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‘Lassie’ has staying power for star Jon Provost

If You Go

What: An Evening with Jon Provost of “Lassie,” moderated by Jan Wahl

When: 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24

Where: Sebastiani Theatre, 476 First St. E., Sonoma

Admission: $15

Information: 707-996-9756, sebastianitheatre.com

Most dog lovers can tell you the many ways in which their faithful canines changed their lives. But for Jon Provost, who starred as a boy on the beloved TV series “Lassie,” the impact has lasted a lifetime.

Provost - whose boyish dimples still magically appear whenever he smiles - will turn 70 next month. Even so, his fans still remember him fondly as Timmy, the wholesome farm boy whose pet collie seemed almost telepathic.

A Sonoma County resident since 1970, Provost continues to travel to make personal appearances and has been a regular at Bay Area pop culture conventions for years. On Monday, Feb. 24, he’ll offer local followers a closer look at his career during “An Evening with Jon Provost” at the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma.

“It’s the first time we’ve done this, and I’m gonna see where it goes,” Provost said of his new live onstage program, which will includes a classic “Lassie” episode and clips from his other screen work, an onstage interview with film critic Jan Wahl of San Francisco’s KRON TV and KCBS Radio and a Q&A session with the audience.

Provost’s run on “Lassie” lasted from 1957 to 1974. It was just one of numerous versions of the famed dog’s adventures, but it’s perhaps still the best loved. He was one of three youngsters who portrayed Lassie’s companion during the classic TV show’s 19 years on the air.

“I did 249 half-hour episodes,” he recalled. “I was on the show from age 7 to 14, but my career went beyond ‘Lassie.’?”

Provost’s career started even before “Lassie.” At age 2, he appeared in “So Big” from 1953 with Jane Wyman. The following year, he appeared in “The Country Girl” with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and William Holden. In 1969, he and Kurt Russell, then both teenagers, appeared in “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.”

But it’s “Lassie” that everyone remembers best. Provost balks at picking a favorite episode, but the storyline he treasures most was a three-parter titled “The Odyssey,” in which Timmy and Lassie were separated.

“Timmy thought Lassie was gone and he’d never see her again,” Provost said.

But don’t expect him to have total recall of the minute details from any particular episode. That’s something zealous fans sometimes request.

“It all blends together,” he said. “On any day, we were working from two or three different scripts.”

One thing he knows for sure, though. No one on the show ever said, “Timmy’s in the well!” A long-running joke about “Lassie” has the dog coming home without the boy and barking excitedly, prompting one of the adults present to say, “What’s that, girl? Timmy’s in the well?”

Provost even asked June Lockhart, who played his mother on the show, and she confirmed that no one ever said that line.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Provost said. “It might have been a remark someone made on the set.”

That’s not to say the gist of the joke is inaccurate, he added.

“Timmy was not the smartest kid you ever saw,” Provost joked. “On the show, I fell off cliffs, into an abandoned mineshaft and into quicksand, but I never did fall in a well.”

Still, Provost liked the “Timmy’s in the well” line enough to use it as the title of his autobiography, co-authored with his wife, Laurie Jacobsen, and published in 2007. He’s also planning a cookbook titled “Timmy’s in the Kitchen.”

“In our lives, we all fall in the well in some way,” he reasoned.

It seems Provost has avoided that pitfall. Somehow, while many a child star has gone astray, he stayed on solid ground, working in real estate for two decades in Sonoma County and serving for 25 years on the board of Canine Companions.

After his show at the Sebastiani Theatre, Provost plans to autograph his book and DVDS. “Lassie” has inspired merchandise from toys and games to comic books, and fans sometimes bring their treasures to show them to Provost.

“After more than 50 ?years, ‘Lassie’ is still on a dozen different cable networks internationally,” he said.

The former child star attributes the staying power of old “Lassie” series to its wholesome quality.

“People are always asking about ‘Lassie.’ It shows how TV series back then had morals and values,” he said.

“No one has ever come up to me and said, “I hated Lassie.’?”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

If You Go

What: An Evening with Jon Provost of “Lassie,” moderated by Jan Wahl

When: 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24

Where: Sebastiani Theatre, 476 First St. E., Sonoma

Admission: $15

Information: 707-996-9756, sebastianitheatre.com

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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