So imagine a time, only a few years ago, when one rescue dog grabbed the hearts and admiration of a nation, for that is the time beautifully detailed in Susan Orlean's 2011 book, Rin Tin Tin-The Life and the Legend.
The opening line by Orlean's says it all, “He believed the dog was immortal.” He, a.k.a. Lee Duncan, was right. Rin Tin Tin was and is immortal, even more than 12 dog years later. And Rin Tin Tin's story, like our beloved Whoopi, began life as an orphan. In retrospect, both were lucky to be orphaned. It changed their lives and ours.
For anyone, young or old, who has ever loved a dog--more than anything else in the entire world, anyone who remembers being mesmerized during the thrilling five-year run of the television show “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin”, or anyone who ever found themselves grow an inadvertent grin while watching the neighbor dogs play in the park--Susan Orlean’s 2011 book is an enchanting read.
Skillfully weaving over 100 years of world history, from the development of the German Shepherd--who knew that this ubiquitous dog had been developed?, to the horrors of World War I that lead Lee Duncan to turn his back on his pre-war job selling guns in a California shop, to the mythic hype of Hollywood showbiz--in addition to a surprising side trip down the author’s personal reminiscences about the Rin Tin Tin toy that created her Idée fixe on Rin Tin Tin--the books is an absolute delight.
For at the end of the day, it couldn't be more American--about our love affair with our four-legged friends. Highlights include the fact that:
Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor the first year of the Academy Awards, or what we call today the Oscars. It was only the desire to make this marketing event seem ‘serious’ and the finagling of the votes that knocked the four-legged winner out for a two-legged winner.
Rin Tin Tin was co-respondent in his trainer’s divorce. And I thought my husband’s love affair with our dog was something new?
Symbolic of the immigrant experience in the post-WW1 years--Rin Tin Tin went from being just a dog, to a Star! Horatio Alger met large in glorious black and white, the films and the dog. Though most of Rinty’s films have dissolved into celluloid oblivion, there still are some remnants out there. From old film collections on video or DVD at the local library, to snippets found on www.youtube--the original dog’s celebrity lives on past the life of any one dog. As for the original Rin Tin Tin, he may be long dead--but as Susan Orlean said, is immortal, replaced by others over the years.
And if you want more after reading the book (or before), look to Chicago Humanities Festival on November 10th when Susan Orlean will speak on her book. All part of this year's Festival, Animal: What makes us human.