Back to

The Debunker: How Often Did Lassie Have to Rescue Timmy from a Well?

by Ken Jennings

Dog lovers: could there be a better month than August to salute our canine companions? After all, August 10 is the day poor Rin Tin Tin died, and it’s the day Snoopy celebrates his birthday, in a 1968 Peanuts strip. Two weeks later, on August 26, it’s National Dog Day, according to the Animal Miracle Foundation & Network. To celebrate the dog days of summer, we’ve unleashed Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings, who will correct some of man’s worst misconceptions about man’s best friend.


The Debunker: How Often Did Lassie Have to Rescue Timmy from a Well?

Comedians have often poked fun at the remarkable communication skills of TV’s heroic collie, Lassie. Despite not speaking English or having opposable thumbs, Lassie is always able to get help appropriate to the specific evil has befallen her master. In the traditional version of this joke, a few quick barks from Lassie are enough for owners to get the picture: “What’s that? Timmy fell down a well?”


Little Timmy Martin wasn’t Lassie’s original owner on CBS. That was Jeff Miller, played by child star Tommy Rettig in the show’s first three seasons. But when Rettig was able to get out of his TV contract, in 1957, he was replaced by the younger, cuter, equally accident-prone Timmy. Jon Provost, who played the role, titled his 2007 memoir Timmy’s in the Well—but in the book, he points out what might seem unbelievable to us now: Timmy never once, in the show’s 571 episodes, fell in a well!

Now, Timmy did manage to fall in the following (a partial list): two lakes, a gap between two railroad cars, two abandoned mines, quicksand, and a badger hole. Damn, that kid spent a lot of time falling into things. But he seemed to have no problem with wells. His great-uncle Petrie did fall into a well once, in season 4’s “The Crow”, and his adoptive dad Paul almost fell in a well in season 10’s “The Crow,” but Timmy seems to have avoided the family curse regarding groundwater. Not Lassie herself, however! Embarrassingly, the usually sure-footed collie fell into a well in the season 17 two-parter “For the Love of Lassie.” “What’s that, Timmy? Lassie fell down a well? You’re kidding me! Get the camera, this is going to be our Christmas card photo this year.”

Quick Quiz: Quick Quiz: Lassie is the fourth-longest running scripted show in U.S. prime time history. What still-running show is in first place by a wide margin?

Ken Jennings is the author of six books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.