recess radio program

9/20/04
Lassie
    by Eve Cech

 

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I'd know that Lassie bark anywhere. I must confess from the outset that I am an unabashed, unapologetic, totally loyal Lassie fan. In fact, just put me in the vicinity of any collie and all of my adult reserves melt away, and I am 10 years old again, being walked every day to the one-room school that I attended in rural Wisconsin by a real-life working collie, named Laddie, who took time off from his chores herding the cows on a family dairy farm, to see us children safely to school. And at the end of each school day, I would watch as Laddie came running over the fields to meet us and walk us home again.

Fifty years ago this month, in 1954, the Lassie show premiered on television. Over the next two decades, Lassie would become one of the most familiar and successful of all family television programs, and today it's still being shown in reruns. In the late 1940s, before the advent of television, Lassie was on the radio, and before that, beginning in 1943, Lassie was the star of a number of feature films, including the famous, Lassie Come Home, which catapulted her into the hearts of us all and effectively saved the collie breed from obscurity. The movie starred two child actors who would go on to harvest their own shares of fame -- Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowell. The "Lassie" in this movie was named "Pal," and was played by a male collie, as all of Lassie's successors have been. But the Lassie stories really began in 1938, when the British writer, Eric Knight, published a short story in The Saturday Evening Post, which would later grow into the novel, Lassie Come Home, in 1940. With the world at war, it's not surprising that people would cling to the hope that Lassie represents. And we certainly have not outgrown in her promise in the half century that has followed: that we never really do loose that beloved, courageous, self-sacrificing, utterly true part of our childhoods in which Lassie will always come home.

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Copyright 2004 Eve Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."