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Before Lassie, There was Rin Tin Tin

By Donna Poulton


”He believed the dog was immortal,” is the opening line of the book Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend written by Susan Orlean. The story begins when Corporal Lee Duncan found the pup in a bombed out kennel in France during World War One. He took him and his sister back to the unit and named them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after the famous dolls the French children gave to soldiers for good luck. 

Nanette and Rin Tin Tin with Lee Duncan. Credit:

Like most people who own pets, Duncan thought this dog was special, but he couldn’t know how special. The dog was great at jumping and Duncan introduced him to Hollywood where he became an overnight sensation and never looked back.

Credit: USAToday

Making over 23 films, he was also the subject of books, radio programs and television and was mythologized as dying in the arms of Jean Harlow. 

Credit: Youtube

In the end it was not the tricks or the feats of power that made the dog a star, it was and remains the unwavering bond between humans and man's best friend that made him a household name and an icon of Hollywood history.

Lee Duncan and Rin Tin Tin. Credit: Youtube

Rin Tin Tin is kept alive through his progeny (now in the 11th generation) and through Susan Orlean’s remarkable book. Here are some reviews:

Christian Science  Monitor:

"Although her initial interest was sparked by the memory of her childhood fascination with an eight-inch plastic Rin Tin Tin figurine her grandfather kept out of reach on his desk, Orlean’s book runs much deeper than Baby Boomer nostalgia. Rin Tin Tin, no shaggy dog story, is an eloquent, powerful inquiry into 'how we create heroes and what we want from them,' and about what endures in our culture. Orlean’s conclusion: 'something you truly love will never die.'


Walter Isaacson:

"Rin Tin Tin was more than a dog. He embodied the core paradoxes of the American ideal: He was a loner who was also a faithful companion, a brave fighter who was also vulnerable. I was astonished to learn from this delightful book that he has existed for eleven generations over a century. By chronicling his amazing ups and downs, Susan Orlean has produced a hugely entertaining and unforgettable reading experience."


Ann Patchett

"Not only does Susan Orlean give us a fascinating and big-hearted account of all the many incar nations of Rin Tin Tin, she shows us the ever-changing role of American dogs in times of war and peace. This book is for anyone who has ever had a dog or loved a dog or watched a dog on television or thought their dog could be a movie star. In short— everyone."

Credit: cbsnews

Credit: Youtube

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