Thanks to radio shows, books, TV, and movies, Lassie remains a lasting pop-culture icon. The original TV show spanned nearly 20 years, revitalizing itself by transferring Lassie to a new owner or locale. Initially, the plot focused on the bond between a child and his dog as Lassie routinely saved Jeff and Timmy from dangerous situations and animals, such as an escaped lion. She also aided forest rangers and protected other animals. Many of her miraculous feats were bittersweet, though. When she discovered a litter of puppies and their mother facing certain death, she managed to save only the pups.
Six male dogs portrayed Lassie during the TV series. Canine actor Pal starred in seven Lassie movies before bringing the role to the small screen in 1954. The aging Collie soon surrendered the demanding role to his son, Lassie Junior. Pal's descendants Spook, Baby, Mire, and Hey Hey also played the iconic character. Although the original Lassie dogs passed away, Pal's family tree endured to spawn a host of canines ranging from entertainers to therapy dogs. Lassie 10, a tenth generation descendant of Pal, continues the legacy of the seemingly immortal dog.
Brandon, "Punky Brewster"
Punky Brewster's cool Golden Retriever wore costumes, rode a skateboard, participated in a pageant, and had a backyard wedding. Brandon was docile and almost slothful at times, but he became a fiercely protective pooch when necessary. He memorably pushed Punky out of the path of a moving car, sustaining critical injuries in the process. Later, he instinctively protected a neighbor from an abusive parent and was threatened with doggie death row, euthanasia, as a result.
Brothers Sandy and Brandy initially shared the role of Brandon. Brandy was better suited for the show's stunts and tricks, and became the full-time Brandon. Sandy continued to act, starring in "Watchers." Both dogs quietly faded from the public eye until a "TMZ" staffer revealed his family adopted Sandy, who long ago crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
Bullet, "The Roy Rogers Show"
This TV show took a simple approach to life, where everyone was either a good guy or bad guy. Bullet seemed well versed on the cowboy code, starring alongside Roy Rogers on film and TV. This canine companion sometimes trotted alongside Roy's horse, Trigger. He used his keen senses to track the bad guys to their hideouts. When the good guys were cornered, Bullet saved them by chewing the ropes that bound them. He bravely nipped at an armed enemy's hand and managed to disarm him.
In real life, Bullet lived with Roy. It isn't clear when Bullet died, but Roy had the German Shepard preserved by a taxidermist. The stuffed pooch and horses Buttermilk and Trigger were later displayed at the Roy Rogers Museum. In 2010, Christie's auctioned the animals after the museum closed. Bullet fetched $35,000 and found a new home at a TV station.
Would these three heroes cut it on "Alpha Dogs"? Lassie and Bullet are top contenders due to their repeated search and rescue efforts. And Brandon? He is more likely to catch a stray cookie than a stray bullet.
Tune in for the premiere of "Alpha Dogs" on Friday, 2/8 on Nat Geo Wild at 9 PM ET.
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