Rin Tin Tin

the Life and the Legend

by Susan Orlean

In World War I, a young soldier named Lee Duncan found a litter of puppies in a ruined kennel on a battlefield in France. Lee managed to bring two of the puppies home, and one of them grew up to become the famed movie-star dog Rin Tin Tin. I had heard the name before, but knew nothing else about him. This book depicts pretty clearly what was so remarkable about the dog and how he became so famous. Coming from a rather lonely childhood, Lee bonded closely with Rin Tin Tin and trained him to follow detailed commands. The author does a great job at noting how different society and the role of dogs in America was back then- most dogs were working animals, didn’t live in the house, and were not trained- not even to the basic “sit”, “come” or “heel”. Rin Tin Tin was not only well-trained but had a very expressive face, this combined with his intelligence and aptitude for physical feats- leaping long distances, clearing obstacles, pulling items, etc- made him a star in silent films where his roles were central, just as much as the human actors. Apparently he embodied the values of bravery and loyalty to the public, caused german shepherd dogs to become wildly popular, and even led to the obedience training of household dogs to become common. Lee was enraptured with his dog and worked to breed Rin Tin Tin, selling the puppies then selecting and training a suitable inheritor for the dog’s role. Because of course the dog got old and eventually died, but one of his offspring took his place.

A lot of the book is about the show business, how the dog’s popularity waxed and waned, how it went from being one particular famed dog to a famous character portrayed by many dogs, about the people who took care of him, trained him, wrote scripts for him, and fought over rights to his image. How the character portrayal and management of dogs acting for Rin Tin Tin diverged from the actual canine descendants that were bred. The clash between Rin Tin Tin and Lassie for popularity, and how Rin Tin Tin the movie dog differed from the TV show. About people who collected Rin Tin Tin memorabilia, or longed for one of the german shepherds descended from him, and on and on. At times I thought I would get tired of this book because it was so much about the people and circumstances surrounding the dog, more than Rin Tin Tin himself. But in all it was pretty darn interesting, especially the cultural aspects, I learned things about American history I didn’t know before, especially in regards to the filmmaking industry, dog breed clubs and shows.

After reading the book I looked for some clips of Rin Tin Tin online- not the 1950’s TV show (which is easy to find) but the older black-and-white footage with the original dog. I found one, and even though the acting seemed a bit melodramatic I could see how this dog awed the public. Especially if you remember that the original dog did all the acting- he didn’t have any stunt doubles, there were no special effects. That was him actually running and leaping across a gap, or picking up a rope to guide a horse to lift a car off a man after an accident. Would be nice to watch one of the old silent feature-length films, if I could find any. Just for curiosity sake.

Rating: 3/5
324 pages, 2011

4 Responses

  1. Your review brings back some sort-of-memories. Rin Tin Tin was popular when I was a kid and I remember watching it on a regular basis – even though I couldn’t possibly give you a single detail about the plots or characters now. That blank space in my head regarding the details makes me want to track down some of the clips you mentioned to see if they trigger the actual details for me.

    1. I don’t think I ever saw Rin Tin Tin as a kid- I do have vague memories of Lassie- but even that was at popularity before my time. Would really like to see one of the older black-and-white silent films, I looked on the off chance my library might have one but nope. I only found one clip online but I didn’t search super hard. Let me know if you come up with something!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL:

Subscribe to my blog:

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2022
January 2022 (12)February 2022 (7)March 2022 (13)April 2022 (16)May 2022 (13)June 2022 (21)July 2022 (15)August 2022 (4)
2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (5)July 2021 (10)August 2021 (27)September 2021 (16)October 2021 (11)November 2021 (14)December 2021 (12)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950