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. In a string of jobs he had little luck, and he was busted in the ’70s for marijuana possession and cocaine smuggling. (The latter charge was overturned).
After graduating from L.A.’s University High in 1958 and marrying 15-year-old Darlene Portwood, he tried to get back into acting, 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.
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