Almost two years ago my husband and I adopted a dog from an organization that rescues abandoned animals. His name is Hartley and he’s a Jack Russell / Beagle mix. He’s a tad bit . . . odd. He licks furniture (gross), and he’s terrified of little girls. Little boys don’t bother him at all. The poor dog doesn’t know how to chase a ball or play “Fetch,” but he plays catch by pushing the ball with his nose for a distance of about a foot. We roll it back and he’s happy.
More than once, my husband has looked at our beloved mutt and said, “Hartley, you’re no Rin Tin Tin.”
That got me thinking about the famed German Shepherd who starred in the 1950’s TV show, “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.” In the show, Rin Tin Tin belongs to a boy named Rusty who’s been orphaned in an Indian raid. The boy and dog are adopted by the soldiers at Fort Apache and the adventure begins.
The series was only one of Rin Tin Tin’s Hollywood credits. His fame goes back to films from the 1920s when he stared in several movies, many of them with western settings. His continued to star in movies up through the 1940s, then moved to television.
The first Rin Tin Tin has quite a story. He was born in Lorraine, France in September 1918 in the thick of World War I. He was just five days old when Lee Duncan, an American serviceman, rescued him from a bombed out war dog kennel along with the pup’s sister. Duncan named the dogs Rin Tin Tin and Nenette after French puppets given to WWI soldiers for luck.
Duncan was fascinated with the abilities of the new breed known as a German Shepherd, and he became acquainted with the man who’d trained the dogs. He worked regularly with the dogs to teach them to perform on command. When the war ended, Duncan took the two dogs to Los Angeles. Sadly, Nenette didn’t make it. She died en route from distemper.
Duncan returned to his job as a clerk in a hardware store, but his interest in dogs continued and he took Rin Tin Tin to dog shows. In February 1922, Rin Tin Tin amazed the audience at the Shepherd Dog Club by jumping a phenomenal 11 feet 9 inches. Quite by chance, a man named Charlie Jones asked if he could try out his new camera that made moving pictures by filming Rin Tin Tin. Duncan said yes, and a film company later offered Duncan $350 to film the dog in action.
It took a while for Rin Tin Tin’s career to take off. Duncan tried to a sell movie script starring his dog, but he found no takers. It wasn’t until he happened on a film company struggling to shoot a scene about a wolf that Rin Tin Tin got his big break. Duncan said his dog could do the scene in a single take, and that’s what Rin Tin Tin did. The producer hired him for the rest of “The Man From Hell’s River.” The success of that film saved the studio making it from financial ruin. The name of that littlle studio on the brink? Warner Brothers Pictures.
The first Rin Tin Tin made 26 movies before he died in 1932. Warner Brothers didn’t want to lose their star, so the mantle was passed to the Rin Tin Tin’s son, known as Junior. The two dogs weren’t identical in appearance, so a publicity campaign began. Junior was the first dog to fly in a commerical airplane. Duncan and Rin Tin Tin No. 3 later particiated WWII by training 5,000 soldiers and dogs for the war effort.
Thanks to protected breeding, the legacy of Rin Tin Tin continues today. Every dog that has ever played Rin Tin Tin is related to the original one. The most recent is Rin Tin Tin #11, born July 8, 2009. May the legacy of Man’s Best Friend continue!