Lassie Come Home (1943): Elizabeth Taylor and Lassie the Dog

The first film of a long and popular series made a star of the dog Lassie, and launched the career of the young Elizabeth Taylor.

The simple but touching and well told story centers on the arduous cross-country journey of Lassie to rejoin the family that was forced to sell her.

This was Taylor’s secons film, after making a debut in the minor, forgettable Universal flick, There’s One Born Every Minute.

The excellent cast includes child star Roddy McDowall, Oscar winners Donald Crisp and Edmund Gwenn, and Oscar nominees May Whitty and Elsa Lanchester.

There were six more Lassie films in the big-screen series, which was followed by a radio series, and numerous TV movies and series.

This 1953 film was remade in 1978 as The Magic of Lassie

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (Color): Leonard Smith

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners were Hal Mohr and W. Howrd Greene for The Phantom of the Opera

Copyrights Issues

July 14, 2008–A Circuit Court of Appeals held Friday that the daughter of Eric Knight, the author of “Lassie Come Home,” has the right to terminate Classic Media’s copyrights in the story of a boy and his dog. Friday’s decision reverses Classic Media’s win on summary judgment in the lower court.

The court’s opinion addressed issue of copyright law involving whether the law’s termination of transfer right is eradicated by a post-1978 assignment of the rights. In a victory for authors and their heirs, the court held that their rights are not terminated.

As outlined in the 25-page decision, Knight granted rights to make the TV series to a predecessor to Classic in 1940. Knight’s heirs renewed the copyrights in the 1960s. Classic obtained an assignment of rights from Winifred Knight Mewborn, one of Knight’s three daughters who also assigned their rights in 1976, and an additional grant of ancillary rights only from Mewborn in 1978 for $3,000.

In 1996, Mewborn served a termination notice, and Classic claimed that she didn’t have the right to terminate the copyright under copyright law. After years of vituperative letters, Classic finally sued in 2005, seeking a declaration of rights. Reversing the lower court, the 9th Circuit held that the 1976 Copyright Act intended to benefit heirs, and Mewborn’s post-1978 assignment did not terminate her rights.

“Seventy years after Eric Knight first penned his tale of the devoted Lassie who struggled to come home, at least some of the fruits of his labors will benefit his daughter,” concluded the 9th Circuit.

Mewborn, who is now 87, was represented by Marc Toberoff, who has scored wins on behalf of rights holders and their heirs, including “Dukes of Hazzard” and “Superman.”