Rin Tin Tin was discovered in a bombed out kennel in Lorraine, France towards the end of the First World War by an American serviceman, Lee Duncan. Duncan brought Rin Tin Tin back to the US with him where by 1922 he started a film career. Susan Orlean’s new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend goes beyond the dog and delves into the story behind all the people who revolve around the idea of Rin Tin Tin. Thomas J Walsh explains these details in his review of Orlean’s book for the Houston Chronicle.
Susan Orlean’s new book about a particular sliver of Americana is no biography of the most famous German shepherd in history.
Instead, Orlean’s curious narrative, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, is a meditation on the human stories within Rin Tin Tin’s orbit, a history of dogs in America, a rare look at Hollywood’s gritty early years, and, not least, a provocative treatise on mortality and immortality.
There’s the dog himself, of course, and the many heirs to his cinematic and TV thrones. There’s Duncan, a country boy whose love of the original Rin Tin Tin ensured that the dog, no matter how famous the man himself became, was always the star — even decades after the original’s 1932 death. (“He believed the dog was immortal,” is Orlean’s opening line.)
There’s Bert Leonard, a tragicomic figure who produced the 1950s TV show and resuscitated the Rin Tin Tin brand for millions of Baby Boomers (including the author), but who also held onto the story with the clenched jaws of a pit bull for the rest of his life, dragging himself to slow ruin in the process. And there’s Daphne Hereford, the Houston area native who inherited descendents of the original Rinty. Like Duncan and Leonard, she had her own dreams of keeping the dog’s legacy alive, only to reap a flurry of litigation and even homelessness.