Rin Tin Tin: The Dog Who Saved HollywoodPublished May 10, 2012
The patrol adopted the dogs, with Duncan taking a male and female puppy. He named them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after the tiny French puppets given to soldiers for luck, and he became very interested in training them. Duncan was excited to bring his dogs home with him after the war, but unfortunately, Nanette died of distemper before reaching Los Angeles.
Rin Tin Tin: A Legend Born from Humble Beginnings
Once home, Duncan poured his efforts into Rin Tin Tin, or Rinty, as he called him. One day in 1922 he entered Rinty in a dog show, which he lost, and a jumping contest, which he won (with a jump of nearly 12 feet). The jumping event happened to be filmed, giving rise to a short career for Rinty doing stunts for film shorts. It also gave rise to Duncan's idea that Rinty could star in a feature film. Duncan optimistically wrote a script for a feature-length film starring Rinty, but studio after studio rejected it.
Rin Tin Tin: The Big Break
Finally scraping the bottom of the studio barrel, Duncan came across an exasperated film crew that had spent several unsuccessful days trying to film an outdoor scene with a wolf. Duncan boasted his dog could do the scene in one take. The studio told him to go away, and take his dog and his script with him. Duncan kept pestering them, and they finally agreed to go ahead and try it. Twenty minutes later, the scene was a wrap and Rinty had a contract to finish the movie. Man From Hell's River was a hit with audiences, and Rinty was immediately signed for another, then another movie, playing one heroic role after another.
Rin Tin Tin made 26 movies for Warner Brothers, and at his peak received 10,000 fan letters and $6,000 a week. Warner Brothers called him "the mortgage lifter" and credited him with saving the studio from bankruptcy.
They in turn maintained a kennel of 18 canine stand-ins so Rinty would not have to deal with the more mundane aspects of film making. The studio provided a private chef who prepared him tenderloin steak every day, which he ate as classical music played. Audiences loved him, but co-stars reported he would bite!
Despite all that Rinty had done for them, in 1929 the studio considered dismissing him, reasoning the new talkies would make a dog, who couldn't talk, obsolete. Rinty proved them wrong, being just as popular in the so-called "barkies" as he'd ever been. It shouldn't have been any surprise -- after all, Rinty even had his own radio show, aptly named "The Wonder Dog."
The Death of Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin was still filming at almost age 14, when one morning at home he suddenly couldn't walk. He died in the arms of Jean Harlow, who lived across the street from Duncan and Rinty in Beverly Hills, and had rushed over at Duncan's call. He was returned to his birthplace in France, where he is buried in "The Cimetiere des Chiens (et Autres Animaux Exotiques)" in the suburb of Asnieres.
The Legacy of Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin left behind a legacy of descendants who starred in movies and television for decades. He popularized the German Shepherd breed and encouraged dog owners to train their dogs. His descendants can still be found in homes and working situations.
One descendant even searched the Pentagon after 9-11. A Rinty For Kids (ARF Kids) provides Rinty descendents as pet-assisted therapy dogs for special needs children, and the Rin Tin Tin Canine Ambassador Club provides educational material about dogs for children. For more information visit the Rin Tin Tin website.