Rin Tin Tin

Rin Tin Tin

The Life and the Legend

Book - 2011
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He believed the dog was immortal.

So begins Susan Orlean's sweeping, powerfully moving account of Rin Tin Tin's journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon. Orlean, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has been hailed as "a national treasure" by The Washington Post , spent nearly ten years researching and reporting her most captivating book to date: the story of a dog who was born in 1918 and never died.

It begins on a battlefield in France during World War I, when a young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovered a newborn German shepherd in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel. To Duncan, who came of age in an orphanage, the dog's survival was a miracle. He saw something in Rin Tin Tin that he felt compelled to share with the world. Duncan brought Rinty home to California, where the dog's athleticism and acting ability drew the attention of Warner Bros. Over the next ten years, Rinty starred in twenty-three blockbuster silent films that saved the studio from bankruptcy and made him the most famous dog in the world. At the height of his popularity, Rin Tin Tin was Hollywood's number one box office star.

During the decades that followed, Rinty and his descendants rose and fell with the times, making a tumultuous journey from silent films to talkies, from black-and-white to color, from radio programs to one of the most popular television shows of the baby boom era, The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin . The canine hero's legacy was cemented by Duncan and a small group of others--including Bert Leonard, the producer of the TV series, and Daphne Hereford, the owner of the current Rin Tin Tin--who have dedicated their lives to making sure the dog's legend will never die.

At its core, Rin Tin Tin is a poignant exploration of the enduring bond between humans and animals. It is also a richly textured history of twentieth-century entertainment and entrepreneurship. It spans ninety years and explores everything from the shift in status of dogs from working farmhands to beloved family members, from the birth of obedience training to the evolution of dog breeding, from the rise of Hollywood to the past and present of dogs in war. Filled with humor and heart and moments that will move you to tears, Susan Orlean's first original book since The Orchid Thief is an irresistible blend of history, human interest, and masterful storytelling--a dazzling celebration of a great American dog by one of our most gifted writers.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, [2011]
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Copyright Date: ©2011
ISBN: 9781439190135
Characteristics: 324 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

Discuss February 12, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. - Author! Author! -
Susan Orlean’s most recent release is the New York Times bestseller The Library Book, which was named a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of 2018. She is the author of seven books in total, includ... Read More »

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VaughanPLDavidB Apr 17, 2019

I tried this book because of a vague recollection of this dog's name, and because of the author's excellent "The Library Book". I can see now what a vast improvement that book was on Rin Tin Tin. I found that Rin Tin Tin was about a quarter to a third longer than it needed to be. The author has laden it with overwrought descriptions, amateur pop psycho-analysis of both herself and her subjects, and lengthy tangents and asides with which I struggled to find any relevance. This wasn't exactly a waste of time, but I would have preferred to have devoted much less time to it. It's OK if you have an interest in animal characters in popular culture.

Nov 15, 2015

I enjoyed this book a lot. Having watched the Rin Tin Tin TV show when I was a kid, I was motivated to read this partly by those fond memories and the nostalgia of it all.
There was a real dog named Rin Tin Tin long before Hollywood ever made a movie or a TV show about him. This book tells the story of Rin Tin Tin the dog and the story of Lee Duncan, his owner as well as many other people whose lives were affected by the dog and his story.

Before reading this book I didn't realize how far back the story of Rin Tin Tin goes. Lee Duncan was in the US army during World War I and was in France. In 1918, during the last days of the war Lee was with his unit checking out the small French town of Fluiry after the Germans had left it. While in Fluiry Lee ran across a kennel where he found more than 20 dead dogs, killed from artillery shells. But as he was about to leave, he heard a whimper and in the farthest corner of the kennel, he found a female German shepherd with a litter of 5 puppies.

He managed to gather all 6 of the dogs and drove back to his base.

He ended up giving the mother and several of the puppies away to other soldiers. But he kept 2 of the puppies for himself, which he named Rin Tin Tin and Nanette. He chose these names from a popular good luck charm of that time: a pair of dolls made of yarn, one boy, one girl, which were named Rin Tin Tin and Nanette.

Author Susan Orlean's story describes how Lee Duncan brought the dogs home to the US and how eventually he encountered Hollywood and got Rin Tin Tin into the movies. It was in these silent movies and eventually "talkies" that Rin Tin Tin became a Hollywood and global legend.

Even though the original Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, his legend lived on in his offspring and others that Lee Duncan was involved with.

What I found so remarkable about this story is how the legend of this dog, inspired and affected the lives of so many people, including the author.

Worth reading for fans of Rin Tin Tin from decades ago but also for those who may not have ever known of the dog and his story.

timbert May 07, 2014

Read only half, the dogs characters were not captured & that was my main interest

Oct 18, 2012

Disappointing. Talked a lot about other dogs. Would have liked a more detailed description of the original Rin Tin Tin and not the successors and the entertainment industry.Too impersonal. Almost like a textbook. Jumps around. I rarely don't read an entire book. This was easy to put down.

Nann Dec 07, 2011

"Yo, Rinty!" cried Rusty, the boy on the on the old west army post. The TV Rin Tin Tin sprang to action. Yet before TV there were earlier Rin Tin Tins -- going back to the French battlefield in WWI when U.S. solider Lee Duncan found an orphaned pup. The first Rin Tin Tin became a silent movie star -- in fact, he won the Best Actor award in the very first Oscars but the judges changed their decision and gave the award to a human.

Susan Orlean not only retells Rin Tin Tin's story, but she also provides background on how our attitude towards dogs as pets (vs. working dogs) has changed, the evolution of obedience training, and on dog breeding.

LJHan Nov 14, 2011

As someone lucky enough to have shared my life with German Shepherds--seven so far; my first Shepherd "owned" me when I was 12-- I enjoyed this book.
Some of the social commentary seemed a bit over wrought, but I cried more then once.
Whenever I've posed one of my dogs with their front feet on a tree trunk or rock, they were "doing Rin Tin Tin"
(I owned a Breyer German Shepherd.
Not a very good likeness of the breed. The Hartland Bullet-which I still have-is a much better sculpture!)

debwalker Nov 06, 2011

Every kid wanted a dog like Rin Tin Tin. Or Lassie.

Oct 21, 2011

My take: Susan Orlean started off wanting to write a book about Rin Tin Tin and his role in our culture. She got distracted by Lee Duncan’s memoir and then by Bert Leonard’s saga. I wish there were more photos, especially of Rinty I and a filmography. Not a bad book, but a muddled manuscript.

Cdnbookworm Sep 14, 2011

This book is the culmination of years of research by Orleans, and it shows.
The book describes the life of Lee Duncan, the original owner and trainer of the dog Rin Tin Tin. We see the life of the real dog Duncan brought back from France after World War I, and the on-screen persona in both film and television. Orleans gives a picture of the movie and television business over the years, and shows the various players involved from producers, screenwriters, and directors to co-stars.
She shows how the fame of Rin Tin Tin spread internationally, and how it grew to change the landscape of dogs as they moved to become pets more than working animals.
We see how the persona of Rin Tin Tin was embraced by generations and in different countries. We also are shown how the this love grew the popularity of German shepherds and a dynasty of Rin Tin Tin descendants.
Duncan was initially driven by pride in his dog and wanting others to recognize the uniqueness of Rin Tin Tin, but that grew to include encouraging others to train their own dogs. Duncan always connected with the love between children and their dogs, and this influenced his choices in film and television projects.
Orleans has taken an immense amount of research, both personal interviews and boxes and boxes of papers. She looked at artifacts from the commercialization of Rin Tin Tin, and most interestingly her own motivation to tell this story. From a child's love of a figurine, to this wonderful and extensively researched book, she acknowledges her own role in the Rin Tin Tin story.
From the personal to the legend, Orleans covers all aspects of this story over the course of almost a century. This is a book for dog lovers, those interested in social change, and those who just love a good story.


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Jun 16, 2013

This thoroughly researched book tells the story of an icon from his rescue in WWI , through silent flims, vaudeville, movies, tv and every imaginable means of marketing. The author follows the fortune and failures of several people loyal to the legend and is honest to admit she becomes as obsessed as they to tell his story. Great for dog lovers, film and history buffs


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