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Meet Pal, a Rough Collie, who played the original Lassie. The canine starred in seven films and two television pilots as the famous character. However, he almost didn’t get the part because of his sex.
Since Lassie was female, the studio sought a girl, and over one thousand dogs auditioned. Eventually, a female was cast, and Pal was given a job as a stunt dog.
But their star had a problem – a very hairy problem. Every year females shed profusely, and as a result, her coat looked mangy and thin. Pal’s, however, did not.
Since Pal was already impressing the team, they decided to recast the role, and he became Lassie.
Interestingly, Pal wasn’t raised to be a performer. In fact, he had two bad habits: excessive barking and chasing cars.
His owner brought him to the kennel of Rudd Weatherwax, who trained dog professionally, including The Thin Man’s Asta (read about him here).
Weatherwax was able to re-train Pal, except for the car-chasing, which meant that Pal’s original owner no longer wanted him.
Thankfully, Weatherwax took a liking to Pal and gave him to a friend, and when casting came around for Lassie, the trainer decided to audition Pal.
For his talents in Lassie Come Home, Pal earned more than twice as much as eight year old Elizabeth Taylor – $250 per week compared to her $100.
Although, to be fair, it was only her second movie. Taylor would find her big break soon after with National Velvet (read about that here).
Pal became a star after Lassie Come Home to the point that he was insured for $1 million dollars and was even allowed to fly on planes with Weatherwax.
After his retirement, Pal lived with Weatherwax until his death at the age of 18.
The special bond between man and dog was especially evident for Weatherwax’s son, who said of his dad, “It hit him very hard when Pal died. He buried him in a special place on the ranch and would often visit the grave. Dad would never again watch an MGM Lassie movie. He just couldn't bear to see Pal. He didn't want to have to be reminded of just how much he loved that dog.”