According to Showbiz CheatSheet, the original Lassie, a rough border collie named Pal, had a number of behavioral issues and was a failure as a show dog. Described as bored and somewhat maladjusted, his owner wasn’t pleased and Pal found himself in the care of trainer Rudd Weatherwax, who was able to solve the problems by working with the animal. After Pal was returned to his owner, however, his incessant barking irritated them so much that Pal once again found himself in Weatherwax’s care.
Lassie, Come Home
Somewhere during all of this Weatherwax heard about the upcoming movie Lassie, Come Home and the fact they were looking for a lively rough collie to cast as the lead. He reportedly brought Pal in to try out for the part. As the story goes, pre-production and Pal’s auditions went so swimmingly that the picture was switched from a low-budget black-and-white format to a full-color film with a significantly larger budget. The film was released in 1943 and made Pal one of the most famous dogs in cinematic history. To this day, rough collies are often referred to as Lassie dogs.
Canine Movie Stars
But there’s actually more to the story. It seems that before Pal got his paw completely in the door he had a competitor to unseat. It’s been reported that Pal was originally brought in as a stunt double for a female collie slated to be the star. Apparently, she was unable to perform in many of the more physical scenes written for her. As it turned out, the outgoing Pal ended up stealing the starring role right out from under her. In fact, his attitude so impressed the higher-ups at MGM Studios that they pushed for Pal to maintain the character for six Lassie movies.
Waiting in the Wings
Years later, as more Lassie films and TV shows were given the go-ahead, Pal, who lived to be nearly 20, was brought to the sets to meet and work with his replacements, who happened to be his offspring and their pups. It seems collies are known for having a range of behaviors, so the Lassie producers decided to stick with Pal’s descendants rather than casting unknowns. To begin with, Pal’s son, Lassie Jr., was the first to replace him. Next in line were his grandsons, Spook and Baby, who held the role in both film and television. Later on, Mire and Hey Hey would be cast in the syndicated run of the Lassie TV series.
Hollywood Dogs’ Big Breaks
The parallels to Pal/Lassie’s story are strikingly similar to Moose/Eddie’s from Frasier — or the other way around. The dog who won the role of Frasier’s canine nemesis was also a troublesome scamp with a checkered past that ended up with a Hollywood trainer and then found long-running fame on a set. What are the odds?