The Life and the Legend
Rin Tin Tin
The Life and the Legend
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.
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Reading Group Guide
In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend, Susan Orlean traces the journey of Rin Tin Tin from a puppy on a French battlefield to an international brand, a set of ideals, and a legacy that has passed down from generation to generation. The narrative delves into the history of dogs in the military, obedience training and animal domestication, shifting social mores, and film and television history, all while keeping a steady hold on the personal stories of Rinty and the people who loved and trained him.
Lee Duncan, a young American soldier, first stumbled across the newborn Rin Tin Tin in a bombed out animal shelter in the fields of France. Lee took Rinty back to America, and, through a twisting path of luck and devotion, Rin Tin Tin became a Hollywood icon. The idea of Rin Tin Tin grew from the values embodied by a single dog in silent films into something much bigger than Lee had perhaps imagined—into an idea, an emotion, a character residing in national and international consciousness.
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