Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV LEGEND: Lassie frequently saved Timmy after the boy fell down a well.
After being the pet of a young boy named Jeff for the first four seasons of Lassie, Lassie settled in with a new owner named Timmy for the next seven seasons. Timmy (played by Jon Provost) is the most famous of Lassie’s owners, which also included some Park Rangers in later seasons and a children’s orphanage in the last two syndicated seasons.
There is a famous joke about the standard plot on an episode of Lassie. I don’t know exactly where it is from – it certainly could be Saturday Night Live, but I have an idea that it is likely older than that (as Lassie ran from 1954-1973, so you figure SOME comedian must have made fun of the show during those years), but it goes like this.
Lassie comes running in to Timmy’s mother and barks a couple of times. The mother (played most famously by June Lockhart, although Cloris Leachman originated the role) replies, “What’s that, Lassie? Timmy fell down a well?”
The joke mocks the way that Lassie was able to so accurately communicate with the adults on the show to let them know of the trouble Timmy got into, and boy did Timmy get into a lot of trouble!
The website Lassie Web once detailed a bunch of the problems Timmy got into. Here is a sampling…
.let a rabid dog out of a cage (“Graduation”)
…ate deadly nightshade berries (“Berrypickers”)
…threatened by an escaped female circus elephant (“The Elephant”)
…hides out in the treehouse when he has pneumonia (“Spartan”)
…threatened by a mother wolf (“The Wolf Cub”)
…falls into the lake (“Transition” and “The House Guest”)
…develops a high fever from the measles (“The Crisis”)
…is almost shot by Paul (“Hungry Deer”)
…ignores severe stomach pains; he’s diagnosed with appendicitis (“Hospital”)
…is trapped in an abandoned house with Boomer (“Trapped”)
…wanders into a live mine field (“Junior GIs”)
…is menaced by a bear (“Campout” and “The Renegade”)
…is trapped in a mine (“Old Henry”)
…gets a black eye playing football (“Growing Pains”)
…nearly flies a home-made glider off a cliff (“Flying Machine”)
…runs into a burning house to save a neighbor lady and passes out (“The Whopper”)
…is endangered by dynamite picked up by an escaped lab chimp (“The Man from Mars”)
And that is truly just a sampling of the problems he got into over the seven seasons he was the lead character on the show.
You’ll notice what is NOT on that list.
Timmy never actually fell down a well in any of the seven seasons he was on the show. Nor did the earlier owner, Jeff, ever fall down a well. It appears as though the only character on the show to EVER fall down a well was Lassie herself, in a Season 17 episode (Season 17 was an odd season where Lassie was without an owner).
The “What’s that, Lassie? Timmy fell down a well?” joke became SO universal, though, that it was just accepted that Timmy did, in fact, fall down wells with some frequency. And really, he DID fall down things with great frequency, they were just storm drains, pipes, etc. Just never a well.
Amusingly enough, Jon Provost still named his auto-biography, Timmy’s in the Well: The Jon Provost Story
The legend is…
Thanks to Lassie Web for the great list! Go check out their site to find out a list of all the problems he had over the years.
Thanks to werehawk for reminding me that I really ought to just feature this one again (I did it over a DECADE ago, but as part of a different thing and I was saving it to re-run it for some reason. I think I was talking with some newspaper about an Entertainment Legends Revealed feature at the time and this was one of the ones I thought would be good for that. But that didn’t happen and honestly, I probably just forgot that I never re-shared this one).
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.