Boys Costumes Depicted in Television Shows: Lassie (U.S., 1954-71)


Figure 1.--Lassie's master Timmy played by Jon Provost wore jackets, colored shirts, jeans, and Keds. He is seen here with Lassie and his TV family, the Millers, in 1961.

One of the longest running TV adventure show was Lassie. It was first telcast in 1954 and continued through 1971. The central story of this series was the relationship between a boy and his faithful dog collie--Lassie. Over such a long period the show went through child actors (such as Tommy Rettig and Jon Provost) and an unknown number of Lassies. Lassie, although a major prime-time program of the time, it is rarely seen in sindication, in sharp contrast to other contemporary programs with much shorter runs. As the show lasted for such a long time, you would think it would be a showcase for changing boys' fashions, but the costuming seems stuck in the late 1950s. The main character Jeff and then Timmy as well as their friends always seems to wear a colored shirt, jeans with a cuff, and keds. Timmy always wore long pants jeans. The only time HBC knows that a boys on Lassie wore short pants were visits from nicely behaved foreign boys. Certainlly Lassie's American owners and their friends never wore shorts.

Series

One of the longest running TV children's adventure adventure show was Lassie. It was first telcast in 1954 and continued through 1971. Lassie was of course based on the classic English books and movies such as Lassie Come Home. For American television audiences, Lassie is transplanted to America.

Story Line

The central story of this series was the relationship between Timmy and his faithful dog collie--Lassie. Lassie throughout the long series run was always alert to the slightest danger to her TV family--protecting them from evil and adversity. Her heroics were of course incredible, leading lost persons (especially children) to saftey, warning her family of various impending disasters, tending sick and injured persons, and easily using various human devices. Over such a long period the show went through several child cactors playing Timmy (Tommy Rettig and Jon Provost were the best known) and an unknown number of Lassies.

Cast

"Lassie" was made over 17 years, a record for a show with children involved. Normally a series can not survive the children grwing up and losing their cuteness. The series here solved the problen by finding a new family. Of course Lassie could not be replaced as the featured chracter. Thus was another television first. Lassie first appeared with its original cast in 1954. The main character was Jeff Miller (Tommy Rettig) who remained with the series through 1957. He was joined by Ellen Miller (Jan Clayton) of course his mom, and Gramps (George Cleveland). They lived on a small, modern farm outside a small town. In 1957 mom Miller adopted an orphan boy, Timmy (Jon Provost). Ellen Miller soon found she could no longer care for the farm which she sold it to the Martins, who of course decided to care of Timmy and Lassie. The Millers appeared during 1957-64. In 1964 the Martins with Timmy took off for Australia, the only American TV family I ever known to have emmigrated. The travails of Lassie then become too complicate to detail here.

Sindication

Lassie, although a major prime-time program of the time, it is rarely seen in sindication, in sharp contrast to other contemporary programs with much shorter runs. Some episodes were sindicated as Lassie and Timmy, but they do not seem to have been very popular. During the late 1990s, the Animal Planet Network showed Lassie (from Tommy Rettig's time through Jon Provost's). HBC has noted few other cable channels rerunning Lassie in the United States. We do not know about overseas syndication. It is interesting why a series that was so popular when it ran has had virtually no appeal in sindication. My guess is that sophisticated modern kids would look on lassie episodes as rather hokey. I even noticed a TV commercial in 2002 making fun of Lassie. After tireleesly rescuing Timmy and assorted waifs countless times, Lassie decides to submit his resume over the internet for a job with better working conditions.

Clothing

Lassie presents a remarkable reflection of 1950s and early 1960s clothing styles and attitudes, just as reported by HBC. As the show lasted for such a long time, you would think it would be a showcase for changing boys' fashions, but the costuming seems stuck in the late 1950s. The main characters Jeff and then Timmy as well as their friends always seem to always wear jackets, colored shirts, jeans with a cuff, and sneakers (of course Keds). This outfit was so well known that it emrged from the show as a virtual icon of American boyhood. Today it hangs by Archie Bunker's chair in the Smithsonian museum. The producers of the series clearly thought it important to dress Jeff, Timmy and their pals like the average American boy. Clearly they thought this would help with ratings. Presumably they were convinced that to dress them in any thing but "T" shirts or other casyual shorts, jeans, and Keds would have hurt ratings. Presumably they felt it would have alienated biys watching the seies. This is, however, only speculation. We have not noted any actual information on the costuming of these programs. The Lassie plots rarely touched upon clothing. One HBC reader wonders why. Could be that in shows like The Munsters or these episodes of Lassie, the writers believed that any dialogue over clothes would have been a distraction from plot development or a difference (conflict) between the characters that didn't lend itself to an easy resolution within the plot structure. It would only complicate matters unnecessarily. Unless the character's clothes were central to an episode's plot, such as Beaver's suit with short pants, then no mention was made of clothing differences.

Episodes

There were two episodes of Lassie in which boys appeared in short pants. There may have been more, but not many. They were both from Jon Provost's era as "Timmy Martin".

English boy

One of the few times HBC knows that a boy on Lassie wore short pants was when Timmy's family hosted a boy from England. In this episode, an English boy (about 11-13 years old) appears in what may have been Jon's second season (1959). The English boy looks several years older than Timmy. He is an English relative visiting the Martins. Many American TV shows in the 1950s and 60s had an episode involving short pants. The most famous was the Leave it to Beaver episode. In the Lassie episode, the well-dressed English boy visits Jeff's farm and, later, Jeff's school. He wears his school uniform, peaked cap, blazer, shorts (above the knee pants), and knee socks and well polished shoes. In one scene at school, the class is invited by the teacher to ask their British visitor about his country. One of the boys in the class, all of whom are clad in jeans and sneakers, asks, "Why are you wearing those skinny little pants". (Apparently Timmy himself was to polite to raise the issue.) The English lad responds that all the boys in England dress like him, and his dad wore them when he was a boy, and, besides, it helps him "to not outgrow childhood too fast" (!). He adds that his parents think it will toughen them up, and that they are children and should dress as such. (And HBC's British contributors have written very much the same things!) The class seemed satisfied by this answer. I don't think a real American class in the 1950s/60s would have been. In this episode Timmy's classmates do pick a fight with his cousin, not about his clothes (there's not another word about them). I think it was over who's tougher and stronger. Timmy's cousin pounded the American boys in the fight, and to show their respect for the victor, one of the boys wears a peaked cap and the other a blazer and tie in a closing scene. As for the shorts and knee socks, they didn't go there.

French boy

A few seasons later, about 1961-62, a French boy Timmy's age comes to live in Calverton (the setting of the show). This boy wears a short sleeved shirt, shorts, crew socks, and lace-up shoes. Perhaps it was summer vacation, because they are not shown in school. Timmy and the French boy are rescued from drowning (or some danger) by Lassie. Timmy doesn't say anything about the French boy's clothes or compare them to American styles.

Reader Questions

A HBC reader asks, "What brand of shirt jeans sneakers did Tommy Rettig (Jeff Miller) wear on the Lassie series? Also since the series was filmed in black and white, what color was the shirt jeff was wearing? And what did become of all the clothing Rettig wore on the show?" HBC is unsure. We believe he wore Keds sneakers. We're unsue about the shoirt and jeams. We know that Timmy's shirt was red and white and is now in the Smithsonian. We're unsure about Tommy's (Jeff's) clothes.






HBC





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Created: March 7, 2001
Last updated: 12:53 AM 2/3/2008