Photos from the Vault

Lassie didn’t smoke pot, but her TV co-star was arrested for growing it in SLO County

Tommy Rettig starred in the first Lassie television series 1954-57. He was arrested near Arroyo Grande in December 1972 charged with marijuana cultivation. Wayne Nicholls 12-20-1972
Tommy Rettig starred in the first Lassie television series 1954-57. He was arrested near Arroyo Grande in December 1972 charged with marijuana cultivation. Wayne Nicholls 12-20-1972 Telegram-Tribune

Lassie’s first TV co-star grew up to be a farmer — an Arroyo Grande marijuana farmer.

“Lassie” actor Thomas “Tommy” Rettig left the TV show in 1957, when he was in his mid-teens. He was arrested in 1972 at age 31.

Life as a child actor was regimented.

According to a Nov. 7, 1988, People magazine article, the television series filmed 39 episodes per season, six days a week. Rettig did this for the first three seasons of the show, from 1954 to 1957.

Rettig was occasionally allowed to take one of the three collies who played Lassie home for the weekend. But when he — Lassie was played by a series of male collies — began to disobey the trainer, the co-stars only met while filming.

Before Rettig was cast to play Jeff Miller, Midwestern farm boy, he had been a 5-year-old actor in the touring production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” starring Mary Martin.

At age 9, the actor graduated to films, appearing with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum in “River of No Return.” Rettig was also featured in “The Last Wagon” with Richard Widmark, “So Big” with Jane Wyman and “The Strip” with Mickey Rooney.

Rettig was first seen by Lassie’s trainer, Frank Weatherwax, while working on the surreal Dr. Seuss live-action fantasy “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.”

SSLOScanne19030219170_0001_1
Sheriff’s deputies pack up more than $1,000 worth of marijuana found at the home of former child-actor Tommy Rettig near Arroyo Grande. Rettig starred in the first Lassie television series. Wayne Nicholls Telegram-Tribune

Weatherwax suggested that Rettig try out for the part of Jeff, and the young actor bonded with the dog.

“With Lassie, I’d gladly work for free,” Rettig said when he won the job at age 12, beating out 500 other hopefuls. His top salary was $2,500 a week.

Life as Lassie’s best friend wasn’t always easy, however. Rettig told People magazine that he remembered a school bus driver approaching La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, looking back with a smirk and shouting “Lassie-enega!”

After “Lassie,” Rettig found adult parts difficult to find.

By spring 1972, Rettig, his wife Darlene and their two sons had left Los Angeles and were living two miles east of Arroyo Grande on Daisy Hill Farm on Huasna Road.

It was perhaps the life that another fictional character —Scooby-Doo’s friend, Shaggy — aspired to.

SSLOScanne19030219181_0001_1
Former childactor Tommy Rettig and his wife Darlene were arrested near Arroyo Grande and charged with marijuana cultivation just before Christmas in 1972. Rettig starred in the first Lassie television series. Wayne Nicholls Telegram-Tribune

With recreational marijuana use now legal in California, stores are beginning to open in San Luis Obispo County, but cannabis was still contraband in the 1970s.

On the morning of Dec. 20, 1972, about 20 San Luis Obispo County sheriffs officers conducted a raid on the farm, the Telegram-Tribune reported.

Detectives reportedly found $1,000 worth of marijuana plants on the property. The plants had been growing between corn rows.

One account said a neighbor apparently tipped off authorities.

A photograph shows sheriff’s deputies bagging up plants from what appears to be a drying table next to bags marked “Property of Diamond Walnut Growers Association.”

On the walls of the farmhouse were a photo of former presidents John Kennedy and George Washington, a Haight-Asbury sign and a framed publicity photo of Rettig with Lassie.

Rettig and his wife each posted bond of $2,500 and were released pending arraignment on charges of cannabis cultivation.

According to the profile in People, Rettig was given a year of probation. But he had another brush with the law on drug smuggling charges, a conviction that was later overturned.

After acting, Rettig worked as a photographer, musician, tool salesman, software engineer and health club manager.

Rettig and his wife eventually split, though they lived in the same neighborhood. “How she ever tolerated living with me, I don’t know,” the actor told People.

Rettig became a vegetarian and quit cigarettes and strong drugs, but remained an advocate for marijuana, according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

He died of natural causes in February 1996 at the age of 54.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

David Middlecamp is a photojournalist and third-generation Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black-and-white film now includes an FAA-certified drone pilot license. He also writes the history column “Photos from the Vault.”

  Comments