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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by…
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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

by Susan Orlean

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In the beginning, there was an orphaned German Shepherd puppy in the war-torn fields of World War One France, and a young American soldier who had spent a lot of his life lonely and isolated, and part of it in an orphanage. The young soldier was Lee Duncan; the orphan puppy became Rin Tin Tin, a leading canine actor of the silent movie period.

It’s easy to misunderstand that last bit, today, when animals in movies almost always play a comic role and are foils for the human actors. During the silent era, animal actors were on a much more equal footing with human actors, because neither had the advantage of speech. Rin Tin Tin, along with other dog actors, played a range of dramatic roles comparable to a human actor, and Rinty, as Duncan called him, was a major movie star. He was smart, highly trainable, and learned to express a wide range of emotions. Duncan took him home from France (an adventure in itself), trained him, and eventually started making the rounds of the movie studios, campaigning for a “break” for his beloved dog.

Orlean gives us the very human story of Duncan’s mostly isolated childhood, his pre-war happy employment in the gun department of a sporting goods store, and, after his return home from the war with the puppy Rin Tin Tin, his discovery that the experience of war had made him permanently uncomfortable around guns. He needed to find another way to support himself, and time spent with his dog was the surest way to ground himself and remain functional. (Many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had remarkably similar experiences, including the steadying benefits of a companion dog, whether brought home from the war zone or not.) Rinty gets his chance, becomes a big star, and he and Duncan are living the good life.

Then Rinty gets older, less able to do his really athletic stunts, and the Depression hits. Lee Duncan was, as a businessman, honest and naive, and got hurt badly by the financial crash. But he never gave up, and he believed in the idea of Rin Tin Tin as much as in the specific dog he brought home from France. This is also the story of the descendants and maybe-descendants of the original Rin Tin Tin, and Duncan’s dedicated efforts to keep the idea and the ideal of Rin Tin Tin alive. This includes the incarnation of Rin Tin Tin that both Orlean and I knew as children: the tv show set in the American west, decades before the original Rin Tin Tin was born. That tv show was created by producer Bert Leonard, who became as dedicated a supporter of Rin Tin Tin as Duncan himself.
Both Duncan and Leonard experienced success because of Rin Tin Tin, but also paid a real price for a dedication that went beyond the pragmatic and, in business terms, beyond the sensible. This is a fascinating look at not only the dogs who were Rin Tin Tin, but the people around them, and the impact this dog had on their professional, personal, and family lives.

Recommended.

I bought this book. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
I liked Orchid Thief better. It was still interesting to read about the early days of Hollywood and the emergence of animals from working on the farm to pets. ( )
  sraelling | May 6, 2018 |
I didn't know that RIn Tin Tin was a real dog that just happened to be an actor. I didn't know that Rinty was rescued from a WWI battlefield by the man who became his trainer, his advocate and his person, Lee Duncan. This is a many layered story, all revolving around the dog, the entity and the legend. The people who were passionate about the dog and his offspring as well as those who were interested in keeping the concept of the wonder dog alive are all in the story. Orlean does a great job researching all who came into contact with Rinty, whether it be as a lover of the shepherd breed, a fan of the character he played or those wanting to keep the idea alive and make their fortunes.

Good book. Recommended. ( )
  enemyanniemae | Feb 15, 2016 |
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ heart

Wow. I don't even know what to say about this book that would even begin to do it justice. I watched Rin Tin Tin, the TV show, as a kid (in re-run form of course, as I was born about 30 years too late to see the original). But I was unaware of the full history of the dog. He was more than just a character – he was a real dog whose legacy would live on well past the first Rin Tin Tin. And this book isn't just about the dog and his decedents, it's about the making and changing of movies and shows through a century, about the owner who loved him, the fans that adored him, life, love, and heroism. The author did an extraordinary amount of research and took nearly a decade to finish to book. She delves into so many aspects and the people that made the legend of Rin Tin Tin possible, from the owner, to trainers, to producers, fans, and many other people. She even delves into her own story and how she feels she connects to it all. I like how the author doesn't detach herself from the story but includes her narration and journey through it all. This book is definitely well written. If I could have just kept reading this book without pause, I would have. Very well done. If you ever grew up a fan of Rin Tin Tin or just love dogs in general, this is a great read. Recommended for many. ( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
If you are a dog lover, this book is for you! Fascinating tales of the dog called Rin Tin Tin, his descendants and the people around him.

I found this book well written with many interesting factoids on the dog and the world around him. For my tastes, I would have liked to know more about the day to day of Rin Tin Tin. Susan Orlean focused more on the people around Rin Tin Tin and the external impacts that affected the dog. She focused a lot on Lee Duncan, owner and trainer. Later on the book other characters like Herbert Leonard and Daphne Brodsgaard came into play. For about the first 3rd of the book the focus was on "Rinty" as he was called. But then the focus became more on on Rin Tin Tin's legacy.

Although interesting, I felt that the book didn't really center on the impact Rin Tin Tin had as much as the soap opera dealings after the original Rin Tin Tin died. The idea of "There will always be a Rin Tin Tin" was far greater than the accomplishments of the original Rin Tin Tin. This is why I thought the book was good, but not great. About mid book, the story became tedious with the legalities of copyright ownership, people being greedy over the legacy of the dog. In the end, as with all things, the legend of Rin Tin Tin faded from memory, leaving only this tome behind to remember him by. ( )
  DVerdecia | Jan 29, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
But by the end of this expertly told tale, [Orlean] may persuade even the most hardened skeptic that Rin Tin Tin belongs on Mount Rushmore with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least somewhere nearby with John Wayne and Seabiscuit.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susan Orleanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dantes, MarlynCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Singer, NancyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For John and Austin, my people
and
For Molly, Cooper, and Ivy, my dogs
First words
He believed the dog was immortal.
Quotations
But 'Clash of the Wolves' made me understand why so many millions of people fell in love with Rin Tin Tin and were moved by the way he wordlessly embodied many of the questions and conflicts and challenges that come with being alive.
Rinty was named as a corespondent in the divorce, a role usually reserved for mistresses.
The Academy Awards were presented for the first time, and Rinty received the most votes for Best Actor.  But members of the Academy, anxious to establish the new awards as serious and important, decided that giving an Oscar to a dog did not serve that end, so the votes were recalculated, and the award was diverted to Emil Jannings, for his performances in both 'The Way of All Flesh' and 'The Last Command'.
In his way, Rin Tin Tin had come to represent something essentially American.  He wasn't born in the United States, and neither were his parents, but those facts only made him more quintessentially American: he was an immigrant in a country of immigrants.
He got his own salary, separate from Lee's salary as his trainer, and he earned more than most of his costars; in 'Lighthouse by the Sea', for instance, he was paid $1,000 per week, while the lead human actor, William Collier Jr., was paid only $150.
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Chronicles the rise of the iconic German shepherd character while sharing the stories of the real WWI dog and the canine performer in the 1950s television show, and explores Rin Tin Tin's relevance in the military and popular culture.

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