A Brighter Star Than Sirius

"Can dogs climb trees? Evidently," writes Susan Orlean. "At least certain dogs can. And they can climb down, too." 

A staff writer for The New Yorker, Orlean's work has been snatched up by Hollywood in the movies "Adaptation" and "Blue Crush." That relationship with Hollywood has reversed direction in her latest work, "Rin Tin Tin, The Life and The Legend." 

This famous dog touched every 20th Century generation as an international celebrity in film, radio, stage, television and books. To achieve such longevity, the idea of such a wonder dog had to outlive its first incarnation. In the aftermath of a World War I battle, American soldier Lee Duncan discovered an abandoned German shepherd puppy and named it Rin Tin Tin. After a stellar career in silent films, Rinty played briefly in the talkies as Mascot Pictures began its movie serials in 1930, collected on DVD as "The Legend of Rin Tin Tin."

Structured in 20-minute or so episodes to play before a feature film, the first two serials were played by a seasoned Rinty. The torch then passed to the next generation. By the time "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" came to television in 1954, Orlean tells us that this dog was not directly related to the original either by pedigree or training. Nonetheless, direct descendants of the line are traced today to Rin Tin Tin XII.

With this book, Orlean also accepts a role in continuing the legacy of Rin Tin Tin. Along the way, she weaves the myth of Rinty with fascinating threads: how Rin Tin Tin got his name; the beginnings of the German shepherd breed in the late 1800s; famous forgotten canine stars of the silent film era; the history of dog obedience training; how the first Rin Tin Tin came to be re-interred in a pet cemetery in Paris; and the first years of tv.

Relying more on faith than facts, we believe Rin Tin Tin did climb trees and climbed down. He also managed never to die.

--Bob S., Rock Road Branch


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