Rin Tin Tin

May 26, 2012 at 4:11 PM | Posted in Books, Dogs | 3 Comments
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Rin Tin Tin should have been the dog of my youth but I didn’t see dogs then. For me, there was a hierarchy of creation with baseball players at the top and animals at the bottom. Now, as granddogdad to the inimitable Dolls, I find it hard to keep humans at least equal to dogs.

I’ve just listened to Susan Orlean read her delightful and touching Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Rinty was a real dog and not, like Lassie, an author’s creation. He was found by Lee Duncan, a U.S. soldier, after a bombing in France in 1918, a young and scared pup huddling next to his sister. Lee brought both back and Rin Tin Tin survived and through luck, happenstance and the ability to leap a 12 foot wall, went on to become one of the greatest movies stars of the Silent Film Era. It is said that he won the first Academy Award for a Male Actor but the award was given to Emil Jennings instead. He was that big.

Rin Tin Tin died in 1932 and there were subsequent actor Rinty’s but none, they say, with the original’s charm. I’ve now seen several of the movies and they are horrible in the usual, human sense. The writing is childish and the acting oafish — except when Rin Tin Tin is on the screen. He combines the athleticism of the greatest, most sleek athlete with the sadness of Hamlet.

Yes, there are people in Orleans’ book and the devoted, ever-dreaming Duncan, who never got over the death of the first Rin Tin Tin  is sympathetically and memorably portrayed but it is not them that I think of now. I have in my mind’s eye these pictures of Rin Tin Tin, particularly the middle one, ever faithful.


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  1. Actually, the story of Rin-Tin-Tin’s birth on a battlefield in September of 1919 very likely is myth. The first story that Duncan told (in October, 1919, to the Los Angeles Times) and that three officers of his squadron told goes like this: Duncan and his mates found an adult German shepherd male on the battlefield, and Rin-Tin-Tin was one of a litter born to him and a female German shepherd. That means he was born around the time of the Armistice. Evidence shows that story to be the true one. In a photograph taken after the 135th Aero Squadron arrived back in the United States in May, 1919, Duncan sits on the ground with Rin-Tin-Tin in his arms; next to him is another man with Nanette, Rin-Tin-Tin’s sister. Rin-Tin-Tin’s ears are floppy; Nanette’s stand straight up. German shepherd puppies’ ears start to stand up when they are five or six months old. (That’s also the age the puppies appear to be, not the nine months they would have been had they been born in September.)

    See my book, Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, available on Amazon.


    • Ann, thank you so much for writing. Both stories are good ones and I will try to hold both in my mind. I will get your book and look forward to reading it. Did you fall in love with Rin Tin Tin while writing it? What led you to write the book? Tom

  2. The authentic bloodline of Rin Tin Tin was not lost following the death of Lee Duncan on September 20, 1960. With his endorsement, the bloodline continued in Texas with Jannettia Brodsgaard Propps, who had purchased several direct descendants from Duncan. Her granddaughter, Daphne Hereford, continued the lineage and the legacy of Rin Tin Tin following her grandmother’s death on December 17, 1988. With Hereford’s guidance, the authentic bloodline of Rin Tin Tin continues through breeding of his offspring at El Rancho Rin Tin Tin in Latexo, Texas . The current Rin Tin Tin is twelfth in line from the original and makes personal appearances across the country to promote responsible pet ownership.

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