Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lassie Doppelganger

Lassie Doppelganger

Lassie Doppelganger (2000)

From the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

Lassie was a popular long-running U.S. television series about a collie dog and her various owners. Over her more than fifty years history, Lassie stories have moved across books, film, television, comic books, and other forms of popular culture. The American Dog Museum credits her with increasing the popularity of Collies.

British writer Eric Knight created Lassie for a Saturday Evening Post short story in 1938, a story released in book form as Lassie Come Home in 1940. Knight set the story in his native Yorkshire and focuses it around the concerns of a family struggling to survive as a unit during the depression. Lassie's original owner Joe Carraclough is forced to sell his dog so that his family can cope with its desperate economic situation, and the story became a lesson about the importance of interdependence during hard times.


In 1954, Lassie made her television debut in a series which removed her from Britain and placed her on the American family farm, where once again, she was asked to help hold a struggling family together. For the next decade, the Lassie series became primarily the story of a boy and his dog, helping to shape our understanding of American boyhood during that period. The series' rural setting offered a nostalgic conception of national culture at a time when most Americans had left the farm for the city or suburbia. Lassie's ownership shifted from the original Jeff Miller to the orphaned Timmy Martin, but the central themes of the intense relationship between boys and their pets continued. Lassie became a staple of Sunday night television, associated with "wholesome family values," though, periodically, she was also the subject of controversy with parents groups monitoring television content. Lassie's characteristic dependence on cliff-hanger plots in which children were placed in jeopardy was seen as too intense for many smaller children; at the same time, Timmy's actions were said to encourage children to disobey their parents and to wander off on their own.

And from MSNBC News:

But for those who don’t know, a disclosure seems appropriate: Lassie and her eight descendants have been, well, female impersonators. That’s right — Lassie has always been a he, not a she, and his name wasn’t Lassie.


So, how did they keep Lassie’s maleness from showing on camera?

An editor was assigned to study the action carefully, and if evidence of the dog’s true gender was exposed, he would yell “Cut!” and the scene would be reset.


“Of the 150-250 commands that Lassie knew, the one he hated was ’nurse,”’ said [Ace] Collins, referring to those occasional scenes when Lassie nursed a new litter. “They would put honey on the dog’s coat. The last thing Lassie wanted was puppies chewing on his coat.”

I bet hearing the director shout out Cut made "Lassie" all the more determined to hide his gentalia.

There's something close to rubbernecking, or to what Poe called "the imp of the perverse," that spurs us to want to glimpse the shadow side of champions of allegedly wholesome entertainment. How else do you explain phenomena like Krusty the Clown and Growing Up Brady?

Tomorrow, another icon of children's programming succumbs to the Dark Side of the Force...

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