I found myself wondering about the Lassie TV series (1954-1973) today. It’s been ages since I’ve seen the re-runs but what I remember most was that Mrs. Martin dressed rather smartly for a farmer’s wife and that the telephone operator’s name was Jenny. Here are a few more disorganized thoughts on the show.
I did a little sleuthing on IMDB and Wikipedia and began to remember that, aside from the show being a bastion of 50s and 60s family values, the show sought to promote environmental and conservation concerns as well as the importance of tolerance. I think Lassie did more than this though. I couldn’t find information regarding precisely where the show was set but it’s safe to assume that it was set in the rural, agrarian American West. This demographic is idealized, a glorification of the family, the community, and all things good and wholesome. It’s Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963) on the farm. Just as suburban living is glorified in Beaver, with all of the Cleaver’s new, shiny appliances of modern living, rural living is legitimized, with it’s wide open spaces and a sense of nostalgia for old frontier living.
Life on the farm isn’t as glamorous as life in the ‘burbs. The sets aren’t flashy but they are functional and homey. The series celebrates enterprising people who are frugal with their money. After all, the Martins are cleanly dressed (in fact, the clothing looks remarkably crisp for work on a farm) and their home has all of the basic amenities- my favorite is the telephone. In fact, telephone operator Jenny is a regular character on the show, often saving the day with her mad operator skilz. Clearly, 50s and 60s audiences tuning in every week were meant to grasp the importance of technology, in a time when this country was still working* to build a solid infrastructure.
I also found in my reading that the female leads, Jan Clayton (Ellen Miller) and June Lockhard (Ruth Martin) were the only actors singled out for Emmy nominations. One could argue that, while the dog stole the show, it was the good, level-headed, and nurturing wives and mothers who were the backbone of an otherwise male-dominated cast. I’m sure there is plenty written about portrayals of women in 50s and 60s television so I won’t delve into it here. Besides, I waited too late to work on this post and I’m running out of steam.
*Tangent: my grandfather once worked for Bell running telephone lines. As a kid, this concept stumped me because I grew up in a world where telephone poles lined streets everywhere. Surely EVERYONE had phone lines running into their homes and businesses.