On a recent trip to Hollywood, the Stranger Than Truth crew were approached by an older gentleman by the name of Clyde Kindrake, who claimed to have some seriously valuable material related to one of tinsel-town's greatest stars; Lassie. And as we had some time to kill before our appearance on Letterman, we thought we'd humor the old guy and see what he had to offer.
It was a move we wouldn't regret.
Kindrake lives on a 147 acre spread northeast of LA. The ranch-style abode was built in 1949 and according to our host; it was the home to America's favorite canine.
"Lassie was not the dog's real name." Kindrake explained. "It was actually a he, not a she and his name was Rex Roger."
Around back there is a small out-building that from first glance, looks like a small barn or maybe a utility building. But inside, there is a museum that is dedicated entirely to that single dog, Lassie... or Rex, as it may have been.
"Rex was owned by my brother-in-law, named Ludwig, and he ran a collie stud farm here for all of about 40 years. Rex was also his prize stud muffin, fetching as much as a $100 a pop... no pun intended. Then in late 1952, some people from MGM studios came by and said they needed a smart dog for the part of Lassie in a new TV series. They took one look at Rex and signed him to a 12 month contract worth $450 per episode."
Kindrake went on to detail how the collie's fur was long enough to hide the fact that he was a boy dog... most of the time. But there were a few occasions when things got a little out of control. "There was this one episode when the kid was stuck in an old well and Rex/Lassie was supposed to run home and tell Mom all about it. But as it happened, there was also this raccoon that had escaped from the lot next door where they were shooting a show about Davy Crockett. Well, Rex apparently took a liking to the passing varmint and... out came old pinky!"
Having been bred as a stud dog, his natural predilection was to mate with anything that had four legs. According to Clyde, it took hours for Rex's periwinkle to retreat back in its bud so they could finish the shoot. This of course cost the studio money and it was right then that any contract extension was probably lost.
"The director thought it was a hoot but the producer had brought a representative from Purina, who was sponsoring the show. They weren't too happy to find that their wonder dog was plumbed like a bull. But the director finally convinced them that since the show was being filmed in black and white, the dangling pink menace would be mostly unnoticeable."
After browsing the museum, we thanked our gracious host and story teller by purchasing the entire 10-episode collection of Rex Roger as Lassie, on DVD.
But that's not quite the end of our story. Stranger Than Truth's video editor, Hans Gropen, decided to have a closer look at the old episodes and found one particular instance when Rex's boy-toy was visible for anyone who cared to look for it. "In the next to last scene of the well-rescue episode, that was not only a roll of rope that was dragging behind good old Rex Roger."