Courageous, silken haired, brown-eyed American actor of Scottish heritage with distinctive blaze on face, Lassie remains one of the best known and most beloved figures in cinema. Lassie made her screen debut in 1943 in Lassie Come Home, an adaptation of Eric Knight's novel. There her onscreen heroism, unusual intelligence and selfless devotion to her masters made her an instant star -- an unusual feat for a dog. It is probably one of Hollywood's worst-kept secrets, that Lassie, in her many incarnations, has always been played by a male dog. The first "Lassie" was played by a smart and attractive collie named Pal; he was chosen from 300 candidates. The producers chose a male to play her because traditionally male dogs are more attractive; they are also slightly less intelligent, but the trainer compensated for that on the set. Since then, all subsequent Lassies have been descendants of Pal. And though he and his sons and daughters have whelped many a purebred pup, only very few have been able to play the part as one of the requirements is the white blaze on the face.
Following the success of Lassie's screen debut, Pal and four of his descendents played in six more sequels until 1951. In 1947, there was a Lassie radio show on ABC in which the original Pal provided the barking on the air; all of his other doggy vocalizations were performed by a human. In 1954 the first televised version of Lassie appeared. It ran, in different incarnations (including an animated series) until 1975. The courageous canine also appeared briefly in a syndicated TV series in the 1980s. In 1963, four episodes from the current Lassie television series were combined to make the feature film, Lassie's Greatest Adventure. In 1978, yet another Lassie feature appeared, the big-budget The Magic of Lassie, starring James Stewart. While promoting the film in New York, the dog star had a private suite at the posh Plaza Hotel. In 1994, Lassie appeared in another feature film simply titled Lassie. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi