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Winston-Salem Journal

June Lockhart in the role of Susannah WesleyA Good Gig: June Lockhart, a mom in 'Lassie' and 'Lost in Space,' plays a familiar role in 'Wesley'

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

By Tim Clodfelter

JOURNAL REPORTER

June Lockhart is used to motherly roles, having played iconic television moms on Lassie and Lost in Space.

On Sunday and yesterday, she was in Winston-Salem filming a movie that also casts her in a maternal role.

The film, Wesley, is a biographical drama about John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement in the 18th century. She plays his mother, Susannah, a strong-willed, spiritual woman who encourages her son to spread the gospel.

"The role called for a very strong mother figure," said the Rev. John Jackman, the movie's director and producer. "June is sort of the quintessential mom for two generations."

Jackman, the pastor of Trinity Moravian Church, has filmed movies and documentaries for ABC, the Hallmark Channel and the History Channel.

In her dressing room getting ready to shoot a scene, Lockhart said she didn't mind being cast as a mother.

"It's been a good gig for me."

Wesley is being filmed at historic locations in Winston-Salem, including Old Salem and Bethabara. The film is scheduled for theatrical release in 2008.

Yesterday, filming took place in Bethabara, where the Buttner House was converted to house wardrobe and makeup. A room in Gemeinhaus was set up for a shot involving Susannah and three of her 19 children, including John, who is played by Burgess Jenkins, and his brother Charles, played by Keith Harris. Between takes, actors and extras milled about, still wearing their period outfits and clutching cell phones and bottled water.

Lockhart was clad in a multilayer black cotton dress with apron. It was 92 degrees outside and she remained inside in the air-conditioned Buttner House before her take.

"I don't know how they did it," she said of the period dress. "It's very stultifying."

Lockhart, who will turn 82 next Monday, is a mother of two and a grandmother. She is perhaps best known for her roles as Ruth Martin, Timmy's mother on the 1950s-60s hit Lassie and as the mother of three kids in the 1960s cult classic Lost in Space. But she has been acting since she was eight. She made her screen debut in 1938, when she played one of the Cratchit children in the movie A Christmas Carol - with her real-life parents playing Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit.

She went on to appear in more than 150 movies and TV shows, including Sergeant York, Meet Me In St. Louis, Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction and Beverly Hills, 90210. She said that she is selective about her roles but still manages to keep busy, with recent appearances in such TV shows as Grey's Anatomy and Cold Case.

"I work all the time," she said.

She was drawn to the role of Susannah by the script and the opportunity to appear in a historic drama. "It's a very interesting story," she said. She covers a 30-year period in Wesley, playing Susannah from age 48 to 78.

"She's doing a great job for us," Jackman said. "She's a dynamic performer."

• Tim Clodfelter can be reached at 727-7371 or at tclodfelter@wsjournal.com.