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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

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Allegedly found in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel in France during World War I, then brought to Los Angeles by Lee Duncan, the soldier who found and trained him, by 1927 Rin Tin Tin had become Hollywood's number one box-office star. Susan Orlean's book--about the dog and the legend--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.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published September 27, 2011

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About the author

Susan Orlean

53 books4,036 followers
I'm the product of a happy and uneventful childhood in the suburbs of Cleveland, followed by a happy and pretty eventful four years as a student at University of Michigan. From there, I wandered to the West Coast, landing in Portland, Oregon, where I managed (somehow) to get a job as a writer. This had been my dream, of course, but I had no experience and no credentials. What I did have, in spades, was an abiding passion for storytelling and sentence-making. I fell in love with the experience of writing, and I've never stopped. From Portland, I moved to Boston, where I wrote for the Phoenix and the Globe, and then to New York, where I began writing for magazines, and, in 1987, published my first piece in The New Yorker. I've been a staff writer there since 1992.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
October 22, 2020
Good book, good book, good. Snap on your flea collars, curl up in your cozy bed, wrap that bushy tail around yourself and park that muzzle on your paws. Susan Orlean has a remarkable tale to tell about an amazing pooch.

Susan Orlean - image from The Mercantile Library

For many of you the name Rin Tin Tin rings no bells, but for folks of a certain age it summons memories from the way-back. Rin Tin Tin (no relation to the pointy-haired comic book and 2011 film character) was a hero. Rinny was a very good dog who (yes, who, not which), once a week, along with his boy, Rusty, could be relied on to protect the weak, snarl at the unkind and generally help out, while residing in a US Military fort in the wild west. Well, that was my introduction to him, anyway, in that magic box on our living room floor in the…gasp…1950s.. Turns out there had been a whole lot of living for Rinny before us boomer kids caught a glimpse. Unlike Lassie, which was a character created by a writer of fiction and then brought to the silver screen, before finding a comfy place on our TVs, Rin Tin Tin was a real, fur and blood canine, literally a war orphan. And for those of you who might not be so, um, experienced,
“I want to grab you by the collar,” she [Susan Orlean] told a group of students at Columbia recently, “and say, ‘I know you’re not interested, but it’s interesting!’”
She’s right. It very definitely is. Susan Orlean unleashed.

First Rin Tin Tin. Image from Drexel.edu

If you are going to know anything about Rin Tin Tin, you have to know something about Leland (Lee) Duncan, a real Rin Tin Tin man. Lee was a US gunnery corporal in France during World War I. A town his squadron was approaching had been bombed out pretty thoroughly by the Allies. As they were heading in, Duncan spotted a building he recognized as a kennel. It had been abandoned by the fleeing German army. And there they were, a new mom and five puppies, only days old, still bald, blind and nursing. Duncan had always gotten on much better with animals, dogs in particular, than he ever had with people. Lee had come from a poor household. Dad had taken off when he was a tyke. He and his sister, during a depression in the late 19th century, were even put up in an orphanage. That experience added to the bond he felt with these abandoned pups. He rescued the mother and her litter, later keeping two of the babies for himself. He named them after popular French dolls of the time, Nanette and Rin Tin Tin.

Back home in California, Lee began teaching Rinny tricks. He happened to know a guy in that new-fangled movie business, at the time considered a particularly crass enterprise, (unlike now, when everyone in the business is highly regarded) and got Rinny a spot in a newsreel piece, jumping over a twelve-foot wall. The popularity of this short led to actual movie roles. Turns out this pup was an outstanding actor. He goes on to become one of the top Hollywood stars of his time, certainly the top dog in his particular segment of the industry. Do you know who won the balloting for the very first Oscar for best actor? Let’s just say it is not someone who eats with a knife and a fork. Of course, the folks sponsoring the first Oscar awards reacted to this result as they might had they found something scoopable on the red carpet (or if they had been Supreme Court vote counters in 2000, finding an equally unwanted result). The fix was in. Thankfully it was only the vote count that was fixed. Instead the award was given to Emil Jannings, a German actor who not only didn’t stick around for the award, (it was given to him before the ceremony) but later appeared in Nazi propaganda films. Which reminds us again about the inadvisability of altering voting results.

Rin Tin Tin IV - Born March 5, 1952. There were four different German Shepherds used in the Rin Tin Tin television series and this one was the lead dog during shooting and the most well known and recognized. - Image and text from Drexel.edu

In his prime Rin Tin Tin was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He and Lee were hounded by their fans and dogged by the press. But fame is fleeting, particularly if the life expectancy of your breed is under ten years. There were many Rin Tin Tins. Before the original headed off to that lovely upstate farm in the sky in 1932, he sired a few pups to carry on the line, defining Rin Tin Tin as a brand more than a particular animal. There was only one Lee, though, and he was tireless. Whether it was Rin Tin Tin Jr, Number 3, 4 or later, he was always pushing to get the Rinny of the moment onto whatever screen would show him, even if the Rinny du jour was not quite up to the talent of his illustrious ancestor. Lee even took him on lecture and vaudeville circuits

I suppose Orlean could have narrowed her gaze and written solely about this dog, but there are other closely related tales to tell. The largest of these, obviously, is the story of Lee Duncan. It is not too much to say that Lee and Rinny loved each other. Lee did marry a time or two but his wives always knew who came first. Lee always felt that Rinny was star material and clearly he was right. He trained him and managed his career, and often seemed to prefer the dog’s company to that of humans. There were, of course, ups and downs. Orlean shows us Lee’s struggles, both professional and personal. It is a tale of obsession, not unlike the one she told in The Orchid Thief. Lee’s entire life was dedicated to this dog and to Rinny’s career. Lee lived for the day when he could tell their true story in film and strove his entire life toward that end.

James L Brown, Rin Tin Tin and Lee Aaker from The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin - image from Fiftiesweb.com

Orlean, in addition to following Lee Duncan’s life, tracks the career of Bert Leonard, the producer who brought Rin Tin Tin (and later Naked City and Route 66) to television. He is a colorful character and his story is interesting, as are the lesser portraits, sometimes mere glances, of other people involved in changing our attitudes about dogs, or more directly, in continuing the Rin Tin Tin line But Lee’s life with Rinny, it’s impact on his personal life and Rinny’s impact on the world of entertainment, is where the heart of this story lies.

There are many aspects of our lives with animals that we take for granted. Orlean points out how some of those began. For instance the notion of dogs living in homes with people was a rather new thing. Part of that is how our view of dogs changed from the pastoral dog-as-worker image of the 18th century to the dog-as-companion view prevalent today. We are talking about regular folks, not the Henry the 8th sort tossing leftover chunks of mutton to wandering royal hounds. Along with that, the notion of training pets was a novelty. Orlean follows some of the people responsible for changing the nation’s take on that.

Rin Tin Tin also offers a look at a hefty stretch of American history, from the late 19th into the early 21st century, tracing not only historical changes but movement in peoples tastes and values. Lee Duncan was a product of a late 19th century depression. We get a look at bits of World War I and the birth of Hollywood. Orlean offers a moving picture of the time. Hollywood was new. The silent film era was booming, and so what if a dog could not talk. Neither could the actors. Everything changed with the introduction of talkies. She looks at the role of animals in World War II, then casts an eye on the post war Boomer era, and the popularization of television. She shows how the post-war period offered an ideal incubator for shows about pets and lonely kids, how the McCarthy era informed taste in children’s programming, and how changing mores dictated both the beginning and end of Rinny’s TV show. She looks into the birth of TV shows as marketing vehicles. There is a trove of fascinating information as well as trivia buried in the author’s back yard. Go ahead and dig.

Lee Duncan, 1959, with pups Run Tin Tin 5 and 6- image from Find a Grave

A large part of Orlean's fascination with Rin Tin Tin had to do with the notion of what persists through time:
Could it be that we fill out our lives, experience all that we experience, and then simply leave this world and are forgotten? I can’t bear thinking that existence is so insubstantial, a stone thrown in a pond that leaves no ripple. Maybe all that we do in life is just a race against the idea of disappearing. Having children, making money, doing good, being in love, building something, discovering something, inventing something, learning something, collecting something, knowing something: these are the pursuits that make us feel that our lives aren’t flimsy, that they build up into stories that are about something achieved, grown, found, built, loved, or even lost.
She begins the book with
He believed the dog was immortal. “There will always be a Rin Tin Tin.”
While Rinny lasted a good long time, and while this book is likely to revive the sleeping dog, I suspect that Rinny has jumped his last wall, snarled at his last bad guy and saved his last person in distress. What Orlean offers is a warm look back at a remarkable animal, his loyal friend, and their singular careers. Even without an immortal Rin Tin Tin, or even a fully vibrant Rinny brand, there is still plenty of meat on this bone.

Who’s a good writer? Who’s a good writer?


=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Instagram and FB pages

Items of Interest
-----A nice promotional interview with the author
-----The Daily Beast - Susan Orlean Interview on Rin Tin Tin, The New Yorker & More by Adam Auriemma
-----The Rin Tin Tin page at Drexel.Edu
Profile Image for Madeline.
781 reviews47.2k followers
June 19, 2015
If you only ever read one dog biography in your life, make it this one. There you go, publishers: there's your free blurb.

There wasn't really a good reason for me to pick this book up - I was vaguely aware of Rin Tin Tin but didn't know much about him besides the fact that he was a movie dog during the 1940's (this is only partially true, it turns out, but we'll get to that). I had two reasons for wanting to read this book. First, it's by Susan Orlean, who could probably write an investigative story about the time she watched paint dry and it would be riveting. And secondly, I just really like dogs and reading about the people who love them makes me happy okay.

Rin Tin Tin was more than just a movie dog. In fact, he wasn't a single dog at all, but several generations (and possibly several unacknowledged stunt dogs - Orlean addresses the controversy surrounding Rin Tin Tin and whether there was only one dog acting in all the movies or if doubles were used, although she doesn't really come to any conclusions). The legend of Rin Tin Tin can be divided into eras: the original Rin Tin Tin, who was found as a puppy on a battlefield in France and acted in silent films; his grandson Rin Tin Tin, who acted in the TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin in the 1950s; and further down the line, the later Rin Tin Tin who was used for publicity when the show was brought back in the 1970's. In between are the many offspring of the original Rin Tin Tin and the various people who loved the dog in all his forms.

Orlean's book is more than just the story of a famous dog. When talking about the original Rin Tin Tin, you also learn about the use of dogs in warfare (during WWII, families who volunteered their pets for service would get updates on their dog's training progress, and animals who survived the war were returned to their owners) and the history of the German Shepherd breed. When Rin Tin Tin starts working in Hollywood, Orlean explains the origins of the movie industry and how the creation of talkies led to the end of the first Rin Tin Tin's career, and how television was able to bring him back. This is not just about a dog and the people who loved him. It's about warfare and propaganda, and the history of movies and television and how those mediums have changed over time. But most importantly, it's a story of the connection between people and animals, and how the love for one dog was able to span decades.

"I believe there will always be a Rin Tin Tin because there will always be stories. He began as a story about surprise and wonder, a stroke of luck in a luckless time, and he became a fulfilled promise of perfect friendship; then he became a way to tell stories that soared for years. He made people feel complete.
I, too, had set out to be remembered. I had wanted to create something permanent in my life - some proof that everything in its way mattered, that working hard mattered, that feeling things mattered, that even sadness and loss mattered, because it was all part of something that would live on. But I had also come to recognize that not everything needs to be so durable. The lesson we have yet to learn from dogs, that could sustain us, is that having no apprehension of the past or future is not limiting but liberating us. Rin Tin Tin did not need to be remembered in order to be happy; for him, it was always enough to have that instant when the sun was soft, when the ball was tossed and caught, when the beloved rubber doll was squeaked. Such a moment was complete in itself, pure and sufficient."
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
December 28, 2018
I liked this book a lot and so it gets four stars. Susan Orlean writes well. She has been a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1992. She wouldn’t have this job if she didn’t write well! The composition is well laid out, she expresses herself clearly and her background research is for the most part thorough. She presents interesting facts on the wide range of topics the book covers and draws valuable conclusions at the book’s end. She explains what her study of those involved in the making of the Rin Tin Tin legend has taught her; and then shares her conclusions with us. The book is alternately interesting and heartwarming, as a book about our beloved pet dogs should be.

The book is not only about the life of Lee Duncan and the German shepherd puppy he found in the village Fleury in France in 1918, the puppy he raised, bonded with and trained to become the first Rin Tin Tin of the silent films. It is about much, much more. It is about the history of the German Shepherd breed, the role animals, not only dogs, have had in wars, the science of dog breeding, the existence of dog cemeteries, the significance of canine obedience training, the birth of the film industry, Strongheart-- the first canine superstar of American cinema, the Rin Tin Tin films of course too, the transition from silent films to those having sound, dogs as actors and stunt artists, the transition from radio and movies to television, Hitler’s devotion toward dogs, the Association“Dogs for Defense” during World War Two, the first television shows in the 1950s including not only the popularRin Tin Tin, but also Lassie and Hop Along Cassidy, the merchandising of products that began with the first TV shows, then videos, wraparounds, color tinting and color TV. The book will most likely captivate those of the baby boomer generation in that it documents the changes that occurred in their culture, society and daily life. All of this is tied to the first Rin Tin Tin of silent films, followed by the Rin Tin Tins on TV and the creation of an immortal Rin Tin Tin legend. There have been those, even into the 21st century, for whom the legend has continued to be all important. Offspring of the first Rin Tin Tin are claimed to still exist. The book is not only about Lee Duncan but also about all those others who saw the importance and the value of keeping the Rin Tin Tin legend alive.

People want to be remembered. We want to leave a mark. Not all of us do, and is that really so bad? One does not need to be remembered to be happy. The author points this out, and I agree.

Orlean kept my interest. For the most part, details do not extend too far beyond the central story, although I personally was not all that interested in the specifics concerning the filming of every single Rin Tin Tin movie and TV production.

A quick internet search reveals that the village Fleury, where Lee Duncan is said to have found the puppy, was completely destroyed in the First World War. Wiki tell us that “the land was made uninhabitable to such an extent that a decision was made not to rebuild it. The area around the municipality was contaminated by corpses, explosives and poisonous gas, so no farmers could take up their work. The site of the commune is maintained as a testimony of war and is officially designated as a ‘village that died for France’.” We are however told in the book that the author visits the village, with the cautioning words that perhaps she might not have found the right place! This village is one of those listed as being destroyed. It thus could not be found, and she should have known this.

I very much liked the author’s clear, slow and distinct reading of her book. Not many authors can do this. Those who like rapid performances will probably want to increase the speed, but I was totally happy with it as it was. Only a few of the names did I have trouble distinguishing. I have given both the narration and the book itself four stars.

Yep, I like this a lot. It is my favorite so far by this author. I like her style of writing and how she draws together and makes interesting the Rin Tin Tin legend and the societal changes that occurred in the 20th century. I do recommend this book, particularly for baby boomers and lovers of dogs.


I would like to recommend the twelfth essay in Life Stories: Profiles from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. This essay is by Susan Orlean. This was my first encounter with Orlean and since then I have wanted to read all that I could get by her. The essay is entitled Show Dog and it is about Biff Truesdale, a boxer. I mean the dog type. I don’t know if I was supposed to laugh from start to finish, but I did. It is about dog trainers, dog breeders and dog showing. Read it if you want a good laugh.

*Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend 4 stars
*The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession 3 stars
*Animalish 3 stars
*The Library Book TBR soon
*A Gentle Reign TBR
*My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere TBR
Profile Image for ``Laurie.
197 reviews
October 21, 2017
I do love animal stories and this was a good, well researched book about the famous movie and TV star Rin Tin Tin.

Talk about a rags to riches story! RTT started out life in a bombed out German Army kennel in France and his prospects weren't looking good at all until a young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovered the mother and her pups.

Lee strongly bonded with RTT as a pup and pulled all sorts of strings to bring RTT back home to American with him. Once they arrived home to California Duncan became interested in the movie business just beginning in Hollywood. He had spent a lot of time training RTT and thought he was ready for the big screen.

Apparently RTT was a natural born actor and he soon became one of the top stars of the silent movies. He graduated to the talkies and his descendants crossed over to TV in the 1950. Even the new kid on the block Lassie couldn't compete in the ratings with RTT.

The book tells the complete story of RTT's life up to the present day with Rin Tin Tin descendant RTT XI.
Profile Image for Sue.
635 reviews24 followers
April 12, 2013
No! Say it isn't so!! The unthinkable has happened, Goodreads friends -- I purchased a book with a dog on the cover, but I DIDN'T LIKE IT! Unbelievable!

To be fair, let me explain to you why I bought this book and what I expected. Like many children growing up in the fifties, I loved the television show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. (In fact, I clearly remember sitting at the dinner table in a blue funk the night I learned the show was being canceled while my parents tried valiantly to convince me that my life was not over.) When I saw this book, I anticipated strolling down memory lane, reminiscing about favorite episodes and reading humorous doggie anecdotes about my beloved Rin Tin Tin. Instead, I got a LONG, minutiae-filled history of dogs in film generally,and more particularly, generations of Rin Tin Tins (and their Hollywood-obsessed owners).

While I found the very first part of the book interesting (in which the original Rin Tin Tin is found orphaned on a WWI battlefield and brought home by a lonely soldier), by the final third of the book, I was so bored that I had to give myself a pep talk every time I picked up the book. ("C'mon, Sue, you can do it! You CAN finish this book!") Frankly, I don't think my ennui was the fault of the author, whose story structure and writing style were more than adequate. I just don't think she had the material to work with, or rather, she had the material, but most of it was deadly dull. (The only people I would recommend this book to are students of film history, and it would be a niche history at that -- dogs in film.)

So, shame on you, Ann Patchett, for your statement that "this book is for anyone who has ever had a dog or loved a dog." It's not. It's a book for anyone who wants to read about the many, many people in Hollywood convinced that a dog could make them rich. A better quote for the book's cover would be a comment made by the wife of the original Rin Tin Tin's owner: "You meet a lot of goofy people in this business." Truer words were never spoken.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
521 reviews42 followers
September 28, 2023
I'm not quite sure why I would pick up a book about a WWI dog that transformed into a globally famous canine actor whose movies or TV show I never saw. All I can think is that loving Orlean's The Library Book may have given me the impulse. The biography of an animal born more than 100 years ago and the lonely boy soldier who found him as a pup in the trenches in France actually turned out to be a good theme for surveying changes in American society in the 20th century.

Orlean does another really bang up job combining the details of one thing (a soldier bringing a dog home from Europe) to survey a bigger thing (social change in the decades afterward). Highly readable.

Three and a half stars.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,541 followers
October 5, 2012
An engrossing immersion into one man’s devotion to Rin Tin Tin, Lee Duncan, and his obsession shared with a Hollywood producer, Bert Leonard, in making a mythic story out of him. To me, Orlean comes off as a persistent sleuth and gifted writer in bringing the story alive and clarifying why this dog and his successors captivated the hearts of generations of adults and children around the world. Here is an example of her style:

“Rin Tin Tin has always been more than a dog. He was an idea and an ideal—a hero who was also a friend, a fighter who was also a caretaker, a mute genius, a companionable loner. He was one dog and many dogs, a real animal and an invented character, a pet as well as an international celebrity. He was born in 1918 and he never died.”

A big part of Orlean’s fascination concerns how improbable it was for a loner like Duncan to find a German shepherd puppy in a bombed out kennel in France during World War 1, bring him home to raise, and then capture the attention of silent movie producers with his ideas and script. In silent movies, Rin Tin Tin was on a relative equal footing with the human stars. The shepherds that became the national breed of Germany and played myriad roles in the war effort were bred to the ideals of “attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability, and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity, and hardiness.” Rinty (as he was called by Duncan)demonstrated these qualities in his starring role in over 20 silent movies and 8 ones with sound. Orlean found him to be pretty special as well in showing emotion: “He shows in his expression and acting such deep, human contrasting feelings as trust and distrust, sorrow and joy, jealousy and love, hatred and devotion …”

After the movie career of Rinty and his successors ran its long course in the 20’s and 30’s, Bert Leonard had a lot to do with bringing the dog to life again through the TV series starting in the 50’s. For Orleans, the magic wasn’t quite the same because the stories were more about the human characters. Yet the great theme of the love of an orphan boy for his loyal and brave dog continued to echo aspects in the personal background of Lee Duncan and resonate with all kinds of people.

Orlean's admiration of the accomplishments of Duncan and Leonard leads her to marvel at how the public accepted some kind of unitary identity for Rin Tin Tin despite the commercial franchise involving multiple dogs:
“Whether he was playing a half-breed wild dog in Alaska, say, or a soldier dog in World War I or a borax miner’s companion dog somewhere out west, he was always, foremost, Rin Tin Tin. Using his name also made it seem that Rin Tin Tin existed within the film and outside the film at the same time. … Fusing those two manifestations together highlighted the artifice of film and the self-referential nature of art, the fluid relationship we have with those things we imagine and create.”

Over the years it took Orlean to write the book, she came to recognize her own obsession with the story began to approach the almost pathological devotion of Duncan and Leonard to keeping Rin Tin Tin alive. The following sequence of insights capture for me the essence for why this book on Rin Tin Tin was so compelling:

” What made this one character outlast everything around him, leaving in his wake Strongheart and dozens of others no one remembers; finding generation after generation to admire him; engaging one person after another to devote their lives to him?
…Being forgotten, washed away—that is what is typical in human experience. Anything that can withstand that inevitable decline is fascinating because it has managed to do what none of us can do: it has lived on when everything else is destined to die.
…We want things to last because life without them would be bewildering, an endless question of why anything has value or feels familiar and how any of us could be connected to anything outside ourselves.”
Profile Image for Debbie Zapata.
1,833 reviews44 followers
January 6, 2020
Last year I found myself reading a number of biographies, and I have more in my bookcase for this year. Most of them are about people in the entertainment industry such as Tiny Tim and Jimi Hendrix. This book was about someone in the entertainment industry as well, but Rin Tin Tin was not a singer or a drummer. He was a German Shepherd dog. (More than one over the years, actually.)

Susan Orlean has written an entertaining, informative book which includes the original story of how Rin Tin Tin was found (in WWI) how he came to America (with Lee Duncan, the soldier who found 'Rinty') and how he became a movie star (it took some time).

The author also explores her own mild obsession about Rin Tin Tin, based on the figurine of the dog that her grandfather kept on his desk, strictly off limits for all the children. She spent ten years working on this book, and it truly is a thing of beauty, in my opinion.

Rin Tin Tin wasn't the first German Shepherd star of the silent movie era. That distinction went to Strongheart, who was frankly a much prettier dog. But Rin Tin Tin came along and stole the spotlight from Strongheart: he had more charisma, more talent, and a more interesting biography. Besides that, he apparently was a master of 'puppy eyes': he could express more emotion than most people in the films of the day.

Orlean explores the bond between Lee Duncan and his dog. In our times, Duncan would be profiled as someone to watch out for: a loner, more than a bit obsessed with one theme, very few successful interpersonal relationships. But he had Rinty and felt that the dog and what he stood for were the most important things in his own life.

I think it was the bond between Duncan and his dog that helped make Rin Tin Tin so much of a star. But also, according to the author, there was something about him that made everyone who saw his movies proud to be an American. Why? I will quote Orlean:
"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 was everything Americans wanted to think they were ~~ brave, enterprising, bold, and most of all, individual.

I learned about the origin of Rin Tin Tin's name and why the name Rover used to be such a popular name for a dog. Did you ever wonder about that? I did but never thought about trying to find out details. Turns out that in 1905 the very first animal to star in a film was a collie who rescued a baby in a British movie. The dog character's name was Rover....ta-da!

The Rin Tin Tin story ends with a flurry of lawsuits among the people who felt they were each responsible for making sure his legacy endured. As I was reading about the disputes I began to wonder what the original Rinty would have thought about the business. It was just a few paragraphs later that I got to this, which answered my question pretty well:
Rin Tin Tin did not need to be remembered to be happy; for him, it was always enough to have that instant when the sun was soft, when the ball was tossed and caught, when the beloved rubber doll was squeaked. Such a moment was complete in itself, pure and sufficient.

Yo, Rinty!

Profile Image for Ellie.
1,494 reviews378 followers
August 17, 2011
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean moves forward from Lee Duncan's discovery of a dog on a German battlefield during World War I and his belief in this dog's "immortality." The story moves backwards through Duncan's abandoned childhood and forwards through the dog-who becomes the famous Rin Tin Tin-and Duncan's relationship and journey through the film world. Using the prism of this relationship, Orlean, with her usual strong writing, and well-paced narrative also brings us into the world of Hollywood in the 20s and 30s, a portrait of both an American icon and an important United States era.

The story also explores the relationship between people and animals-how we companion each other, care for each other, and open our understanding of very different world perspectives.

I loved the writing and it is probably due solely to the strength of Orlean's writing and the passion that informs it that enabled me to remain engaged in the narrative. I am not someone who has any special fondness for dogs but Orlean's portrait of the relationship between this dog and its descendants and Duncan & his family, their interaction with the strange but fascinating world of film in the 20s (and onwards) kept me involved.

I recommend this book to fans of Orlean, dog lovers and film buffs.

So begins Susan Orlean’s sweeping, powerfully moving story of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon. From the moment in 1918 when Corporal Lee Duncan discovers Rin Tin Tin on a World War I battlefield, he recognizes something in the pup that he needs to share with the world. Rin Tin Tin’s improbable introduction to Hollywood leads to the dog’s first blockbuster film and over time, the many radio programs, movies, and television shows that follow. The canine hero’s legacy is cemented by Duncan and a small group of others who devote their lives to keeping him and his descendants alive.
Profile Image for Saturday's Child.
1,208 reviews
December 4, 2017
After reading the positive review and seeing the four star rating that my Goodreads friend Laurie gave this book I just had to find a copy to read. Being about a dog and also Hollywood ticked the boxes for me, but there is so much more about Rin Tin Tin’s story that I learnt from reading this book.
Profile Image for Debbie is on Storygraph.
1,703 reviews124 followers
October 10, 2016
Before this book, my one vague memory of Rin Tin Tin was that short scene in 101 Dalmatians where the puppies are watching it on TV. Yet, I somehow knew that Rin Tin Tin was a dog, and even had a blurry picture of a German Shepard in my mind, and knew that he was a famous dog actor back in the day. So even me, who was born decades after Rin Tin Tin was last on the air, knew of him.

I found Orlean's dedication to her research and her ability to bring back to life the history of Rin Tin Tin and those around him remarkable. I sped through most of the book in one sitting, and probably would have finished it then if the plane hadn't landed.

After reading the book I found that a) I wanted to watch some of the original Rin Tin Tin silent movies, and b) get a German Shepard. Despite not having grown up with Rinty, Orlean made me fall in love with the dog and want to be a part of his legacy.

A great book for any dog lover, or any movie history buff.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Goodreads First Reads program.
Profile Image for SheilaRaeO.
97 reviews20 followers
August 3, 2011
This book is a fascinating account of the real life Rin Tin Tin and his owner Lee Duncan, as well as the early days of the entertainment industry from silent film and vaudeville reaching all the way to television. We also learn of the immense contributions of animals to the war effort of WWI and WWII, with the United States finally bringing in the use of trained dogs in WWII. Susan Orlean has done an amazing job of research for this book and has tied it all together in a compelling narrative. Certainly the bond that Lee Duncan had with Rinty is the stuff legends are made of. Long live Rin Tin Tin!
Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,160 reviews40 followers
January 1, 2013
I was one of the heathen. As a Generation Xer, I had never seen a Rin Tin Tin movie or even knew a television series existed. Yes, the name was familiar, but as a cinematic legend up there with Chaplin, Chaney, and Fairbanks. After reading this wonderful journey of a dog, his owner, and all of the people connected to his name, I immediately jumped to YouTube for clips of the original Rinty silent movies. Now, I'm a member of the family.

Susan Orlean captures the essence of 'yearning' in this account of how the silver screen's greatest canine star (not you, Lassie) changed the lives of people who needed a flagpole in their lives. Her first description of the dog, "the resigned and solemn air of an existentialist", lets us know this wasn't a modern-era cloistered dog but a disciplined orphan who brought hope to his discoverer and trainer, Lee Duncan. Whether she is comparing orphanages to pawnshops or explicitly telling the reader exactly what the Brits did to the thousands of family dogs donated to the war effort in WWI, Orlean gives us a page-turner as each decade opens a new tale with new people. The solemn dog born on a wretched battlefield in the War To End All Wars was a companion for the companionless, and this rule holds true throughout the book.

She also lets us understand how quickly the role of the dog changed in western households, thanks to Rin Tin Tin. When he was born, German Shepherds were still a new breed, strong and fluid. As Rinty's popularity soared worldwide, everyday people wanted the same dog and the resulting breeding miscues have now provided a breed that suffers painful hip dysplasia and shorter lifespans. The fame of Rin Tin Tin also meant that dogs started progressing from outside rural farm workers to indoor urban pampered pets, and this drastic change moved rapidly with the end of WWII and the beginning of the Baby Boomers.

As I read this, I realized just how much a dog can affect a person. A three-legged canine, who came with the name of "Tripod", entered my own life when I accidentally agreed to take on a rescue dog no one else wanted. My life changed because I had to adapt to his special needs. As I walked this strange dog (German Shepherd/Lab/Lucifer), a new world opened to me. People who previously walked by would stop to talk to him and learn his story (I think he cut off his own leg). Since we lived in La-La Land, I received weekly cards from film industry scouts who were desperate to sign him (I still have a box with dozens of the requests). Tripod was friend to all, foe to none. He had a special affinity for comforting those in need, whether it was a wandering Alzheimer's patient who believed Tripod had landed with him during D-Day or an elderly widow who woke up early each morning to sit with Tripod and talk about his late wife (to the dog, never to me), the dog taught me not to worry about the past or the future. I could only stand by in bemusement as complete strangers told us their life stories, unasked. When he died, the world he had opened to me closed forever.

And I'm not even a dog person. Thank you, Rinty, the dog who saved Hollywood and a few human souls. And thank you, Susan Orlean, for such a treasure.

Book Season = Year Round (help an unwanted doggy)
Profile Image for Dorothy.
215 reviews
June 21, 2020
A FirstReads Giveaway.
Dear Susan, thank you so much for the time, effort and love you put into this history of Rin Tin Tin. I must admit this is the first of your books I have read but have now made reading more of your work a priority.
The Rin Tin Tin legend is a favorite of mine having loved him since my childhood. I am the happy owner/companion of a beautiful White German Shepherd Dog who is very much part of the family.
As a dog lover and childhood fan of Rin Tin Tin, I was so happy to hear that I had won this book. I received it shortly thereafter and immediately dove in.
A wonderful dog and wonderful book. A lot of interesting history.
There is also a very nice movie 'Finding Rin Tin Tin', portraying
the discovery of Rinty and siblings, doesn't tell whole story but is nice.
I recommend this book to anyone and all who like dogs and are interested in the history of the time (1918-2011) and also who like to ponder what it is that makes 'one' more than 'another'.
"Was Rin Tin Tin simply one dog that was found on a battlefield in France?...........For me the narrative of Rin Tin Tin is extraordinary because it has lasted. He is that rare thing that endures when so much else rushes past; he is the repeating mark in our memory, the line that dips and rises without breaking." (quote of Susan Orlean from the book Rin Tin Tin-The Life and Legend)
Profile Image for Almira.
582 reviews2 followers
December 12, 2012
If you are of a "certain age" you will probably remember, as did I, the television series "The Adventures fo Rin Tin Tin" - a time when (young people of today wouldn't believe) there were ONLY 3 television networks! A time when no man had walked on the moon, a time when instant communication was something only seen on the television screen in futuristic fantasy space programs!

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean is a well thought out, well researched look into the real story of the original dog RinTinTin, found as a puppy in World War I by a young serviceman Lee Duncan. Lee brings "Rinty" back to the states after the war, and pursues a career training Rinty to become a "movie star", which at that time movies were still silent (yes, youngsters, movies at one time HAD NO SOUND!), of course, times changed and movies gained sound, and with that Lee had to figure out how to keep Rinty and his fame "alive".

Susan explores not only Lee's, and the original Rin Tin Tin's, path to fame,glory and eventual decline in the public's eye - with an amazing cast of characters, who along the way find themselves involved with Rinty and all of his successors (some his own offspring).

This story brought back many fond childhood memories of a different time and place in our society, that, unfortunately, will never be understood or experienced by youth of today.
March 22, 2018
Hello, and welcome back to Gaaaaabbbbbeeeee''ss's's''s booooooooooook review:

I enjoyed this quite good. Although i am not the fan of biographys. This one caught my attention. I don't like people story's. But, I can say that I liked this dogs hollywood nights. A+ from me and I hope to learn more about him as I go on through life, a sad, sad, sad man. Thanks!

If you catch the song title in this review type in the comments
Profile Image for Sylvie.
92 reviews
January 4, 2012
I got a late start in this book—an advance readers edition that I won through Goodreads’ First Reads Giveway—because I was away from home for a couple of weeks visiting Miami, Florida. Ah, yes, The Magic City is still beautiful and still fascinates, but this visit had, as all of the recent ones have had, its very sad side to it: I was there to help my elderly and very ill parents. So, when my husband called me in Miami to say I’d received a package from Simon & Schuster, and that it “looks like a book,” I was very happy. The news brought joy to a dismal day: I’d received my free book AND it’s about a dog! A German Shepherd, no less!

I’m on page 46 of Rin Tin Tin, and thus far, I’ve responded to this book as I did to Susan Orlean’s previous book, The Orchid Thief—I’ve been thrilled by some of its passages, such as her description of the St. Mihiel American Cemetery on the outskirts of Flirey, France, and impatient with some of the material that can only be described as “filler stuff.”

I'm now on page 155. I'm not a slow reader, but I read several books at a time so the time I dedicate to each book will vary day-to-day... depends on my mood.

Not all of the "filler stuff" in this book is, well, just that. Some of it is really, really interesting. For example, the author has included a wonderful description of the cemetery for dogs in Paris: Le Cimetiere de Chiens. The original Rin Tin Tin is buried here. Ms. Orlean says that "Le Cimetiere des Chiens was founded in 1899 by a group of intellectual pet lovers that included Emile Zola, Marguerite Durand, and Camille Saint-Saens, after Paris passed a law prohibiting animal graves within one hundred yards of human habitation... Le Cimetiere des Chiens is an elegant space, set off from the street by a baroque stone entryway and a curlicued iron gate; it is very Parisian, shady, and somber, filled with spindly rose bushes and gnarled topiary." Can't you just imagine it? Damn! Why didn't I know about this place when I was in Paris? I visited Pere Lachaise and loved it, but I would also have loved Le Cimetiere des Chiens!

Did you know that Adolf Hitler deeply cared about animals and animal welfare? I'd of never guessed this, although I do know that he was deeply attached to his German Shepherd.

I'll add more as I read more!

It took me forever, but I finally finished it. Disappointed! This book isn't so much about Rinty. It's really about the movie industry in Rinty's time. If that's your thing, you might like it. It wasn't for me.

Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,439 followers
January 11, 2012
This is less the story of Rin Tin Tin (and his offspring) than of the man that owned him…and after that, of the men and women that sought to preserve the memory of him. I am a sucker for dog books, but since dogs don’t talk, one must be satisfied with stories of their owners. Just as Marley and Me was not so much the story of the dog than of John Grogan and his family, so Rin Tin Tin must be imagined through this book and the massive archive of film footage of him and his chosen successors.

What struck me from the century of history behind the name of Rin Tin Tin—the first dog with the name was born in 1918 in war-torn France—was how the first man to own him, Lee Duncan, never seemed to develop the same kind of love for any dog of the same name that followed. None had that unique set of qualities that so endeared Rinty to his owner in the first place. But a huge industry rose and fell on the tide of public opinion through the war years and after, carried on and on by men with more conviction than talent, more hubris than humility. When, many times, the rights to the Rin Tin Tin name could be passed on profitably to keep the flame alive, it was often sequestered and squandered, its value magnified to untenable proportions.

Susan Orlean must have wondered many times how she had gotten herself into this project. It required long, deep dives into the lives of obsessives, and it leaves one feeling slightly deranged and breathless to think that the story of that talented canine comes from the dark recesses of neglected warehouses and lives warped to fit the myth. I listened to the audio of this book, and I had to laugh at how many times I was sure the story was over—by her telling and the inflection in her voice--only to hear another section declaring itself on my mobile device. The name of Rinty was resurrected so many times under such improbable circumstances, that one simply has to credit the wild imaginations of the rights-holders, and one feels a little sorry that the original great Rinty is not alive to be celebrated.
Profile Image for Mark Mikula.
70 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2012
Without even trying, this book propelled itself onto my all-time favorite shelf. Orlean deftly and respectfully considers the dogs and people who are a part of the Rin Tin Tin story and presents a wonderful melange of history, both straightforward and speculative, as she chronicles the riveting story of the dog and his guardians.

I've never taken to German shepherds and knew very little about Rin Tin Tin going into the book, but I am a dog and a movie lover with a particular interest in twentieth century history, so it would have been hard for this one to have missed. I bought the audiobook for my parents before I was a third of the way through it.

Told in a roughly chronological progression, Orlean is very skillful at finding a stride with the story, delving deeply when appropriate and flitting along as the narrative warrants. Just as one experiences a range of emotions when bonding with a dog through the course of his or her life, I found myself feeling a range of emotions as I entered and stayed in this world. Without a doubt, this is the type of nonfiction that speaks most loudly to me. I will be seeking out similar work by her and others who have demonstrated such a knack for this type of storytelling.

I also liked the way the book was chunked out in numbered, untitled mini-chapters within five titled longer sections. I really thought each of the numbered pieces was very successful in following a compelling arc. In language, style, and narrative, this book was a champ. Find it and tear through it yourself.
Profile Image for Wendy.
398 reviews57 followers
November 21, 2015
There wasn't much about the actual dogs.... I enjoyed the parts that were about Lee and old Rin. Everyone else involved with the Rin Tin Tin franchise in any way (be it only breeding/training the dogs or only making the movies/TV programmes) seems to have been kind of mean and lawsuit-happy. After reading this book, I think the Rin Tin Tin franchise is going to die out because of the people who are trying so hard to keep it going. It was very depressing.

Also, there was too much jumping around, topically and chronologically. It was very confusing. I just didn't enjoy this nearly as much as I thought I would. I wouldn't bother reading it unless you absolutely must, because if you're a Rin Tin Tin fan, it will probably depress you. It depressed me, anyway.
Profile Image for Belinda Vlasbaard.
3,288 reviews61 followers
July 9, 2022
4 stars - English Ebook

Quote: He believed the dog was immortal.-

So begins Susan Orlean’s sweeping, powerfully moving account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from abandoned puppy to international movie-star dog who appeared in twenty-seven films throughout the 1920s.

Spanning almost one hundred years of history, from the dog’s improbable discovery on a battlefield in 1918 by an American soldier to his tumultuous rise through Hollywood and beyond, Rin Tin Tin is a love story and mastwrpiece, that is also a quintessentially American story of reinvention, a captivating exploration of our spiritual bond with animals, and a stirring meditation on mortality and immortality.

This is a surprisingly varied social history of Rin Tin Tin, but also of film, television, military and police use of dogs, the impact of the images of Bull Connors’ police dogs on race relations, the legal implications of verbal agreements about a shifting asset, but most of all about all encompassing devotion to a particular dog, a myth of a dog, and to myth and story. So many things happen in this book that I did not expect, and there were so many side tales and illuminations of other fields, it was more like a Rin Tin Tin encyclopedia than a biography of a movie dog.

Recommended if this is your cup of tea. It was mine.
Profile Image for Samantha Glasser.
1,600 reviews55 followers
July 2, 2018
Rin Tin Tin is a familiar name to most people, even if only in the vague recesses of the memory. How many have actually watched one of his films or saw the TV show? As time goes on, the public attachment gets weaker, but this book serves to document and preserve a screen presence that was once ranked among the top stars of the day.

Susan Orlean reads her own audiobook, which is a nice touch. She has a somewhat nasal voice but once you get used to it, it works. She is a fellow Ohioan who inserts her own journey into this biography frequently, an unusual way to evoke a close emotional connection with the reader. She traveled a lot and did a lot of research based on very little to start, and this book becomes as much about the people who worked to preserve and prolong Rin Tin Tin's legacy than the dog line itself.

Very early on, the story of Rin Tin Tin reignited my own love for dogs, and it made me want to get home to see my own giant puppies.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,504 reviews348 followers
November 23, 2015
"What lasts? What lingers? What is snagged by the brambles of time, and what slips through and disappears?..Maybe all we do in life is just a race against this idea of disappearing."

Susan Orlean's book about her childhood hero is a surprisingly a deep consideration of the need to hold onto something bigger than ourselves and the desire to immortalize our heroes. Her story is about the real Rin Tin Tin, the man whose life Rinty 'gave meaning to', and the people who worked to share Rinty's story as an example of courage and valor and goodness.

It was Rinty's permanence that intrigued Orleans. Movies and films made Rin Tin Tin a shared legend that crossed generations over the world. Rinty had the ability to convey emotion and was nearly nominated for an Oscar. He was one of the earliest and most successfully merchandised media icons. With The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin came Apache fort play sets, lunch boxes, even the Beyer figurine that Orlean vividly remembers sitting on her grandfather's desk.

In France during World War I America soldier Lee Duncan was in a bombed out town when he discovered a German Shepard bitch and puppies left behind by the Germans. As a child Duncan's mother had to leave him in an orphanage which gave him stability and care, for which he was eternally grateful. Lee empathized with the dogs and saved them, keeping a male and a female pup for himself. He named them Nanette and Rin Tin Tin after locally made dolls that were worn by soldiers as good luck charms.

With the end of the war Lee was determined to bring his pups back to the States. "I felt there was something about their lives that reminded me of my own life," Lee wrote. "They had crept right into a lonesome place in my life and became a part of me."

Back in America, Lee nursed Rinty through distemper. He could no longer face his old job selling guns; they brought back memories of the buddies who didn't come home. He couldn't stand being indoors and took Rinty into the Sierras. He taught Rinty commands and tricks.

In the 1920s the German Shepard Strongheart was appearing in movies. Lee wondered if he could 'make his hobby pay' and developed a story idea for a film starring Rinty. He walked the streets of 'Poverty Row' in Hollywood trying to sell his movie idea. A small studio, Warner Brothers, liked his idea and they made the first Rin Tin Tin movie which made Lee's and the Warner's fortunes.

When Rinty's movie career faltered Lee sold the idea of a television program to Bert Leonard and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was born. Bert later sold his rights to Naked City and Route 66, but held on to Rin Tin Tin still hoping he'd find another venue for the immortal dog.

Lee was megalomanial about his dog. His wife and daughter were second to Rinty. Bert turned down lucrative offers for productions he didn't think were worthy of the Rin Tin Tin image; he died impoverished. Lee's family packed up all the Rinty mementos and left them behind with friends. Daphne Herford who had bought several dogs from the Rin Tin Tin line tried to keep the legend alive. She and Bert waged a legal battle over the rights to Rin Tin Tin.

The book is a joy to read, at once a trip down memory land and an exploration of the human desire to create something lasting.

"I adored this book. It weaves history, war, show business, humanity, wit, and grace into an incredible story about America, the human-animal bond, and the countless ways we would be lost without dogs by our sides, on our screens, and in our books." Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,456 reviews84 followers
August 14, 2016
I don't know when I first heard the name Rin Tin Tin, because I wasn't lucky enough like the author to grow with a memento toy always out of reach, or even a television show or movie. Maybe there was a mention in one of the numerous animal stories I read, maybe my father who was intelligent and well read mentioned him. Somehow, at twenty five years old, I only really knew his name and bred and not much more.

This book leaves you with an aching heart and tears formed but not loosened in your eyes. There is so much more than a dog here, there is life, history, obsession, disappointment, and friendship. Rinty represented so many different things to so many different people. How do you encompass all of that into a single book, and then sum that up in a single review?

When Lee found a litter of five puppies, he wasn't to know how his life would change, and what an impact Rin Tin Tin would have on the world. That first dog represented a change in Lee's life, but also in how dogs were viewed in society. It was fascinating reading about the change between the first dog as an impeachable, loyal companion, but still reserved and apart from humans. Dogs didn't live in the house. They weren't yet the pets we take for granted now, and films reflected that. Nre Rinty's had to change with the times.

The fascinating journey follows Lee, and seems to get especially dark after the death of old Rin. We know of course that other dogs, whether they were related to the original took up the name and the legend, but the loss of that dog that leapt into Lee's arms so trustingly was gone, and grew into so much more.

Equally interesting was following Daphne and Bert and the efforts to keep Rin Tin Tin's legacy alive, and the author's own Rin Tin Tin experience. There is so much more to say about this excellent book, the way the writing hits you, drags you in and doesn't let go only makes the excellent story better. I want to say so much more, but I'm still processing it. The 12 years or so work is well represented. I can't praise this author enough. Five stars for utter perfection.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,190 reviews1,693 followers
November 22, 2013
Why a book about Rin Tin Tin? For dog-lovers like me, the answer is obvious – the pure, half-magical devotion an animal can have to a person. And for those who are NOT dog-lovers (or who are on the fence), Susan Orlean’s explanation is about as good as it gets:

“It was the story of an extraordinary journey – across land and sea, in war and in peacetime, from poverty to wealth and back again, from obscurity to fame – and, from there, into the murky world of the once famous and almost obscure. It was also a journey through time.”

In short, Rin Tin Tin was more than a dog born in 1918, found on a battlefield in France, and catapulted to Hollywood fame. His legacy lives on and evolves and is part of our collective history, defining who we are as a nation at any given point of time. Susan Orlean describes this exceptionally well. At the start, Rin Tin Tin was “everything Americans wanted to think they were –brave, enterprising, bold, and most of all, individual.” As his invincibility wears off, he becomes “the dog you could aspire to have, and maybe even manage to have, at home.” And finally, Rin Tin Tin becomes an archetype, a “product” to be merchandised, promoted, and ultimately, sued over in the courts.

Ms. Orlean does an amazing job at merging Rin Tin Tin with his world and in bringing back to life those who were integral in his success: Lee Duncan, who spent part of his time in foster care, who saved and trained the original Rin Tin Tin, and Bert Leonard, who brought his story to the small screen, to name two.

Along the way, we learn about the history of German Shepherds, other movie-star dogs such as Lassie, the evolution of dogs from heroes to companions, the way that archetypal stories are marketed and packaged, the lightning strikes of fortune in Hollywood and the advent of television, and the making of a legend that will not die.

While a little repetitive in places, I found the journey to be fascinating – deeply researched and often thought-provoking. 4.5 stars.

Profile Image for Cheryl.
979 reviews108 followers
April 5, 2012
I listened to the audio version of this book. It was read by the author. Honestly, Ms. Orlean should definitely have had a professional read this book. She used little inflection and then when she finally did, it seemed to appear in the wrong places! Her voice is very monotonous and it was hard to concentrate on what she was saying.

That being said, the first part of the book was interesting. Reading about how Lee Duncan found Rin Tin Tin in France after World War I and managed to bring him back to the U.S. was amazing. Lee’s devotion to Rin was admirable, and his subsequent work with the dog in the movies gave me insights into the early years of the movie industry. But a large part of the book was devoted to Rin Tin Tin’s successors and the attempts by Lee Duncan to keep the dog’s memory alive. In addition, the book included loads of details about the people who tried to capitalize on Rin Tin Tin’s fame. Details about the many lawsuits that stemmed from this issue made the book tedious. Sections of the book focused on the actors involved in the television series featuring a dog who looked like Rin Tin Tin. I felt that the book should have ended with the original Rin Tin Tin’s death. More than half of the book was much too long and rambling. Can’t say I would recommend it.
Profile Image for Tina Hamilton.
104 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2012
I could not put down this book. I think that Susan Orlean is a fine writer. However, I am not a lover of dogs, especially German Shepherds. But, oh, the story behind the story of Rin Tin Tin is fascinating and covers much history of the early film industry from silent, to talkies and from black and white to color. Then television makes it appearance with the three main channels. All of this affected Rin Tin Tin's popularity, loss of popularity, the rebirth of popularity, and on and on, and it still goes on. Most touching is the story of the man who found the original puppy while he was serving as a soldier in France and the "buttheaded" producer who never gave up on making more Rinty shows or movies.

I don't want to give away any of the story, but Orlean's makes some funny but asute observations: there were Rin Tin Tin fans and Lassie fans. She compares this choice to being a Rolling Stones fan or a Beatles fan. Both were a bit before my time, but I did love Lassie. According to my mom, I cried near the end of every Lassie episode as i was afraid something would happen to the beautiful dog. By the the way, I like both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

Susan Orlean: don't wait 10 years to write another book!

Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,567 reviews102 followers
January 5, 2012
Four and a half stars. Meandering but fascinating. Events take place over such a long period (there are many generations of Rin Tin Tin) that Orlean covers the late 1800s, orphanages, ranch life, the history of dog breeds, World War I, military cemeteries, silent films, a dog cemetery in Paris, the Depression, the origins of dog training for nonprofessionals, talkies, early television, the origins of merchandising, fan conventions, and the rise of the lawsuit.

Trivia about "Rinty":

* The name comes from a story of two sweethearts, Rin Tin Tin and Nanette, who survived a bombing during World War I.

* His phone number was listed in the Los Angeles directory.

* He was named as co-respondent in his owner's divorce.

* There were actually three famous German shepherds who starred in films of the silent era: Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin, and Flame.

* The dog on the 1950s TV show was J.R., a descendant of Flame. The Rin Tin Tin descendants weren't smart enough to do the stunts, apparently (though a one-eyed Rinty descendant named Hey You was a double in some of the fight scenes).
Profile Image for Chris.
1,506 reviews31 followers
November 18, 2011
Glad I read this rather than the Steve Jobs bio. This book's subject is much like the American West, mythic. Much more than a story about a dog and an American icon it's also about America's fascination with animals and movies. Lots of revelatory info here, like how the name Rover came into common usage. Absolutely fascinating narrative of the dog and the people involved. It's obsessive, tragic,and personal. Some great deep thought moments by the author as she talks about life and the decisions made by the principals. It took her ten years to write this as she interviewed people around the country, opened up storage lockers and combed through personal effects. Talk about research!! The author seems to have been as obsessed about this book as the people she wrote about were obsessed with Rin Tin Tin. The only thing missing from this book is pictures. There are too few of them. They only appear at the introduction of each chapter. This was a labor of love from a childhood memory and it's a gem. I've already reserved the Rinty movies in my Netlix queue.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,443 reviews
October 24, 2012
an almost four. I am a big dog lover so enjoy a book that is about dogs. I have not seen a lot of Rin tin tin movies. but sure knew about this talented dog. Of course like Lassie, there was more than one Rin tin tin. I found it interesting that the original Rin Tin Tin was found in France as a puppy during WW1. by Lee Duncan. Lee brought Rin tin tin home to the USA. after the war. he found something special about his beloved dog and got him started in silent movies. he quickly became famous. for awhile Rinty was very famous. there were however, rough patches during the years the Rin tin tin dogs were in movies, he went for silent, to sound movies, and then TV. there are many other facts listed about the Dog and his master Lee Duncan. a lot of the book is interesting although is does drag in parts. it is interesting there are still some Rin Tin Tin bloodline "relatives' still around. if you love dogs, this is an interesting read.
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