Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin (often hyphenated as Rin-Tin-Tin, September 1918 – August 10, 1932) was a male German Shepherd that was an international star in motion pictures. He was rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier, Lee Duncan, who nicknamed him “Rinty“. Duncan trained Rin Tin Tin and obtained silent film work for the dog. Rin Tin Tin was an immediate box-office success and went on to appear in 27 Hollywood films, gaining worldwide fame. Along with the earlier canine film star Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin was responsible for greatly increasing the popularity of German Shepherd dogs as family pets. The immense profitability of his films contributed to the success of Warner Bros. studios, and helped advance the career of Darryl F. Zanuck.
After Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, the name was given to several related German Shepherd dogs featured in fictional stories on film, radio, and television. Rin Tin Tin, Jr. appeared in some serialized films, but was not as talented as his father. Rin Tin Tin III, said to be Rin Tin Tin’s grandson, but probably only distantly related, helped promote the military use of dogs duringWorld War II. Rin Tin Tin III also appeared in a film with child actor Robert Blake in 1947.
Duncan groomed Rin Tin Tin IV for the 1950s television series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, but the dog performed poorly in a screen test and was replaced in the TV show by trainer Frank Barnes’s dogs, primarily one named Flame, Jr., called JR, with the public led to believe otherwise. Instead of shooting episodes, Rin Tin Tin IV stayed at home in Riverside. The TV show Rin Tin Tin was nominated for a PATSY Award in 1958 and in 1959, but did not win.
After Duncan died in 1960, the screen property of Rin Tin Tin passed to TV producer Herbert B. “Bert” Leonard, who worked on further adaptations such as the 1988–1993 Canadian-made TV show Katts and Dog which was called Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop in the US and Rintintin Junior in France. After Leonard died in 2006, Leonard’s lawyer James Tierney made the 2007 film Finding Rin Tin Tin, an American–Bulgarian production based on Duncan’s discovery of the dog in France. Meanwhile, a Rin Tin Tin memorabilia collection was being amassed by Texas resident Jannettia Propps Brodsgaard, who had purchased several direct descendant dogs from Duncan beginning with Rinty Tin Tin Brodsgaard in 1957. Brodsgaard bred the dogs to keep the bloodline. Brodsgaard’s granddaughter, Daphne Hereford, continued to build on the tradition and bloodline of Rin Tin Tin from 1988 to 2011; she was the first to trademark the name Rin Tin Tin in 1993 (Duncan had never done so) and she bought the domain names rintintin.com and rintintin.net to establish a website. Hereford also opened a short-lived Rin Tin Tin museum in Latexo, Texas. Hereford passed the tradition to her daughter, Dorothy Yanchak, in 2011. The current Rin Tin Tin XII dog owned by Yanchak takes part in public events to represent the Rin Tin Tin legacy.
Following advances made by American forces during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, Corporal Lee Duncan, an aerial gunner of the U.S. Army Air Service, was sent forward on September 15, 1918, to the small French village ofFlirey to see if it would make a suitable flying field for his unit, the 135th Aero Squadron.:21, 28 The area had been subject to bombs and artillery, and Duncan found a severely damaged kennel which had once supplied the Imperial German Army with German Shepherd dogs. The only dogs left alive in the kennel were a starving mother with a litter of five nursing puppies, their eyes still shut because they were less than a week old.Duncan rescued the dogs and brought them back to his unit.
When the puppies were weaned, he gave the mother to an officer and three of the litter to other soldiers, but he kept a male and a female. He felt that these two dogs were symbols of his good luck. He called them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after a pair of good luck charms called Rintintin and Nénette that French children often gave to the American soldiers. Duncan sensed that Nanette was the smarter of the two puppies.:31–32 (The soldiers were usually told that Rintintin and Nénette were lucky lovers which had survived a bombing attack, but the original dolls had been designed by Francisque Poulbot before the war in late 1913 to look like Paris street urchins. Contrary to popular usage, Poulbot said that Rintintin was the girl doll.)
In July 1919, Duncan managed to bundle the dogs aboard a ship taking him back to the US at the end of the war. When he got to Long Island, New York, for re-entry processing, he put his dogs in the care of a Hempstead breeder named Mrs. Leo Wanner, who raised police dogs. Nanette was diagnosed with pneumonia; as a replacement, the breeder gave Duncan another female German Shepherd puppy. Duncan headed to California by rail with his dogs. While Duncan was traveling by train, Nanette died in Hempstead. As a memorial, Duncan named his new puppy Nanette II, but he called her Nanette.:43–44 Duncan, Rin Tin Tin, and Nanette II settled at his home in Los Angeles. Rin Tin Tin was a dark sable color and had very dark eyes. Nanette II was much lighter in color.
An athletic silent film actor named Eugene Pallette was one of Duncan’s friends. The two men enjoyed the outdoors; they took the dogs to the Sierras, where Pallette liked to hunt while Duncan taught Rin Tin Tin various tricks. Duncan thought that his dog might win a few awards at dog shows and thus be a valuable source of puppy sales, bred with Nanette. In 1922, Duncan was a founding member of the Shepherd Dog Club of California, based in Los Angeles. At the club’s first show, Rin Tin Tin showed his agility, but also demonstrated an aggressive temper, growling, barking and snapping. It was a very poor performance, but the worst moment came afterward when Duncan was walking home. A heavy bundle of newspapers was thrown off of a delivery truck and it landed on the dog, breaking his left front leg. Duncan had the injured limb set in plaster and he nursed the dog back to health for nine months.:46–47
Ten months after the break, the leg was healed and Rin Tin Tin was entered in a show for German Shepherd dogs in Los Angeles. Rin Tin Tin had learned to leap great heights. At the dog show while making a winning leap of 11 feet 9 inches (3.58 m), he was filmed by Duncan’s acquaintance Charley Jones, who had just developed a slow-motion camera.:48–49 Seeing his dog being filmed, Duncan became convinced Rin Tin Tin could become the next Strongheart, a successful film dog that lived in his own full-sized stucco bungalow with its own street address in the Hollywood Hills, separate from the mansion of his owners, who lived a block away next to Roy Rogers.:64–65 Duncan later wrote, “I was so excited over the motion-picture idea that I found myself thinking of it night and day.”
Duncan walked his dog up and down Poverty Row, talking to anyone in a position to put Rin Tin Tin in film, however modest the role. The dog’s first break came when he was asked to replace a camera-shy wolf in The Man From Hell’s River (1922). The wolf was not performing properly for the director, but under the guidance of Duncan’s voice commands, Rin Tin Tin was very easy to work with. When the film was completed, the dog was billed as “Rin Tan”. Rin Tin Tin would be cast as a wolf or wolf-hybrid many times in his career because it was much more convenient for filmmakers to work with a trained dog. In another 1922 film titled My Dad, Rin Tin Tin picked up a small part as a household dog. The credits read: “Rin Tin Tin – Played by himself”.:68–69
Rin Tin Tin’s first starring role was in Where the North Begins (1923), playing alongside silent screen actress Claire Adams. This film was a huge success and has often been credited with saving Warner Bros. from bankruptcy. It was followed by 24 more screen appearances. Each of these films was very popular, making such a profit for Warner Bros. that Rin Tin Tin was called “the mortgage lifter” by studio insiders.:81 A young screenwriter named Darryl F. Zanuck was involved in creating stories for Rin Tin Tin; the success of the films raised him to the position of respected film producer.:78–80 In New York City, Mayor Jimmy Walker gave Rin Tin Tin a key to the city.
Rin Tin Tin was much sought after and was signed for endorsement deals. He was featured in ads for Ken-L Ration, Ken-L-Biskit, and Pup-E-Crumbles. Warner Bros. got thousands of requests for publicity photographs of Rinty, which were signed with a paw print and a line written by Duncan: “Most faithfully, Rin Tin Tin.” In the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin’s success for Warner Bros. inspired several imitations from other studios looking to cash in on his popularity, notably RKO‘s Ace the Wonder Dog, also a German Shepherd dog. Around the world, Rin Tin Tin was extremely popular, because as a dog, he was equally well understood by all viewers. At the time, silent films were easily adapted for various countries by simply changing the language of the intertitles. Rin Tin Tin’s films were widely distributed. By 1927, Rin Tin Tin was the most popular actor with the very sophisticated film audience in Berlin.
Author Susan Orlean investigated the Hollywood legend that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the firstAcademy Award competition in 1929. Orlean says that the Academy wished to appear more serious, that they determined to have a human actor win the award. Rin Tin Tin was removed as a choice and the votes were cast once more: German actor Emil Jannings won the Best Actor award.
Although primarily a star of silent films, Rin Tin Tin did appear in four sound features, including the 12-part Mascot Studios chapter-play The Lightning Warrior (1931), co-starring with Frankie Darro. In these films, vocal commands would have been picked up by the microphones, so Duncan likely guided Rin Tin Tin by hand signals.:104 Rin Tin Tin and the rest of the crew filmed much of the outdoor action footage for The Lightning Warrior on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California, known for its huge sandstone boulders and widely recognized as the most heavily filmed outdoor shooting location in the history of the movies.
Rin Tin Tin and Nanette produced at least 48 puppies; Duncan kept two of them, selling the rest or giving them as gifts.Greta Garbo, W.K. Kellogg, and Jean Harlow each owned one of Rin Tin Tin’s descendants.
Death and accolades
On August 10, 1932, Rin Tin Tin died at Duncan’s home on Club View Drive in Los Angeles. Duncan wrote about the death in his unpublished memoir: He heard Rin Tin Tin bark in a peculiar fashion so he went to see what was wrong. He found the dog lying on the ground, moments away from death. Newspapers across the nation carried obituaries. Magazine articles were written about his life, and a special Movietone News feature was shown to movie audiences. In the press, the death was given a wide variety of fabrications such as Rin Tin Tin dying on the set of the film Pride of the Legion (where Rin Tin Tin, Jr., was working), dying at night, and dying at home on the front lawn in the arms of actress Jean Harlow, who lived on the same street. In a private ceremony, Duncan buried Rin Tin Tin in a bronze casket in his own backyard with a plain wooden cross to mark the location.:109–112 Duncan was suffering the financial effects of the Great Depression and could not afford a finer burial, nor even his own expensive house. He sold his house and quietly arranged to have the dog’s body returned to his country of birth for reburial in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, the famous pet cemetery in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine.
In the United States, his death set off a national response. Regular programming was interrupted by a news bulletin. An hour-long program about Rin Tin Tin played the next day.
Duncan revealed his close relationship in a poem called “Rin Tin Tin”:
Alert and ready for my slightest word,
Rin Tin Tin I so often watch you stand;
Eager to serve me for that high reward—
A smile, or just a light touch of my hand.
Deaf to allurements of those standing by
when I am near, and deaf when I’m away.
Forever overjoyed at my return
However brief or lengthy is my stay.
Believing in me always, tho I fail,
Your trust you gave but once, and that to me.
Your’s are the qualities that men hold high,
Strength and pride and love and loyalty.
Wherever led my path you’d walk my way.
And gladly give your life my own to save.
Enduring pain and hunger, heat and cold—
And broken hearted die upon my grave.
A real unselfish love like yours, old pal,
Is something I shall never know again;
And I must always be a better man,
Because you loved me greatly, Rin Tin Tin.
Rin Tin Tin, Jr.
Rin Tin Tin, Jr., was sired by Rin Tin Tin, and his mother was Champion Asta of Linwood, also owned by Lee Duncan.Junior appeared in several films in the 1930s. He starred with Rex the Wild Horse in the Mascot Pictures serials, The Law of the Wild (1934) and The Adventures of Rex and Rinty (1935). He voiced the part of Rinty in the radio shows produced during that era, as well.
Rin Tin Tin, Jr., died in December 1941, at the age of eight, of pneumonia.:141–142
|1932||Pride of the Legion|||
|1933||The Wolf Dog||Serial|
|1934||The Law of the Wild||Serial|
|1935||The Adventures of Rex and Rinty||Serial|
|1935||Skull and Crown|
|1936||Vengeance of Rannah||Rannah|
|1936||Caryl of the Mountains|
|1937||The Silver Trail|
|1939||Hollywood Cavalcade||Rin Tin Tin|||
|1939||Death Goes North||King|||
|1939||Fangs of the Wild||Rinty|||
|1939||Law of the Wolf||[a]|
Rin Tin Tin III