A classic tale of outcaste to icon is the story of Rin Tin Tin, the movie star dog. The fact that the hero was a dog was somewhat unique for that day and age.
Maybe your first contact with the name Rin Tin Tin was ABC-TV’s, “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin”. The first run of the series was from October 1954 until May 1959. Perhaps you saw him in an old, silent movie. The actual story about Rin Tin Tin reads like that of a comic book hero.
During the Battle of Saint-Mihiel on September 15, 1918, in the first World War, United States Army corporal Lee Duncan advanced to the French village, Flirey, in the search for safe landing ground for airplanes. Corporal Duncan discovered a bombed out kennel that once provided the German military with German Shepherds. The only remaining, living dogs were a starving female with her litter of five, five-day old puppies. The officer carried the dogs back to his unit.
When the pups had been weaned. He presented the mother to his superior officer and three of the puppies to other soldiers. Duncan kept a male and a female for himself. He believed that the dogs represented his good luck. So he named them after the little good- luck charms that children gave to allied soldiers. The female was Nanette and the male, Rintintin. At war’s end Duncan returned to New York for re-entry processing. Before the railroad trip to his home in California, Nanette contracted pneumonia. Then during the trip, Nanette died.
One of Duncan’s friends was silent movie actor Eugene Pallette. The two men often brought Rin Tin Tin and a replacement Nanette to the Sierra Mountains to hunt and play. Duncan used that time to teach Rin Tin Tin tricks.
In 1922, Duncan founded the “Shepherd Dog Club of California”. After the first show, a newspaper bundle was tossed off a delivery van and landed on Rin Tin Tin causing a break of his left front leg. Duncan had to nurse the dog for nine months. When Rin Tin Tin’s leg had healed the dog was entered into a Los Angeles dog show. Rin Tin Tin showed off his jumping skills. During his winning jump of 11′ 9″, an acquaintance was filming the dog with a slow-motion camera. It was at this moment that Duncan got the idea of movie stardom for Rin Tin Tin.
Rin Tin Tin’s break came in 1922 when he was asked to replace a disobedient wolf during the filming of “The Man From Hell’s River”. Duncan guided his dog easily through the necessary scenes in the film. The German Shepherd appeared in several more films as either a wolf or wolf-hybrid that year. Finally, the dog received mention in film credits in a movie called, “My Dad”.
The canine’s first starring appearance was in the 1923 silent film, “Where The North Begins”. He co-starred with actress Claire Adams. The movie was a box office smash hit. The film was such a money-maker that insiders claim that the movie saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy.
The studio placed Rin Tin Tin in 24 additional movies. All of them were very popular with the public. To industry insiders, the dog was nicknamed “The Mortgage Lifter”. Screenwriter, Darryl Zanuck created the screenplays for Rin Tin Tin. His successes brought him the reputation of respected film producer.
Soon enough, Rin Tin Tin became a world icon, because dogs are universally loved by people all over the Earth. In order for people in other countries to enjoy the Rin Tin Tin movies, all that needed changing were the subtitles. In fact, the most popular screen actor among sophisticates in Berlin, in 1927, was Rin Tin Tin. In 1929, Rin Tin Tin had the most votes for Best Actor for the very first Academy Awards ceremony. The dog was disqualified because of his non-human status.
The movie dog was also a pioneer in the field of spin-offs and product endorsements. Rinty was the spokesdog for Ken-L Ration, Ken-L-Biskit and Pup-E-Crumbles. His “signed” publicity photos were in great demand by loyal fans.
The original Rin Tin Tin sired more than 48 puppies. Duncan retained only two of them. The rest were sold or gifted to other people. Then on August 10, 1932 Rin Tin Tin died of old age in Los Angeles. Obituaries for the dog were printed across the nation and in several other nations. He was first buried in a bronze casket in his own backyard. The Great Depression caused financial ruin for Duncan, so the house was sold and Rin Tin Tin’s body was moved for reburial in his country of birth. He was laid to final rest at Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques in a suburb of Paris.
Some of Rin Tin Tin’s descendents went on to star in radio shows and the popular television series. The lead dog was Rin Tin Tin IV, however, most of the work was performed by Flame Junior.
The latest Rin Tin Tin is 12th in the line from the original foundling. He makes live appearances to promote responsible pet ownership. There are other German Shepherd dogs with Rin Tin Tin bloodline that serve as service dogs for special needs children.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that one of Rin Tin Tin’s radio voices was performed by a voice actor named Bob Barker. He was not the same Bob Barker who hosted “The Price Is Right” game show.