Rin Tin Tin

The Life and the Legend

Orlean, Susan

Book - 2011
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Rin Tin Tin
He believed the dog was immortal. So begins Susan Orlean's sweeping, powerfully moving account of Rin Tin Tin's journey from orphaned puppy to movie star and international icon. Orlean, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has been hailed as "a national treasure" by The Washington Post , spent nearly ten years researching and reporting her most captivating book to date: the story of a dog who was born in 1918 and never died. It begins on a battlefield in France during World War I, when a young American soldier, Lee Duncan, discovered a newborn German shepherd in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel. To Duncan, who came of age in an orphanage, the dog's survival was a miracle. He saw something in Rin Tin Tin that he felt compelled to share with the world. Duncan brought Rinty home to California, where the dog's athleticism and acting ability drew the attention of Warner Bros. Over the next ten years, Rinty starred in twenty-three blockbuster silent films that saved the studio from bankruptcy and made him the most famous dog in the world. At the height of his popularity, Rin Tin Tin was Hollywood's number one box office star. During the decades that followed, Rinty and his descendants rose and fell with the times, making a tumultuous journey from silent films to talkies, from black-and-white to color, from radio programs to one of the most popular television shows of the baby boom era, The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin . The canine hero's legacy was cemented by Duncan and a small group of others-including Bert Leonard, the producer of the TV series, and Daphne Hereford, the owner of the current Rin Tin Tin-who have dedicated their lives to making sure the dog's legend will never die. At its core, Rin Tin Tin 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. Filled with humor and heart and moments that will move you to tears, Susan Orlean's first original book since The Orchid Thief is an irresistible blend of history, human interest, and masterful storytelling-a dazzling celebration of a great American dog by one of our most gifted writers.

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Edition: 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
ISBN: 1439190135
Characteristics: 324 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.


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May 07, 2014
  • timbert rated this: 2 stars out of 5.

Read only half, the dogs characters were not captured & that was my main interest

Oct 19, 2012
  • kakacurt rated this: 1 stars out of 5.

Disappointing. Talked a lot about other dogs. Would have liked a more detailed description of the original Rin Tin Tin and not the successors and the entertainment industry.Too impersonal. Almost like a textbook. Jumps around. I rarely don't read an entire book. This was easy to put down.

Dec 07, 2011
  • Nann rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

"Yo, Rinty!" cried Rusty, the boy on the on the old west army post. The TV Rin Tin Tin sprang to action. Yet before TV there were earlier Rin Tin Tins -- going back to the French battlefield in WWI when U.S. solider Lee Duncan found an orphaned pup. The first Rin Tin Tin became a silent movie star -- in fact, he won the Best Actor award in the very first Oscars but the judges changed their decision and gave the award to a human.

Susan Orlean not only retells Rin Tin Tin's story, but she also provides background on how our attitude towards dogs as pets (vs. working dogs) has changed, the evolution of obedience training, and on dog breeding.

Nov 14, 2011
  • LJHan rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

As someone lucky enough to have shared my life with German Shepherds--seven so far; my first Shepherd "owned" me when I was 12-- I enjoyed this book.
Some of the social commentary seemed a bit over wrought, but I cried more then once.
Whenever I've posed one of my dogs with their front feet on a tree trunk or rock, they were "doing Rin Tin Tin"
(I owned a Breyer German Shepherd.
Not a very good likeness of the breed. The Hartland Bullet-which I still have-is a much better sculpture!)

Nov 06, 2011

Every kid wanted a dog like Rin Tin Tin. Or Lassie.

Oct 21, 2011
  • athena14 rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

My take: Susan Orlean started off wanting to write a book about Rin Tin Tin and his role in our culture. She got distracted by Lee Duncan’s memoir and then by Bert Leonard’s saga. I wish there were more photos, especially of Rinty I and a filmography. Not a bad book, but a muddled manuscript.

Sep 14, 2011
  • Cdnbookworm rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This book is the culmination of years of research by Orleans, and it shows.
The book describes the life of Lee Duncan, the original owner and trainer of the dog Rin Tin Tin. We see the life of the real dog Duncan brought back from France after World War I, and the on-screen persona in both film and television. Orleans gives a picture of the movie and television business over the years, and shows the various players involved from producers, screenwriters, and directors to co-stars.
She shows how the fame of Rin Tin Tin spread internationally, and how it grew to change the landscape of dogs as they moved to become pets more than working animals.
We see how the persona of Rin Tin Tin was embraced by generations and in different countries. We also are shown how the this love grew the popularity of German shepherds and a dynasty of Rin Tin Tin descendants.
Duncan was initially driven by pride in his dog and wanting others to recognize the uniqueness of Rin Tin Tin, but that grew to include encouraging others to train their own dogs. Duncan always connected with the love between children and their dogs, and this influenced his choices in film and television projects.
Orleans has taken an immense amount of research, both personal interviews and boxes and boxes of papers. She looked at artifacts from the commercialization of Rin Tin Tin, and most interestingly her own motivation to tell this story. From a child's love of a figurine, to this wonderful and extensively researched book, she acknowledges her own role in the Rin Tin Tin story.
From the personal to the legend, Orleans covers all aspects of this story over the course of almost a century. This is a book for dog lovers, those interested in social change, and those who just love a good story.

Aug 20, 2011
  • vickiz rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend, by Susan Orlean, is a book that will satisfy a variety of readers in a variety of ways. Orlean has researched with heart and commitment the story of US army corporal Lee Duncan, a lonely young man who discovers a litter of abandoned German Shepherd puppies in rural France near the end of World War I. He goes to great lengths to transport two of the puppies back to US with him, one of the puppies does not survive beyond her arrival on American soil, but the surviving puppy goes on to become the genesis of the Hollywood and television legend Rin Tin Tin.

The story of Lee and Rinty - their devotion to each other, their collective determination to succeed, their collaboration and dedication to an unusual type of performance craft and most importantly, their profound bond - is a sufficiently absorbing and heartwarming tale unto itself. On that basis alone, Orlean offers a book that will captivate readers who are pet owners and animal lovers.

But Orlean takes that story as a starting point for examining and meditating on much more. Thematically, she muses on and considers how some lose families and familial identification and forge new families and identities (as was the case with Lee Duncan), and how some live with animals and make them part of uniquely constituted definitions of family. Through Lee Duncan and subsequent dog trainers, breeders, fans and professional and amateur curators and archivists who contributed to the ongoing Rin Tin Tin story, Orlean scrutinizes, sometimes in person and close at hand, how some ascribe to animals the traits and qualities we aspire to, and how many seek to fill what is lacking in their lives and relationships with companion animals. On that basis, Orlean offers a book that will appeal to readers seeking a non-judgmental exploration of the ways in which people find professional, personal and even spiritual fulfillment.

Eventually, the physical reality of one man and one dog, who obviously couldn't live forever, ascends into something bigger. Rin Tin Tin becomes a franchise (a series of dogs, some blood related, some not, take up the Rin Tin Tin name), a trademark, a brand, an idealization and a legend. Orlean offers interesting and even instructive insights into the entertainment and advertising realms.

Orlean makes clear throughout Rin Tin Tin that the ideas of continuity and enduring memories and values developed in the book had personal significance for her. She is a strong presence and even a participant in the later chapters of the Rin Tin Tin story, both confirming her devotion to and connection with the subject, but perhaps also provoking the questions: Does Orlean in fact bite off more than she can chew thematically with Rin Tin Tin? Does she get too involved in the story, perhaps not leaving space for the reader to independently interpret and react to how different players in the story - including Orlean - are variously invested in the legend?

We all have our own motivations for being drawn to a character and entity like Rin Tin Tin and to a book chronicling his story and enduring value. Susan Orlean provides a range of intriguing entry points into a still fascinating story that will appeal to many.


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Jun 16, 2013
  • josie3706 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This thoroughly researched book tells the story of an icon from his rescue in WWI , through silent flims, vaudeville, movies, tv and every imaginable means of marketing. The author follows the fortune and failures of several people loyal to the legend and is honest to admit she becomes as obsessed as they to tell his story. Great for dog lovers, film and history buffs


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