Rettig in Death Valley Days in 1962.
|Born||Thomas Noel Rettig
December 10, 1941
Queens, New York City,
New York, USA
|Died||February 15, 1996
Marina del Rey, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Occupation||Actor, software engineer|
|Spouse(s)||Darlene Portwood (m. 1959–77)|
Thomas Noel Rettig, known as Tommy Rettig (December 10, 1941 – February 15, 1996), was an American child actor, computer software engineer, and author. Rettig is remembered for portraying the character "Jeff Miller" in the first three seasons of CBS's Lassie television series, from 1954 to 1957, later seen in syndicated re-runs as Jeff's Collie. He also co-starred with another former child actor, Tony Dow, in the mid-1960s television teen soap opera Never Too Young and recorded the song by that title with the group The TR-4.
Early life and acting career
Rettig was born to a Jewish father, Elias Rettig, and a Christian Italian-American mother, Rosemary Nibali, in Jackson Heights in the Queens borough of New York City. He started his career at the age of six, on tour with Mary Martin in the play Annie Get Your Gun, in which he played Little Jake.
Before his famous role as Jeff Miller in the first Lassie television series, Rettig also appeared in about 18 feature films, including So Big, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (written by Dr. Seuss), and River of No Return with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. It was his work with a dog in The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T that led animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax to urge him to audition for the Lassie role, for which Weatherwax supplied the famous collies.
Rettig later told interviewers that he longed for a life as a normal teenager, and after four seasons he was able to get out of his contract. He was also critical of the treatment and compensation of child actors of his day. He reportedly received no residual payments from his work in the Lassie series, even though it was syndicated and widely shown under the title Jeff's Collie.
On October 28, 1958, Rettig guest-starred in the episode "The Ghost" of the ABC/Warner Brothers western series Sugarfoot with Will Hutchins in the title role. In the series installment, Rettig played Steve Carter, a troubled youth whom Sugarfoot is taking to Missouri to collect an inheritance. Rettig also sang the popular ballad "The Streets of Laredo" in the episode.
Rettig graduated in 1959 from University High School in Los Angeles. The same year, at the age of 18, he was cast as Pierre in the episode "The Ghost of Lafitte", set in New Orleans, of the ABC western series The Man from Blackhawk, starring Robert Rockwell as a roving insurance investigator. Actress Amanda Randolph was cast in the same episode as Auntie Cotton.
In the 1962 episode "Davy's Friends" of the syndicated series Death Valley Days, Rettig played Joel Walter Robison, a fighter for Texas independence. In the storyline, Robison, called a "friend" of Davy Crockett, is sent on a diversion but quickly shows his military ability and is made a first lieutenant by Sam Houston. Stephen Chase played Sam Houston, and Russell Johnson was cast as Sergeant Tate in this episode.
From 1964 to 1965, Rettig co-starred with another former child actor, Tony Dow, in the ABC television soap opera for teens Never Too Young. With the group "The TR-4", he recorded the song by that title on the Velvet Tone label. While he was the TR-4's co-manager, he did not sing with them. Rettig only co-wrote the song in hopes that the TV soap would use it as the series' theme. Producers of Never Too Young, however, chosen not to use it. Rettig was subsequently cast as Frank in 1965 episode "The Firebrand" on the NBC education drama series Mr. Novak, which starred James Franciscus.
As an adult, Rettig preferred to be called "Tom." He found the transition from child star to adult difficult, and he had several well-publicized legal entanglements relating to illegal recreational drugs (a conviction for growing marijuana on his farm, and a cocaine possession charge of which he was exonerated). Some years after he left acting, he became a motivational speaker, which—through work on computer mailing lists—led to involvement in the early days of personal computers.
For the last 15 years of his life, Rettig was a well-known database programmer, author, and expert. He was an early employee of Ashton-Tate and specialized in (sequentially) dBASE, Clipper, FoxBASE and finally FoxPro. Rettig moved to Marina del Rey in the late 1980s.
Later years and death
Rettig made a guest appearance as a grown-up Jeff Miller in an episode of the later television series The New Lassie, with Jon Provost, which aired on October 25, 1991. The updated series featured appearances from two other Lassie veterans: Roddy McDowall, who in 1943 had starred in Lassie Come Home, the famous dog's first feature-length film, and June Lockhart, who had starred in the 1945 sequel Son of Lassie. Lockhart had also co-starred on the earlier television series, portraying Timmy's mother in the years after Rettig and actress Jan Clayton left the show.
Rettig in 1996 died at age 54 of a heart attack. Attendees to his memorial service in Marina del Rey, California, included Roger Clinton, Jr., the half-brother of then U.S. President Bill Clinton; Lassie; Microsoft dignitaries; and several former child stars, who were featured in a photo spread in The National Enquirer.
|1950||Panic in the Streets||Tommy Reed||Uncredited|
|The Jackpot||Tommy Lawrence|
|Two Weeks With Love||Ricky Robinson|
|For Heaven's Sake||Joe Blake|
|1951||The Strip||Artie Ardrey|
|Weekend With Father||David Bowen|
|1952||Gobs and Gals||Bertram|
|1953||The Lady Wants Mink||Ritchie Connors|
|The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T||Bartholomew Collins|
|So Big||Dirk (aged 8)|
|1954||River of No Return||Mark Calder|
|The Raid||Larry Bishop|
|The Egyptian||Thoth (son of Meryt)|
|1955||The Cobweb||Mark McIver|
|At Gunpoint||Billy Wright|
|1956||The Last Wagon||Billy|
- "TOMMY RETTIG, PLAYED JEFF IN ORIGINAL CAST OF TELEVISION'S 'LASSIE'", Rocky Mountain News, February 18, 1996. Accessed December 10, 2007.
- Leszczak, Bob (2015). From Small Screen to Vinyl: A Guide to Television Stars Who Made Records, 1950-2000. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 275. ISBN 9781442242746. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- "The Ghost". Classic Television Archives. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
- "The Man from Blackhawk". Classic Television Archive. Retrieved January 30, 2013.
- "Davy's Friend on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
- "Never Too Young on ABC". TV Guide. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
- Jimmy Velvet (2007). Inside the Dream. Velvet-Roese.
- www.worldcat.org author
- Jeff Miller reminiscence, Dec. 27, 2005
- Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen (South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971), pp. 215-219.
- Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 197-198.
- Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 230-231.
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