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Back to the well: Jon ‘Timmy’ Provost talks life with Lassie

An Evening with Jon Provost

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

Where: Sebastiani Theatre

Tickets: At the door or at sebastianitheatre.com

Even if you don’t care much about dogs or television or movies (which is highly unlikely) you know about Lassie, arguably the most famous canine in cinematic and small-screen history.

The iconic collie has permeated popular culture for decades. And don’t forget her faithful sidekick Timmy, who was played on TV and in movies from 1957 until 1963 by Sonoma County resident Jon Provost.

“I started ‘Lassie’ when I was 7,” Provost recently told the Index-Tribune. “But I’d already been in 10 movies, even some early live television. I started in the industry when I was not quite 3.”

Provost will be in Sonoma this Monday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Sebastiani Theatre where he will show clips, answer questions and reveal behind-the-scenes stories about his long career.

“My family were not Hollywood people at all,” Provost added. “My father was from Mobile, Alabama, and my mother was from a little farming town called Wolfe City, Texas.”

His father was an aeronautical engineer and his mother was a seamstress and housewife.

Asked about working with the indelible dog, Provost reflected, “I worked with three different Lassies. The last dog I worked with [for] five years. He was very young when he started. I would go home with the [trainer] who had a 60-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley. Unbeknownst to me at the time it was a really great way for me and the dog to bond. So they had ulterior motives. But I was enjoying getting out of the city. I really did love that dog.”

There’s an old show business cliche that you never work with children or animals. Provost disputes that notion.

“Truthfully, the adults, the actors, made more mistakes than Lassie did,” he said “The dog and I, we enjoyed it. And really, the dog enjoyed it as well. I could tell.”

What about life as a child actor, a profession that has led many down dark roads as adults?

“In the seven years I was on Lassie, my father only came to the set twice,” said Provost. “Now, my mother was with me 95 percent of the time. You want your parent with you as a young child, but he was busy designing airplanes and supporting our family. Today, the kid becomes the breadwinner for the family. The parents quit their jobs and become the kid’s manager or whatever. It becomes a whole different ballgame.”

He said a lot of child actors from his generation had “bad things happen to them.”

“But you always hear the good and not the bad. Look at Ron Howard, Jodie Foster, the list goes on,” said Provost.

In the end, Provost said, he was the one who pulled the plug on his life as Timmy.

“I quit Lassie - a lot of people don’t know that,” he said. “I had a seven-year contract. The sponsor and producer said [they wanted] to go more. I was 14 years old and my parents asked what I wanted to do. Look, I’m 14 years old, my hormones are kicking in, I’m starting to look at girls, I’m tired of the dogs. I wanted to act, but I was tired of being Timmy.”

He ended up doing three more movies before he officially hung up his Timmy hat. After that, he headed north to attend Sonoma State University.

“When I went up to Sonoma State I grew my hair long. People would come up to me and say, ‘You look like that kid from Lassie,’” he said. “And I’d say, ‘Yeah, people confuse me with him.’ I did that for a while and it didn’t work. And then I realized they’re not saying they hate Lassie, and I embraced it.”

To this day, people still embrace Lassie – For her tenacity and bravery and the simple message of love and courage and sacrifice she embodied.

it’s safe to say, Jon Provost got a lot out of the experience, too. And thankfully, he’s not in the bottom of a well.

Jon Provost will show clips, answer questions and reveal behind-the-scenes stories about his long career at 7 p.m. on Monday. Feb. 24 at the Sebastiani Theatre. The Q&A will be moderated by radio and TV critic Jan Wahl.

An Evening with Jon Provost

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

Where: Sebastiani Theatre

Tickets: At the door or at sebastianitheatre.com

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