Timmy Found Well
by Scott Broecker
Photo Courtesy of Wiki.Answers.com
It’s been almost fifty years since the last Lassie episode, starring Jon Provost as the young Timmy Martin, aired. Eventually going into syndication, the show took place in the small fictional midwestern farming town of Calverton. Timmy, an orphan boy living with an elderly aunt and uncle, runs away far from home. At nightfall he seeks refuge in an old barn owned by the Miller family. Cowering in the corner, cold and afraid, he is eventually discovered by Lassie, a beautiful Rough Coated Collie. Initially frightened by the big dog, Timmy is assured of Lassie’s tameness by the Miller’s older son, Jeff.
Fast-forwarding twelve episodes, the Millers sell the farm to a young couple (the Martins) who decide to adopt both Timmy and Lassie. At this point, Timmy and Lassie are inseparable and have formed a lasting bond. Their relationship becomes one of the most classic “boy and his dog” stories of all time.
The show highlights the intelligence and heroics of Lassie. Many episodes find Timmy and Lassie in dangerous encounters with wild animals. Often after trying to help save a baby animal, they end up face to face with its larger ferocious mother. In the five-part series “The Journey,” they both end up in a wayward hot-air balloon that crashes into the trees. Left on their own, they must navigate their way through many dangers and find their way back out of the vast Canadian Rockies. Lassie’s quick actions and long trips to return with help save Timmy from many of these dire situations.
Ironically, twenty-five years later Jon reprised his role in the 1989 series, The New Lassie. He starts out being known only as Uncle Steve to the McCullough kids, Will and Megan. It is not until episode seven that he is revealed as the grown up Timmy Martin. He is now going by his middle name, Steve, after being re-adopted by the McCulloughs when the Martins sold them the farm and moved to Australia.
Recently, Coastal Canine caught up with Jon, at his home in Santa Rosa, California, to ask him about his experience on the show and to find out what he’s doing now:
Q. How was your real childhood similar to that of Timmy's and what parts were different?
A. I grew up in a rural area just outside of Los Angeles. I was the youngest of three siblings and grew up with pet dogs, cats, a goat and horses. Unlike most kids, I had a busy working life as a child actor. I had made seven movies by the time I was seven-years-old. It was all the work I did between three and seven that got me the role of Timmy on Lassie. I only had to "audition" for the dog to be sure we could work together. Lassie gave me two paws up!
Q. In what ways was Lassie a groundbreaking show for its time?
A. Lassie was considered the first television family drama and tackled many social issues including racism, environmental degradation, and animal rights.
Q. Do you remember your reaction when the show transitioned from black and white to color?
A. Yes. CBS was the last network to go color. Out of the 250 episodes of Lassie, only one five-part episode was in color. They later released it as a feature film called Lassie's Great Adventure.
Q. Did you spend time with Lassie offset?
A. After Friday’s wrap, I often went home for the weekend with Lassie and his owner/trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. Rudd was like a grandfather to me. He had a lot of animals besides Lassie on his ranch and it was a great place for a kid to be. I worked for five of my seven years on the show with the fourth generation Lassie who was originally named Baby. Like the others before him, once Baby began working on the show, he was only called Lassie.
Q. Did you have a stunt double? Did Lassie?
A. I had the same stunt double for many years. He was a little person by the name of Nels Nelson. He mostly sat in for the preshot setups. There was only one Lassie, but other dogs were used for longshots of running or if he needed to get wet. There were no blow dryers back then. It could take a week to dry a collie!
Q. Is it true that it was actually Lassie who fell into a well and not you?
A. I'm not sure Lassie fell into anything. As for Timmy, he fell into abandoned mine shafts, off cliffs, into rivers, lakes and quicksand, but never fell into a well.
Q. Do you have a favorite episode or one that you most enjoyed making?
A. My favorite episode was a three-parter called “The Odyssey.” Lassie is accidentally locked in a truck and taken halfway across the country. At the end of part three, resigned that Lassie isn't coming home, Timmy is burying her toys when he hears a bark and sees her at the top of a hill. The reunion is pretty special.
Q. Santa Rosa was also home to Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon. Were you acquainted with him?
A. Sparky was a great guy and a generous supporter of Canine Companions for Independence, a service dog organization. Jean, Sparky's wife, served as president of the national board for ten years and is still on the board. I have served on the NW Regional Board for close to twenty-five years. It's an amazing organization. Check it out at: www.cci.org.
Q. Tell us about your current dog, Buddy.
A. Buddy is an eight-year-old Dachshund mix rescued by the Sonoma County Humane Society after years of backyard abuse and neglect. He's our first rescue and we've taught each other so much. I encourage anyone looking for a pet to adopt.
Q. Your wife, Laurie Jacobson, helped write your autobiography, Timmy's in the Well: The Jon Provost Story. What was that experience like?
A. I couldn't have done it without her. She's the writer, the Hollywood historian. We spent years tracking people down, interviewing dozens of actors, friends, fans and family, going through hundreds of photos. It's much bigger than just my story. It really captures the times.
Timmy's in the Well is available from amazon.com. For an autographed copy, visit www.jonprovost.com. Jon and Laurie also write a bi-monthly column called “The Canine Connection” in Fido Friendly magazine.
Lassie - 50th Anniversary TV Collection with 24 of the best Lassie episodes is also available from amazon.com.