Book Review: Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

October 3, 2011
Title: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Non Fiction, Biography
Year Published: 2011
Format: Paperback
Source: I picked up this book as an ARC at Book Expo America.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is Susan Orlean’s examination of the fascinating career of the famous German Shepherd of films and TV.

Orlean spent 10 years investigating the story of Rin Tin Tin, and what she found was an incredible story of one man’s love for his dog. Lee Duncan found "Rinty" during WWI on the battlefield of France. He found and rescued a German Shepherd mother and her puppies. He couldn’t feed and care for the whole family so he gave away all but the last two puppies – Nanette, and her brother, Rin Tin Tin, named after popular dolls in France.


Duncan managed to get them back to the U.S, and eventually started to try to find a way for his beloved Rinty at the movie studios. It was easier to crash into movies during the silent era when the movie business was still in its infancy. Rinty became a huge star, and the consequences for both man and dog were unexpected. Rin Tin Tin was world-famous, because silent films were truly international, with no language barrier.

After the first Rin Tin Tin died in the early 1930’s there were several other German Shepherds who “acted” under the Rin Tin Tin name. In the 1950’s, there was a very popular television series, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

Susan Orlean, best known for “The Orchid Thief”, spent many years researching and writing this book. She clearly became deeply personally involved:


Susan Orlean is a fine writer, but there is a major problem in the book. The book concentrates on the life of Lee Duncan, and Duncan simply is not interesting enough to sustain an entire book. I enjoyed the part of the book concerning his discovery of Rinty in France, and also when he was trying g to break his dog into movies. He was a nice man although somewhat eccentric, and he cared far more for his dogs than his wife and child.

One of the other major characters in the book is the producer of the television show, Herbert Leonard, who sounds like an interesting character. I found him more interesting than Duncan. There are other interesting people in this book, too, as fight for control of Rin Tin Tin continues to this day, since Lee Duncan never gave instructions in his will on who should be controlling the dynasty.

I was also disappointed that there are very few photos, and the ones that are included are not very interesting. I definitely think there should have been a section devoted to photographs.

I did find the book interesting, and it did make me look up videos of Rin Tin Tin. I’d heard about him, but had never seen him in anything, since the television show was on before I was born and silent movies are not shown very often and apparently not many of Rinty’s movies still exist.

I do recommend this book if you are interested in dogs, movies, or television.


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