A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Who exactly was Rin Tin Tin? From her childhood, Susan Orlean remembered the 1950s television show and a German shepherd figurine on her grandfather’s desk, but like many Americans, she had not thought much about Rin Tin Tin in decades. The mention of his name in the late 1990s, however, sparked her writer’s curiosity, and she began to revisit her memories to discover a broader context. She did not intend her investigation to last ten years and result in a book. Because she became personally involved with her subject and committed to preserving the story, we now have Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.
Of course, the simple answer to Orlean’s initial question is that Rin Tin Tin was a dog, but not the dog that she imagined. There were numerous Rin Tin Tin’s before (and after) the one she thought she knew from The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin which debuted on ABC in 1954 and was dropped by CBS in 1965, and none of the dogs used in the television series was ever the official Rin Tin Tin of the time. The original was a puppy found by American soldier Lee Duncan in the ruins of a World War I battlefield in 1918. Duncan nearly lost this dog before shipping home, but a sympathetic officer intervened to allow the puppy on board the troop ship. A broken leg and a failed screen test nearly kept the original from becoming a silent movie actor, but Duncan persevered, and Rin Tin Tin became a movie sensation.
Rin Tin Tin is a wide-reaching biography/history in which readers learn about dogs in war, silent movies, German shepherds in America, the Baby Boom, early television, dog breeders, and the collectibles industry in the age of eBay. The tone is natural and at times confessional, as Orlean’s book is also a memoir. Her story is compelling throughout and deserves the many readers it is getting. – Review by Rick