02 November 2009

A Special Visitor to the Ruins of Pancho's Ranch

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In April of this year, a very special visitor was allowed through the high security gates of Edwards Air Force Base and given a VIP tour of the ruins of Pancho’s Rancho OroLassie Verde.  This special guest, a direct descendant of one of Pancho’s good friends, was allowed free run of the grounds.  That included sniffing the empty swimming pool, chasing jack rabbits through the brush, and possibly even urinating on  the ruins of the hotel.  Because you see, this special visitor was of the four-legged variety.  It was Laddie, one of a long line of collies descended from film and TV star Lassie. Bob Weatherwax, the son of Lassie’s original trainer Rudd Weatherwax, accompanied her on her special tour — along with Col. Jerry Gandy, the commander of the 95th Air Base Wing!

How is that Lassie and Pancho have a connection, you ask?  Well, as you may have gathered from reading James Farmer’s interview with Pancho, she herself was a Hollywood dog trainer at one point in her life.  It was only natural she’d get along terrifically with Weatherwax and “Bruce” — yes, that name “Lassie” was just as much a stage name as Alan Smithee.  In comments he made in the 1950’s,  Weatherwax said he would fly up to Pancho’s all the time because “the ranch was an ideal place for Bruce to rest from working under pressure, which dogs are just not used to.  The accommodations were good for me and Bruce.  There was plenty of room for Bruce to run and it was just an ideal set-up.”

Lassie2Dallas Morley, Pancho’s former head hostess who we interviewed for the documentary, became a special friend of Weatherwax and was invited down to Van Nuys to pick out a collie puppy.  “I had my little LaddieLassie3,” she told us, her face lighting up.  “He was the image of Lassie, only he was a puppy. Pancho said, ‘What do you want with that damn dog?  You’re gonna be spending all your time taking it out to piss.’ And I said, ‘No I won’t.’  So I started training him as soon as we got him home.”  Obedience was in the puppy’s blood, and it proved easy to train.  But the dog’s bloodline also attracted unwanted attention.  Dallas never saw it coming, but someone stole her beloved dog before it could ever make its own splash in Hollywood.

Once Pancho got embroiled in her lawsuit against the U.S. Government, she tried to play a trump card to attract media attention.  She subpoenaed Weatherwax and Lassie, and succeeded in having the dog’s trainer show up in court to promote the worth of the Rancho Oro Verde.   Lassie couldn’t make it to court however — she had a prior commitment at a television studio.