Rin Tin Tin – Hollywood’s Top DogLiz Mallia
Rin Tin Tin: the adored Hollywood star of the 1920s and 1930s. Rin Tin Tin was a true Hollywood legend: he had devoted fans from all over the world, drank milk from a champagne glass, and, like many great actors, was said to be somewhat temperamental.
He also happened to be a dog: a handsome German Shepherd found in France by a young corporal, Lee Duncan, in 1918. But how did Rin Tin Tin go from life in a German army kennel to becoming one of Hollywood’s top dogs (both figuratively and literally)?
The devasted dog
Rin Tin Tin’s early days were tough. Corporal Lee Duncan found him as a pup in a devastated dog kennel in France. During the First World War, Duncan had been sent to investigate a German military complex that had been claimed by the Allied forces. The complex had been wrecked by bombing, and the kennel, which still standing, contained horrors of its own. Dogs lay on the floor, long dead from their wounds.
Duncan heard a whimper from the back of the kennel, and discovered a female German Shepherd with a litter of pups, only a few days old. Lee Duncan had been an orphaned child, and had later lived an isolated life with his grandparents. Perhaps this was why he couldn’t bear to leave them behind. He decided to rescue the dogs from the devastated kennel.
Duncan rehomed most of the rescued dogs, and only kept two puppies: a pretty female pup, Nanette, and a handsome male that he named Rin Tin Tin. When the war ended in 1918, Duncan was determined to bring his dogs with him, and managed to secure passage back to America for Nanette and Rin Tin Tin. Sadly Nanette caught pneumonia after they arrived in the States, and died soon afterwards.
Although Lee Duncan resumed his former job at a sports shop when he returned to California. He dedicated his spare time to teaching Rin Tin Tin various tricks. He also entered him in a dog show, where he accomplished feats such as clearing a 3.6 metre (12 feet) wall. This impressive exploit was caught on film by a local cameraman. Rin Tin Tin roles in some short films as a stunt dog.
Duncan was convinced that his dog had star quality, and wrote a script (“Where the North Begins”) with Rin Tin Tin in the lead role. He then took his dog and script around Hollywood, knocking on studio doors to pitch his project.
Knocking on WB doors
Rin Tin Tin’s lucky break came when Duncan knocked on the door of Warner Brothers while a film was being shot. The film featured a wolf, but the wolf in the studio had no intention of cooperating with the filmmakers. Lee Duncan seized the opportunity, and presented Rin Tin Tin (rubbed in dirt to look more wolfish) as a replacement.
Rin Tin Tin put on an excellent performance, and a few days later. Warner Brothers offered to buy Duncan’s script and to cast Rin Tin Tin as the lead. In 1923, “Where the North Begins” was released. It was a huge hit with film-goers, as was its star dog Rin Tin Tin. Pictures of the celebrity dog were released, signed in pen by Duncan and in paw print by Rin Tin Tin.