he was good at doing what was asked of him. Perhaps the biggest thing that he had going for him was how cute of a kid he was.

The Lassie Years

After appearing in a handful of feature films, Provost was offered the starring role in the hit television series, Lassie. By the time he joined the show’s cast, the program had already been on the air for three years.

He was given the role of Timmy Martin, a runaway orphan who was taken in by a rancher named Paul Martin, played by Hugh Reilly, and his wife Ruth, played by June Lockhart. But, obviously his biggest co-star was Timmy’s beloved canine companion, Lassie.

The titular star of the series was originally played by a border collie named Pal who was the faithful companion of trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. The first screen adaptation of the Lassie Come-Home novel hit theaters in 1943. With Pal at the center of the cast, MGM would go on to produce another six Lassie films before franchise was adapted into a television series in 1954.

While Pal would only appear in the series pilot episode, his descendants would continue to play Lassie for the remainder of the series’ 19-year run.

Provost became Lassie’s best friend in 1957 and would continue to work alongside the legendary collie for seven seasons. Of the three Pal descendants that portrayed Lassie, Provost’s favorite was one named Baby. The two spent five years together bonding while taking weekend outings to Weathermax’s ranch outside Los Angeles.

Provost, Weathermax, and “Lassie” would also make frequent trips to hospitals to visit sick children. While the concept of a therapy dog had yet to become accepted at the time, and dogs weren’t generally allowed in hospitals, special exceptions were made for little ‘Timmy’ and ‘Lassie’.

These hospital excursions would plant the seed for Provost’s lifelong affiliation with Canine Companions, a non-profit organization that matches service dogs up with disabled people.

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After Lassie

Even though Lassie enjoyed it’s highest overall ratings during the years that Provost was a member of it’s cast, Jon eventually decided to leave the show when he was 14 years old. After leaving the show’s cast, he went on to appear in films such as Property is Condemned in 1966, which starred Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, and 1970s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes alongside Kurt Russell.

After being in the spotlight for much of his childhood, Provost simply wanted a normal life – especially since he would soon be entering college. After graduating from high school, Provost moved to Northern California and never looked back.

He eventually got married and fathered two children, Katie and Ryan, and made a career for himself in real estate.

Some people might assume that Provost was ‘set for life’ after appearing on a hit TV show, but that wasn’t the case. Back in those days, child stars weren’t typically given their fair cut of residuals and his film career wasn’t particularly lucrative either.

In 1990, Provost was honored with the Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award from the Young Artist Foundation. A year prior, he returned to TV with a recurring role on The New Lassie, playing a real estate agent named Steve McCullough.

In 1994, Provost was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2007, he published a memoir titled Timmy’s in the Well: The Jon Provost Story.

In recent years, Provost hasn’t spent much time acting although he does occasionally show up at fan conventions to sign autographs. His most recent acting credit was playing former North Carolina State Senator Don Vaughan in the 2013 film Suzie’s Hope.

Provost is still apparently very proud of his Lassie Legacy. As of 2022, Lassie reruns are still airing in syndication in 50 countries.

The Other Lassie Boy

Tommy Rettig passed away in 1996, at the age of 54. Lassie fans will remember him for his role as Jeff Miller on the show’s first three seasons. Just like Provost, Rettig also left the series behind so that he could live a ‘normal life’.

After leaving the cast of Lassie and passing the torch to Provost, Rettig continued to act in television shows and films until reaching adulthood. Notably, he co-starred with another former child star, Tony Dow, in the 1960s teen soap Never Too Young.

After leaving Hollywood, Rettig struggled to adapt to ‘normal life’ and fell into drug abuse. After being charged with a couple of drug-related charges, Rettig got clean and became a motivational speaker. He went on to become involved in the early days of personal computing.

In the last 15 years of his life, Rettig worked as a database programmer, author, and expert in his field. In 1991, he made a guest-appearance on The New Lassie playing an all grown-up Jeff Miller.

On February 15, 1996, Rettig died after having a heart attack.

As far as former child stars go, Jon Provost seems to be one of the most well-adjusted. While, he might not have grown up to be a big-time movie star, it still sounds like he was able to find his place in this world.

Did you grow up watching Lassie? If so, what are some of your fondest memories of the show? Let us know in the comments.

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