Tommy Rettig (1941 - 1996)

Tommy Rettig
1941 - 1996
updated September 14, 2019
Tommy Rettig was born in 1941. He died in 1996 at 55 years old.

Tommy Rettig
Born December 10, 1941 in Queens, New York, USA
Died February 15, 1996 in Marina del Rey, California, USA
(heart attack)
Birth Name Thomas Noel Rettig
Height 5' 4" (1.63 m)
Tommy was a successful child actor in 1954 when he was chosen out of a field of 500 to play Jeff Miller in the TV series Lassie (1954). He was with the show for four years, after which Lassie acquired a whole new family.
Rettig, the only child of Elias Rettig, a Lockheed aircraft-parts inspector, and his wife, Rosemary, began his career at age 5, after he was spotted by an acting coach who lived in the family's apartment building in Queens, N.Y. After touring with Mary Martin in Annie Get Your Gun, he landed roles in movies, among them River of No Return (1954), starring Marilyn Monroe. Then, at 12, he was cast as Jeff Miller. He bonded strongly with his canine costar--who, like the whole line of Lassies, was male--and even took him home on weekends (the family had moved West in 1949). That stopped when Lassie became confused about whether to obey his trainer or Rettig. After graduating from L.A.'s University High in 1958 and marrying 15-year-old Darlene Portwood, he tried to get back into acting, but without much success. In the early '80s, having tried selling tools and managing a health club, he founded an est-like motivation program. But it wasn't until he sat down at a computer to compile a mailing list that he finally found himself. At Ashton-Tate, Tom was one of the designers of dBASE III and wrote the essential reference book on it. He built the first add-on library for Clipper, pioneering the public domain tools that make all our jobs easier. Tom wrote articles for Data Based Advisor, appeared on FoxPro Advisor satellite TV conferences, and spoke at many developer events including the FoxPro DevCons. Tom Rettig's Help and Tom Rettig's FoxPro Handbook taught the intricacies of FoxPro. Tom's ability as a programmer was legendary - he was a guru with a Hollywood-famous name. Yet he was one of the most friendly, accessible people you'd hope to meet. Followinig his death from a heart attack at the age of fifty-four, his ashes were spread on the ocean off Marina del Rey, California, from the boat LaSea, with one of Lassie's descendants present to say goodbye.
Mr. Rettig was the first boy who tagged after Lassie during the famous collie's 20 years on the CBS television network. An already established child star, he was chosen from over 500 other boys to play the 11 year old farm boy, Jeff Miller, when Lassie (1954) premiered on September 12, 1954. He stayed with the series until 1958. He made his stage debut at age 6 in the touring company of "Annie Get Your Gun", with Mary Martin. His screen debut was at age 9 and he made 17 films. His most memorable screen performance was as the boy with the vivid imagination in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953).
For the last several years of his life Tom was a hugely successful software developer. His products in Dbase and FoxPro were used by hundreds of other developers.
Spouse (1)
Darlene Portwood (19 December 1959 - 1977) ( divorced) ( 2 children)
For the last ten or so years of his life (starting in at least 1984), he was a computer software developer working on business application frameworks. He was regarded as one of the experts, a software guru in the area of desktop PC database applications such as dBase. At the time of his untimely death he was a central figure in the community of FoxPro database developers. Father of Mason Storm.
After appearing with Mary Martin in "Annie Get Your Gun" for 22 months, Tommy was offered more stage roles, including "Peter Pan" and "The Member of the Wedding," the play made famous by Brandon De Wilde. His strong-willed mother, however, decided Tommy should go for the movies. Ironically, Tommy won the boy role on Lassie (1954) after de Wilde turned it down. Was Marilyn Monroe's youngest date ever when he escorted her to the premiere of River of No Return (1954) in 1954.
TV folklore has it that when the producers had narrowed the casting down to three juveniles for the part of Lassie's young master, they allowed Lassie herself to make the final decision. Supposedly the dog walked straight over to Tommy and affectionately nuzzled the boy, thus winning him the role.
More than anything else, due to his shortness (5' 4") his adult career never panned out.
Two sons: Tom and Deane Rettig.
Graduated from Los Angeles' University High School.
In the 1970s he and his family lived on a farm near Arroyo Grande, CA.
While making The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953) he became acquainted with dog trainer Frank Weatherwax, whose brother Rudd bought the "Lassie" rights from MGM for an upcoming TV series. He auditioned and, to determine who would make the best Jeff, the brothers invited Tommy and two other child actors up for the part to spend a week at their North Hollywood ranch with the three collies who would play the lead. Tommy won the contract at $2,500 a week.
His father was Jewish and his mother was of Italian descent.
Profiled in the 2016 book "X Child Stars: Where Are They Now?" by Kathy Garver and Fred Ascher.
Personal Quotes (3)
With Lassie, I'd gladly work for free!
By the time I was nine I'd done everything--movies, stage, radio, TV. Everybody thought it was real cute for a kid my age to be so sophisticated, but it was murder on my emotional development. More than anything else, I wanted to be normal. I wanted to have friends, go out on dates--just lead a normal life. But things were always going too fast. Then, too, I was spoiled as a kid, and still am. I was an only child, and that was about 80% of the problem.
When I found out it was my last season on "Lassie" I was ecstatic. I had gotten to the point where I really resented not being able to go out except on Saturday nights. Of course, when I did date girls their parents always trusted me because of my goody-goody TV image.

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Tommy Rettig
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Tommy Rettig, Thomas Noel Rettig
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Heart Attack
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Amanda S. Stevenson
10.5k+ favorites
He was Jeff Miller on Lassie for four years.
Dec 10, 2018 · Reply

Tommy Rettig Obituary

This obit of Tommy Rettig is maintained by Tommy's followers. Contribute to her obituary and include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

Tommy Rettig
Thomas Noel 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 four 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.
With Will Hutchins in Sugarfoot (1958).
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, chose 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. 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.
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 died in 1996 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.
Year Title Role Notes
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
Elopement Daniel Reagan
Weekend With Father David Bowen
1952 Gobs and Gals Bertram
Paula David Larsen
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 References
"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.
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2012-04-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
[external link] author
Jeff Miller reminiscence, Dec. 27, 2005

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1941 - 1996 World Events

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In 1941, in the year that Tommy Rettig was born, on June 25th, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, prohibiting racial discrimination in the defense industry. EO 8802 was the first federal action to prohibit employment discrimination - without prejudice as to "race, creed, color, or national origin" - in the U.S. Civil Rights groups had planned a march on Washington D.C. to protest for equal rights but with the signing of the Order, they canceled the March.

In 1958, Tommy was 17 years old when on January 1st, the European Economic Community (Common Market) came into operation. The first members were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Common Market was formed as a way to strengthen members' economies and deter wars in Europe.

In 1965, he was 24 years old when the television show "I Spy" premiered in the fall season on NBC. The stars were Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, making Cosby the first African American to headline a television show. Four stations - in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama - refused to air the show.

In 1982, Tommy was 41 years old when on June 30th, time ran out on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The Amendment had only received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. First sent to the states in 1972, the Amendment stated that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex".

In 1996, in the year of Tommy Rettig's passing, on April 3rd, Theodore Kaczynski (nicknamed the Unabomber) was arrested. His mailed or hand-delivered bombs, sent between 1978 and 1995, killed three people and injured 23 others. Diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, Kaczynski is serving 8 life sentences without the possibility of parole.

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Aug 9, 1921 - c. May 16, 1989
c. Sep 22, 1920 - c. Jul 24, 2009
Feb 6, 1954 - Unknown
Jan 22, 1956 - Unknown

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1914 - Unknown
1916 - Unknown
Unknown - November 2007
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Apr 3, 1973 - Unknown
Jul 12, 1989 - Unknown
Jan 10, 2018 - Unknown
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1954 - Unknown
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