American child star of stage, screen, radio, and TV who reached a career peak as Jeff Miller, the first young master of CBS-TV's "Lassie" from 1954-57. Rettig started performing at age six, touring with Mary Martin in "Annie Get Your Gun." He started in films at ten with a small role in Elia Kazan's medical crime drama, "Panic in the Streets" (1950), and went on to amass 20 feature credits over the course of the 1950s in films directed by such luminaries as Douglas Sirk ("Weekend With Father" 1951), Michael Curtiz ("The Egyptian" 1954), Otto Preminger ("River of No Return" 1954), and Vincente Minnelli ("The Cobweb" 1955). The film for which he will probably always be remembered is one of the quirkiest children's films ever made--"The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T." (1953).
Scripted by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, the semi-musical cult film presented Rettig as the day-dreaming son of a single mother who so deeply resents his daily piano lesson that he escapes into a surreal world that allows him to act out his frustrations. Retting brought an admirably straight-faced sincerity to the decidedly odd goings-on. He gained fame playing another boy without a father in "Lassie," in stories that were fairly conventional but heartwarming tales of canine heroism. Jon Provost's Timmy was the first of many people who inherited the wonder dog after Retting aged out of the part.
Retting failed to make the transition to adult roles and retired with his wife to a California farm. His name resurfaced several times over the 70s in relation to drug arrests, convictions, appeals, and dropped charges. Rettig went on to work as a computer programmer and drug addiction counselor and periodically popped up in specials about grown-up child stars and profiles of Lassie until his death in 1996.
Cast (Feature Film)
Acting debut at age six, touring with Mary Martin in the popular musical "Annie Get Your Gun" (date apoproximate)
Feature acting debut at nine, Elia Kazan's "Panic in the Streets"
Starring role in a feature, "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T", a children's fantasy scripted by Dr. Seuss
Starred as Jeff Miller, the first young master on the classic children's series "Lassie"
Last feature credit, "The Last Wagon"
Arrested for growing marijuana
Arrested on charges of smuggling cocaine and sentenced to five years in federal prison; charges dropped after an appeal
Charges dropped for another drug-related indictment after an appeal
Returned to TV as an interview subject on "When We Were Young . . . Growing Up on the Silver Screen", a PBS documentary special
Featured in the PBS special "The Story of Lassie"
Featured in the ABC special "Lassie Unleashed: 280 Dog Years in TV"