Bob Weatherwax

Four Feet to Fame

Bob Weatherwax Strolls Down Memory Lane

Did you know that none of the Lassies were ever neutered? Every litter except one was sired by the prior Lassie. When the original Lassie's (Pal) son died, his line ended. I recently made that public in 2013. That son of Pal's was trained and ready to become the next Lassie, but he died of distemper before he ever was used as Lassie. It was then that my father, Rudd Weatherwax, sent his assistant, Frank Inn, on the mission to find another dog to train.

The females were selected from various breeders when we needed to prepare another Lassie. We did not breed until the current Lassie was getting close to retirement. We wanted females with the white blaze down the head, an all white mane, and four white feet. These qualities were very hard to find, since collie breeders considered those markings as flaws. Also, our Lassies had broader heads than was considered the collie standard. We sometimes had to go through several litters to obtain the correct markings for the next Lassie.

To Lassie With Love was a retrospective on Lassie's career after the TV show was no longer in production. In one scene, the little girl was supposed to sit and thank Lassie for all great things he did in his career. The year was 1975.

A dramatic cat scene was shot on a lake for this special because we wanted to demonstrate how we worked the dog. In the scene, Lassie does actually swim in the lake with the cat.

To accomplish this scene, a tether was wrapped around the cat's front legs. We matched the tether to the color of the cat's fur so that it would be hidden by the fur. Attached to the tether was a button. Since Lassie was already trained to pick things up, we would show him the button and have him pick it up. Then we would bring the cat over with the button and show the button on the cat to Lassie.          

When we shot the scene, Lassie was actually picking up the button attached to the tether, but it looked like he had the cat by the nape of the neck. I stood on the opposite side of the lake and called Lassie. He then swam toward me with the cat.

Anything that was alive and moving, Lassie rescued at some point in his career. One of the most interesting rescues occurred on a TV episode show when Lassie and the rangers visit a missile site.

The silos are hidden by large cement slabs that slide open by detonating a stick of dynamite. Lassie notices that there is a duck nesting on the slab. Since Lassie is aware of how these missiles work, he runs back to warn the officials about the ducks. The rangers run to the slab, rescue the ducks, and the missile is safely launched.

At this point, the scene called for everyone, including Lassie, to stand and watch the missile rise. To illustrate my father's genius, he improvised by maneuvering Lassie back and forth through the crowd, working his way to the front of the group -- as if he also wanted to see. It changed the entire dynamic of the scene.


            I started working full time with my father when I was 20 years old. I took a job with him for about six months on a temporary basis, but he recognized my talent and said it looked like that's where I was going to end up. He was right because ended up working with him ever since.

However, it was actually by the age of ten that I was caring for up to 40 dogs -- feeding them, washing them, picking up the yard, and doing all the things required to maintain the Weatherwax kennel. As a result, I learned how to observe dogs, and recognize their movements and gestures – even to the point that I could tell when a dog fight was about to erupt. By the time I became a full time trainer, much of the skillset I needed was already acquired.

The enduring quality of Lassie was my father. Lassie was not real. She was a character in a book, several movies, television shows, and children’s books -- a product of fiction for us to love through our imagination.

Bringing that image to life was like painting a landscape on a blank canvas. My father taught his dogs to act, and then stepped to the back of the gallery so as not to bring attention to himself. Only through the eyes of the artist, the genius with a vision, can true beauty be expressed and immortalized.

To me, Lassie was the landscape and my father was that genius. As an artist uses paint to show us the beauty of nature, so Rudd Weatherwax used his incredible skill to make us believe that a dog can move and act and think and be heroic without any direction.

Like an artist helps us see things we could never see ourselves, Rudd Weatherwax helped us see a hero that could never have existed without his exceptional skill. Like the painter, he honed Lassie's image, never allowing the public to see Lassie as an ordinary dog.  My father was never satisfied, and he was always striving to be better.

The enduring power of Lassie is due to the invisible hand of Rudd Weatherwax.

Reflections by Richard Lester

When Bob Weatherwax asked me to write his personal memoir about his father, I knew immediately that this writing project would be a sacred task. I knew that Bob had wanted a memoir for more than ten years, yet he just couldn’t find traction for the project. I was well aware that this project would be a labor of love for us both.

I also realized that the book that would be published would need to delight and entertain millions of Lassie fans around the world. My task, however, was not simply to write another Lassie book. Bob wanted to have a permanent memorial to the genius of his father, Rudd Weatherwax. Rudd was like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz – hidden from public view behind the curtain. In Rudd’s case, Lassie is who the public saw and loved. Rudd remained invisible. Bob felt it was time to lift that curtain.

The book which resulted is not just another Lassie story. Instead it is the story about a man Steven Spielberg referred to as a genius. Rudd Weatherwax brought a number of beloved icons to the screen – dogs like Asta in The Thin Man, Daisy in Blondie, and of course, Lassie. Then there are scores of Weatherwax dogs who only appeared in one movie, but were nevertheless important characters – although you will learn that  John Wayne tolerated them at best.

In Four Feet to Fame, you will discover that – in Hollywood – all that glitters is not gold. This is not a fairy tale, but rather the true story of lives filled with triumph and tribulation.

By the way, did you enjoy Bob’s anecdotes? Those are a few samples of material which had to be edited out of the book. Bob’s taped interviews would have created an encyclopedia-sized volume, far too bulky for anyone to want to read or be able to purchase.

So, a lot of great material ended up on the cutting room floor. Just think. If the comments above didn’t make the final draft, what in the world did get published? Incredible material, and I am not exaggerating.

Plus a wonderful Foreword by Beverly Washburn, a child super-star in Hollywood, who worked with a Weatherwax dog named Old Yeller. 

By the way, both hard cover and soft cover editions of the book are available from internet book retailers worldwide, including and our publisher, BearManor Media.



The Weatherwax Trained Dogs

World Premiere in India

Reel Cinema Fest

Treasure Coast International Film Festival
NOMINEE: Best Documentary