Paul Martin (Lassie)
Hugh Reilly as Paul Martin
|First appearance||"Transition" (1957)|
|Last appearance||"The Wayfarers" (1964)|
|Created by||Robert Maxwell • Jack Wrather|
|Portrayed by||Jon Shepodd (1957-1958) • Hugh Reilly (1958-1964)|
|Family||Ruth Martin (wife) • Timmy Martin (adopted son) • Petrie J. Martin (uncle) • Lassie (companion animal)|
Paul Martin is a fictional character on the long-running television series Lassie (1954–1973). Paul is a farmer, and the husband of Ruth, a housewife. The couple are adoptive parents of Timmy, a foster child living on a small farm in the American midwest that the couple purchase. Paul is depicted as a sober, industrious, brave, and intelligent man who attends church, is a volunteer firefighter, and a member of the Grange. In the show's fourth-season episode "The Ring", his uncle, Petrie Martin of Millvale, Pennsylvania, joins him on the farm to help with the work.
The creation of Paul Martin came at a critical time in the show's history and permitted a new storyline to develop that proved popular with audiences. The show's highest ratings were recorded during the Martin family years.
Paul makes his first appearance mid-fourth season (1957) and his last appearance in the opener of the eleventh season (1964), making a total of 147 episode appearances. The character is portrayed on the series, first, by Jon Shepodd (1957–1958) and thereafter by Hugh Reilly (1958–1964). The character appeared in show-related merchandise such as novels and comic books. Selected episodes featuring the character are available on VHS and DVD including all the Christmas episodes filmed during the Paul Martin seasons of the show.
The television series Lassie debuted on CBS in September 1954 with Jan Clayton playing widowed farm woman Ellen Miller, Tommy Rettig her son Jeff, and George Cleveland her father-in-law George Miller. In its first three years, the show won two Emmy Awards, and, at the beginning of its fourth season (1957), introduced child actor Jon Provost to audiences as a young runaway named Timmy. In his debut, Timmy remains on the Miller farm in a foster status after a social worker's assistance.
When George Cleveland died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 17, 1957, producers realized the series required an immediate overhaul. The fictional Miller farm couldn't be worked without an adult male on the premises. Provost was a smash hit with audiences and would remain on the show. However, when it was learned no state in the Union allowed an unmarried woman to adopt a child (making Timmy's adoption by Ellen Miller an impossibility), production staff suggested the plot be saved by having Ellen wed. She would then have a man around the place to work the farm and a husband to make possible Timmy's adoption. Jan Clayton (who wanted to leave the show to return to her roots in musical theater), rejected the idea.
With a marriage for Ellen nixed, writers fashioned a story in which her farm would be sold to Ruth and Paul Martin, a young couple new to the area. The Martins would then adopt Timmy, and Lassie would remain on the farm with the boy. Stars Jan Clayton and Tommy Rettig would be written out of the show by having their characters move to distant Capitol City. Other characters associated with the Miller years including "Porky" Brockway (Donald Keeler), his basset hound Pokey and his parents Matt and Birdie (Paul Maxey and Marjorie Bennett) would be dropped as well, simply disappearing without explanation to the audience.
With the new storyline good to go, Cloris Leachman and Jon Shepodd were hired to play the Martins, debuting in the mid-fourth-season episode, "Transition". There, Paul and Ruth Martin arrive in the show's fictional community of Calverton to purchase the Miller farm. Timmy believes he will be returned to his aged and ill aunt and uncle, Abby and Jed Clausen of distant Olive Bridge with the sale of the farm, and runs away, setting off a desperate search by Ellen and Paul. In trying to evade the two, Timmy falls into a lake, but Paul is at hand to save him from drowning. Although no adoption procedure is scripted into the episode, it is understood the Martins adopt Timmy.
Toward the close of the episode, Ellen and her son Jeff bid farewell, but, just before driving away for the city, Jeff gifts Timmy with Lassie, knowing the dog could never be happy in an urban setting and Timmy could never be happy without her companionship. Jeff Miller would never be referenced on the show again, but Ellen would appear in "Timmy's Family", the episode immediately following "Transition".
Leachman quickly tired of playing a farm woman, feuded on-set with co-stars, denigrated the show's sponsor, refused to sign a contract, and generally displeased producers. With ratings plummeting and viewers complaining about Leachman's icy presence in the series, show owner Jack Wrather summarily fired the actress when filming for the 1957-1958 season was completed in February 1958. Producers feared a "new wife" for Paul (and coincidentally a "new mother" for Timmy and Lassie) would be difficult to explain to an audience composed mainly of children, and released Shepodd as well.
A search was conducted to fill the Ruth and Paul roles. Casting Paul Martin involved a good deal of effort, but Hugh Reilly, a Broadway actor recently arrived in Hollywood, had a reputation for being a solid and cooperative performer and was signed. Actress June Lockhart, who had appeared previously in the second of MGM's popular Lassie films (Son of Lassie), was eventually signed to play his wife. In order to protect the image of the show, producers introduced long clauses into their contracts that forbade them from appearing in other vehicles as anything but wholesome, All-American characters. The two performers debuted in the opener of the fifth season, "The Storm" (1958) with no explanation offered the audience regarding the new faces on the show.
Role in Lassie
Tests conducted in February 1959 indicated audiences wanted a "closer relationship between mother and son" and thought Timmy and his father did not have enough contact. As a result, producers decided to de-emphasize the Uncle Petrie character played by George Chandler and to drop entirely Timmy's playmate Boomer Bates played by Todd Ferrell. It wasn't long before Uncle Petrie was dropped as well. The way was thus opened for Timmy to spend more time with his father.
In the sixth season however, veteran thespian Andy Clyde was cast in the show's "grandfatherly" role formerly held by Cleveland and Chandler, and debuted as Cully Wilson, an eccentric farmer and nature lover and made his debut in "The Water Boy". Timmy was then scripted into many adventures with Cully, and, consequently, saw less screen time with his father. Producers felt two adult males on the show would overwhelm the audience and kept Paul generally out of sight by sending him to distant reaches of the farm or attending to business far from home. Paul's role in Timmy's life was gradually diminished, and Reilly made less frequent appearances as the series progressed. While Paul was not completely absent, the dramatic focus of the show fell increasingly upon Timmy and his mother as the central human characters.
As the Lassie 1964 season approached, Jon Provost was a fourteen-year-old with his contract ready for a three-year renewal. Provost however did not look forward to playing Timmy Martin until the age of seventeen, describing the role as a "vacuum" and stating,
"The character wasn't changing. If they had let him grow up a little, maybe I would have wanted to stay on. I knew that I wasn't going to sign up for another three years, and my parents were behind me all the way."
Stars Lockhart, Reilly, and Andy Clyde received their notices, with producer Bob Golden telling the press they'd done all the "boy and his dog" stories possible. With only Provost and producers knowing the real reasons for the show changes, speculation among the cast hinted that the decision to clean house was based on money. Lockhart was quoted as saying Provost's mother wanted too much money, and Reilly later stated that the producers' decision was based upon trading four advanced salaries for [actor Robert Bray's] starting salary.
Associate producer Bonita Granville Wrather kept the audience guessing through the summer of 1964 about the show's future by stating,
"We have built up such an adult audience; we are looking for stories with a wider scope. That's what our whole purpose will be in making any change that people might think we're making...our ratings have jumped in the past two years and it's because we do new things."
Without a boy, producers reworked the show from a different angle. Several episodes which featured Lassie in the wilds such as "The Odyssey" and "The Journey" had proven popular with audiences. Jack Wrather and his associates decided to take Lassie off the farm and send her into the wilderness with Forest Ranger Corey Stuart (Robert Bray), who had appeared previously in the tenth-season episode "Disappearance". Lassie would become the companion not of boys, but of rugged, outdoorsy men sometimes working in dangerous places and situations.
Producers sent the Martin family to Australia where Paul would teach agriculture. Lockhart commented wryly, "We were supposed to go over there so that Paul could show the Australians how to grow things. We hadn't had a successful bean crop in six seasons. What could they possibly learn from us?" Lassie's three human companions then made their last appearances in the first part of the opening three-part episode of the eleventh season, "The Wayfarers" (1964).
Lassie was forced to remain in the States due to Australia's strict quarantine regulations, and, though the dog would become the companion animal of a succession of forestry workers and see several seasons of new adventures, Paul Martin would never be seen, heard, or referenced again on the show.
Following his stint on Lassie, Paul Martin portrayer Hugh Reilly was offered the role of the professor on Gilligan's Island. Reilly declined the offer, as well as an offer for a leading role in Days of Our Lives, preferring to spend time with his family and not immediately returning to full-time work. In his later years, Reilly joined Provost at fan conventions and autograph signings.
Impact on popular culture
The character Paul Martin appeared in several Lassie Dell comic books published during the "Timmy and Lassie" years of the show's run as well as in Whitman novels for children, a Whitman punch out book, and other show-related toys and materials.
In 1963, the multi-part episode, "The Journey" was edited into a feature film called Lassie's Great Adventure. The show's three principal human stars appeared in their well known roles. In the film, Timmy and Lassie are swept away in a carnival hot air balloon which finally descends far from home in the Canadian wilderness. The two travelers have several adventures before being rescued by the Mounties. Paul's role is confined to keeping in touch with authorities and reassuring his wife that Timmy will be rescued. The couple fly to the wilderness to be at hand when Timmy is found. Paul's image appeared on film posters and lobby cards. The episode was the only episode filmed in color during the Paul Martin seasons.
Some Lassie episodes featuring Paul Martin have been released to VHS and DVD.
- Museum of Broadcast Communications: Lassie
- Ford, Nancy. "Lassie...My Best Friend". Jack and Jill. The Curtis Publishing Company, November, 1959. Volume 22, Number 1.
- Collins, Ace. Lassie: A Dog's Life. Penguin Books, 1993.
- "The Life and Times of Lassie". TV Guide. Vol. 7, No. 27. Issue #327. July 4, 1959. Triangle Publications, Inc.
- Bray was hired to play Forest Ranger Corey Stuart following the departure of the Martin family in the first episode of the 1964 season.
- Provost, Jon, and Jacobson, Laurie. Timmy's in the Well: the Jon Provost story. Cumberland House, 2007.
- Pfeiffer, Karen. The Legacy of Lassie: an Unauthorized Information and Price Guide on Lassie Collectibles, 2005. ISBN 978-0-9758870-6-6.