ARTICLES
JON PROVOST
A BOY'S ADVENTURE
At the age of 53, Jon Provost has enjoyed several careers.  He majored in psychology at college and worked in the field of special education; Jon has also been involved in numerous charities from children’s hospitals to animal rights activities, to helping the disabled. So much so that Jon has won several major awards. During this time, Jon has also managed to help raise two children, sell real estate and work for an escrow title company. And I nearly forgot to mention that Jon also enjoyed a highly successful career in film and TV – a career which lasted for the best part of 17 years. Jon was the youngest actor to star in a TV series when he joined the Lassie series in 1957.

By this time, Jon had already appeared in six movies. However, Lassie would be the show to make his name as one of the best child actors of the last fifty years. The series would run for more than eighteen years. Coupled with the earlier appearances of Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller, Jon’s role as Timmy Martin from 1957-64 marked the series as one of the most successful children’s TV series of all time. The programme was watched by children (and adults) all over the world and is still seen on cable television in 60 countries where another generation of kids longing for adventure and the good life on a farm can have some good fun. Proof of this is the fact that Jon and many of his contemporary actors are still mobbed at autograph shows and conventions all across America.


Go to www.jonprovost.com and check out Jon’s brilliant,                  “Recollections” section. You will find a wealth of candid photos of some of the most popular young actors of the '50s and '60s like Angela Cartwright, Don Grady and Jay North. You'll also find a terrific photo tribute to the late Tommy Rettig, the young actor who began the Lassie saga those many years ago and a fine array of photos Jon will sign for you to add to your own collection.  Next year, you will be able to order a signed copy of Jon’s great new autobiography, “Timmy’s in the Well”. Make sure you get his wife and co-author, Laurie to sign the tome for you too!

I recently caught up with Jon across cyberspace, and asked him a few questions about his acting days as well as what’s happening with his life these days, and it was no surprise to hear that he has been busily making appearances on the convention circuit. The child actor’s adventure is never done…

David: Could you tell our readers about your earliest memories as a child actor which began way back in 1953 when you were merely three-years-old? Can you recall the most exciting or scariest experience during your time acting?

Jon:  I really have no memory of the first two movies I was in, "So Big" and "Country Girl". The first movie I remember is "All Mine to Give" (aka "The Day They Gave Babies Away").  I remember going to the studio. I remember Glynis Johns, Cameron Mitchell and Patty McCormack; they had an impact on me, but nothing else.

         The scariest experience I ever had was during the making of "Lassie's Great Adventure". We were on location at a rushing river. Lassie and I were on a raft which was going to break up, throwing us into the water. The director wanted me to do it myself because they could only shoot it once.  When the raft broke up, I was thrown into the water. The current was really strong. It slammed me into a rock below the surface.  The breath was completely knocked out of me and I began flailing in the water. I heard some of the crew saying what a great little actor I was.  A line of men were downstream to catch Lassie. However, it wasn’t until the dog was safe that Rudd Weatherwax, Lassie's trainer, looked at me and said, "Hey, he's not acting, he's really in trouble." I was going down for the third time when they finally pulled me out.

David: It was another 5 years before you took over from Tommy Rettig on the Lassie series. Did you ever do any autograph shows or signings with him before his premature death in 1996? I have seen examples of photos you have signed with June Lockhart & Hugh Reilly.

Jon:  No, I don't think Tommy ever did an autograph show. I brought Hugh to the only one he ever did and he had a blast. He was so modest, he was really genuinely surprised and touched that he was remembered so fondly.

David: You once signed over 500 photos in three hours at a movie convention. How many photos do you think you have signed in your lifetime? Have you ever seen many forged copies of your photos on sites like eBay? How do you deal with this problem?

Jon: I couldn't even begin to estimate how many autographs I've given out over the years...and as far as forgeries go, I really do not have that problem. There was once a very young photo of me on eBay, signed "by me" in an adult cursive signature...that had to be my mom as she sometimes signed for me.  

David: Can you tell us about some of your funniest or strangest experiences when signing for fans?

Jon:  I was once asked to sign a bald guy's head with a permanent marker. The weirdest thing I was asked to sign was a golf ball -- an object totally unconnected with "Lassie" and REALLY hard to write on!

David: If you had the chance to ask anyone in history to sign their photo for you, who would you ask and what would you like them to say in their dedication?

Jon: Jimi Hendrix; "To Jon, the guy who taught me how to play. Thanks, man."

David: Do you have any favourite stories about some of the actors you have met over the years?

Jon: I remember meeting Dan Blocker at the Paramount commissary. He was so huge and I was so small.  When we shook hands, mine just disappeared into this giant grip. The other I clearly remember was Bob Hope. I was at Paramount having lunch and someone brought me to his set to introduce us. Mr. Hope lifted me onto his lap. There were lots of people standing around and he looked at me and said, "Make me laugh, Kid." Talk about pressure. I was wearing false teeth -- I'd lost my 2 front teeth and had a retainer with 2 front teeth on it. I looked up at Mr. Hope and dropped my teeth. He broke up and yelled, "Somebody get a camera!" I have a blow-up of the photo of us that Mr. Hope signed for me a few years ago.

David: You broke into movies because your mom wanted Jane Wyman’s autograph. Did your mom ever get her signature, or any other actors?

Jon: Yes, she got Jane Wyman's and many, many others -- for me: Glenn Ford, Jayne Mansfield, Beulah Bondi...on and on... 

David: Do you also collect autographs yourself and if so what are your personal favourites?

Jon: If I'm at an autograph show and there is someone I admire, I'll get their autograph. I did that with Don Knotts. Or if I'd worked with someone long ago and never got it then. Believe it or not, I got June Lockhart and Hugh Reilly that way. We never asked them at the time.

Mostly I collect autographs of friends, peers: Stan and Barry Livingston, Paul Petersen, Angela Cartwright, Jay North.  Again, back in "the day," we didn't ask each other for photos and autographs. Now it's fun to trade them. My wife, Laurie Jacobson, is a Hollywood historian. She writes books and documentaries and has worked with some pretty awesome people whose signatures she collected: Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Lillian Gish and Robert Vaughn. Together, we have a really nice collection.

David: You still attend numerous conventions. What ones do you enjoy the most and what are a couple of your favourite yarns from some of the ones you have attended?

Jon: There's one in New Jersey called Chiller Theatre and it's truly awesome -- huge show and people come in bizarre, wild costumes. That's where I signed the bald guy's head.  My other favourite show is in LA, the Hollywood Collectors and Celebrity Show. It's always a great crowd. I've become friends with some fans I see regularly there over the years. AND, it's where I met Laurie.  She was signing one of her books and Stan Livingston introduced us. That was eight years ago this January. In March we'll celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. 

David: What are some of the books Laurie has written?

Jon: Laurie's written Hollywood Heartbreak, Hollywood Haunted and her latest opus: Dishing Hollywood will be out in November. Scandals, mysteries, ghosts...she's on TV all the time. She knows everything, so she's the perfect person to help me with my autobiography, "Timmy's in the Well". We've been working on it for awhile now. Laurie's tracked down people I hadn't seen in 40 years: teachers, girlfriends, even my co-star in "Escapade in Japan", Roger Nakagawa. It's been an amazing experience and we're still working on it!

David:  Is there an easy way for your many fans and collectors around the world to obtain your autograph?

Jon: Sure. Please visit me at my website. There are lots of stories and photos of me -- then and now -- with many of the friends and co-stars I've already mentioned.  It's a lot of fun. There's a section with photos, and other great stuff, that people can choose from. And please sign our guest book so I can write you back.  

David: Well Jon, it's been a pleasure to catch up with you and thank you for spending some time with us today. I am sure lots of folk can't wait to read, "Timmy's in the Well" and enjoy some of the great old days when adventure was still “cool!”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(C) David Priol 2004
{Photos copyright and used here as a reference only}
ARTICLES
AUTOGRAPH BLOG