Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pal (Lassie)

Pal was born on June 4, 1940 in Cherry Osborne's Glamis Kennels in North Hollywood, California. He was a male Rough Collie and the first in a line of such dogs to portray the fictional female collie Lassie in film and television.

The son of Red Brucie of Glamis and Bright Bauble of Glamis, Pal's ancestry is traced to the nineteenth century and England's first great collie, "Old Cockie".

Howard Peck, an animal trainer, brought the eight-month-old collie to Hollywood animal trainer Rudd Weathermax in order to break the animal of uncontrolled barking and a habit of chasing motorcycles.

After working with the dog, Weatherwax gained control of the barking but was unable to break Pal of his motorcycle-chasing habit. Peck was disappointed with the results and gave the dog to Weatherwax in exchange for the money Peck owed him.

Rudd Weatherwax, in turn, gave the dog to a friend. But when Weathermax heard of the film being made called Lassie Comes Home, he sensed Pal was the dog for the movie and bought Pal back.

Rudd's brother Frank Weatherwax, who trained dogs such as Terry (Toto) assisted in training Pal for the movie.

Pal was among 1,500 dogs who auditioned for the title role, but was rejected because he was male, his eyes were too big, his head too flat, and a white blaze ran down his forehead. A female prize-winning show collie was hired to play the title character. Weatherwax was hired to train the star, and Pal was hired as a stunt dog.

During the course of filming, a decision was made to take advantage of a massive flooding of the San Joaquin River in California in order to obtain some live action footage for the film.

The female collie was still in training and refused to do many of the scenes. Weatherwax was on the site with Pal and offered to have his dog perform in a shot in which Pal would swim the river, haul himself out, lie down without shaking the water off his coat, attempt to crawl while lying on his side and finally lie motionless, completely exhausted. Pal performed the scene beautifully and in only one take.

In response, producers fired the female collie and hired Pal in her place and reshot the first six weeks of filming with Pal, now portraying Lassie.

Originally, Lassie Come Home was to be a low budget, black and white children's film. But Pal was so wonderful, doing many scences in one take and his own stunts, that the movies was upgraded to an A film with full advertising support, top publicity and filming in Technicolor.

Pal's success in Lassie Come Home (1943) led to six more films: Son of Lassie (1945), Courage of Lassie (1946), Hills of Home (1948), The Sun Comes Up (1949), Challenge to Lassie (1950), and The Painted Hills (1951).

After the movie The Painted Hills, MGM felt that Lassie had run its course and planned no more Lassie movies. Rudd Weathermax bought the rights to the Lassie name and trademark.

Television producer Robert Maxwell convinced Weatherwax that Pal's future lay in television. Together, the men created a boy-and-his-dog scenario about a struggling family on a weatherbeaten farm in Middle America.

The title role of the boy in the Lassie television series was narrowed to three young actors. It was decided that Pal would make the final decision.

After spending a week with the boys at Weatherwax's North Hollywood home, Pal seemed to like eleven-year-old Tommy Rettiq more than the other two boys. Rettig won the role based on Pal's response, and filming for the two pilots began in the summer of 1954, with Pal portraying Lassie in both.

Pal retired after filming the two pilots (The Inheritence and The Well), and his son, Lassie Junior (who was three years old and had been in training for a couple of years), stepped into the television role. After viewing the pilots, CBS executives immediately signed the 30-minute show to its fall 1954 schedule.

Pal, a devoted father, would accompy his son to filming. Series star Tommy Rettig later recalled, "When Rudd would ask Lassie, Jr. to do something, if you were behind the set, you could see The Old Man get up from his bed and go through the routine back there."

By 1957, Pal was growing blind, deaf, and stiff, and rarely visited the Lassie set.

Pal died in 1958, and, for months, Weatherwax slipped in and out of deep depression. Robert Weatherwax, Rudd's son, later recalled, "It hit him very hard when Pal died."

All dogs in the subsequent 'Lassie' films, and television series, have been descendants of Pal until 2003.

Pal won the Patsy Award of Excellence in 1951 for Challenge to Lassie.

Lassie has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures.

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