In 1943, MGM released Lassie Come Home, the tale of a faithful dog and his young master. As it turns out, Lassie was the most faithful to MGM: the canine-friendly film grossed a handsome profit, spawned several successful sequels, and featured one of the industry's greatest stars in one of her earliest films. Based on a novel by Eric Mowbray Knight (first featured as a short story in a 1938 edition of Saturday Evening Post), Lassie Come Home starred a very young Roddy McDowall as the Scottish lad who is forced to sell his beloved dog. McDowall had just finished work on My Friend Flicka and both films (which were released in the same year) helped to firmly establish McDowall as a popular child actor. In an early supporting role, Elizabeth Taylor was cast as McDowall's friend. Taylor's big break would come the next year with the release of National Velvet (1944), a film that also featured Donald Crisp in a supporting role. Taylor and McDowall became close friends during the shooting of Lassie Come Home, a friendship that would last until McDowall's death in 1998. Based on the success of Lassie Come Home, several Lassie films were released in the subsequent years, including Courage of Lassie (1946) that once again featured Elizabeth Taylor. Lassie's owner and trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, employed a wide variety of techniques to cajole Lassie into performing for the camera. Favorite toys and treats dangled in a tantalizing fashion just off-camera helped to focus the animal's attention to the right directions, and rubber balls were attached to doorknobs to give the impression that the dog was opening doors. A piece of cork attached to a paw provided a limp when the action called for Lassie to be injured, and ice cream smeared on McDowall's face allowed for the sloppy dog kisses. In order to secure a canine expression of frustration, Lassie was given a command to stay but forced to watch the director, beyond the sight of the cameras, being pushed around by the crew.
Dogs have been a part of Hollywood history since the silent era. Here is some trivia on four of the most popular canine stars.
> Rin Tin Tin was a pup from a litter of German Shepherds found by American serviceman Lee Duncan in Lorraine, France shortly before the end of World War I. His first starring role was playing a wolf in The Man from Hell's River (1922). Rin Tin Tin has been credited as single-handedly saving Warner Brothers studio from bankruptcy. Rinty, as his owner called him, starred in 27 films during his ten year career. Rin Tin Tin fathered 48 puppies and while some stayed in entertainment, others went to live with famous stars like Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow.
> In the opening credits, Lassie is listed in two separate cast lists, seventh in the first list, and fourteenth in the second. Lassie, whose real name was Pal, made his screen debut in the picture and was selected for the role after M-G-M launched a nationwide talent hunt. (One Hollywood Reporter news item claimed that the studio was searching "back alleys" for a dog that used to sit in front of Dave Chasen's or the Brown Derby and beg for pennies.) According to modern sources, after the mass casting call failed to produce a viable dog star, M-G-M called in noted dog trainer Rudd Weatherwax. Although Weatherwax showed off many mature, purebred collies, one-year-old Pal, who lacked pedigree papers, easily won the role.
> Asta, real name Skippy, was a wire-haired fox terrier best known for belonging to fictional couple Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. Skippy actually only made the first two Thin Man films, but also made big impressions in The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938). The Thin Man films were Skippy's big break and his owner officially changed his name to Asta. In roughly 12 years Asta starred in 11 films.
> Toto from The Wizard of Oz (1939) was a female Cairn terrier named Terry. She was born in 1933 and lived to film 14 films during her eight year career. There were several issues on set with Terry during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. First, Terry was afraid of the big fans used to create wind on-set. Terry was also briefly replaced with another Cairn terrier when during a scene a Winkie stepped on and broke one of her feet.
> In the Lassie films and TV series, Lassie was taught by her owners to do many tricks and even rescue people from all the jams they got into. In real life dogs provide many more important functions and services.
> When working with firefighters dogs can be trained to sniff out the origin of a fire when investigating arson as well as searching for and rescuing/recovering people who may still be in the area. When working with the police dogs protect officers, search and rescue for objects, suspects and victims, and sniff out bombs and drugs.
> Services dogs help an individual with physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other types of mental disability. Seeing Eye Dogs are the most common type of service dog and they help their blind owner navigate in and out of the home, while Hearing Dogs do the same for their deaf owners. Mobility Assistance dogs help people with limited mobility by picking things up, pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, and more. Some dogs are born with a natural ability to know when a person's blood sugar is low, or if a person is about to have a seizure. Those special skills cannot be taught to a dog, they must be born with it. Service dogs can also help people with Autism by helping them process sensory signals and focus on the most important event happening at any given moment.
> Therapy dogs have to pass basic obedience training and receive regular veterinary care and grooming. When therapy dogs visit, they bring joy and calm to people in many different types of facilities such as schools, retirement homes and hospitals.
A faithful collie undertakes an arduous journey to return to her lost family.
A young girl tries to rehabilitate the famous collie after his return from combat service in World War II.
A frontier boy develops close ties with a yellow dog.
At the quiet English country-side home of the Brown family daughter, Velvet, has a passion for horses and when she wins the spirited steed Pie in a town lottery, Mi is encouraged to train the horse for the Grand National - England's greatest racing event.
An orphan and her dog attract the attention of a Wall Street tycoon and a con artist.