As an impressionable young boy growing up in the 1960s, I caught a lot of reruns of both Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. I preferred the latter, partially because the sentimental theme song to Lassie always made my sister and mother (and maybe me) cry, and partially because Rin Tin Tin was always chasing and biting people. And now Rin Tin Tin is coming to Santa Fe. Well, sort of: Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend, is hosting a screening of the 1925 Rin Tin Tin film Clash of the Wolves at the Jean Cocteau Cinema on Saturday, May 17, and there’s even a Rin Tin Tin lookalike contest. Here are a few fun facts about Rin Tin Tin, mostly gleaned from Orlean’s book and YouTube:
▼ Rin Tin Tin was a real dog with an exciting history. Army soldier Lee Duncan rescued the pup from a bombed-out building in France during World War I and turned him into the star of silent films in the 1920s. Most of those films are lost, but a few — portions of which can be found online — show “Rinty,” as he was known, saving a crippled child from wolves, fighting off bad dogs, chasing down villains, and expressing deep hurt when his human masters turn against him. He saves his pups from a raging forest fire in Clash of the Wolves and then immediately relocates the family to the desert, no doubt to avoid the potential for future conflagrations.
▼ Rin Tin Tin died in 1932. It was reported that he died with his head in the lap of actress Jean Harlow, which isn’t a bad way to go, but it was much less dramatic and simpler, according to Duncan’s memoirs. Don’t worry: there was a Rin Tin Tin Jr., a Rin Tin Tin III, and a Rin Tin Tin IV.
▼ Rin Tin Tin Jr. appeared in several cheap melodramas and serials in the 1930s. In one, The Law of the Wild, he co-stars with Rex, King of the Wild Horses, and cross-eyed comic Ben Turpin, indicating the downward spiral the pup’s career was taking. Apparently in real life Rin Tin Tin Jr. once slept through a burglary of his master’s house, which also diminished his reputation.
▼ Most of us know Rin Tin Tin from the 1950s television series, set in an army fort in the Arizona territory in the 1870s. The dog (or dogs, including stunt doubles and extras) was played by Flame Jr., also known as JR. He bore no relation to Rin Tin Tin, but no one cared as long as he attacked bad guys who were up to no good. This Rin Tin Tin is energetic and loyal, but sometimes it looks as if he’s fishing to get at a Milk-Bone hidden in the bad guys’ pockets. In one episode, “Rin Tin Tin and the Christmas Story,” Rin Tin Tin assists a (supposedly) Kiowa version of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they seek shelter on Christmas Eve. The episode is charmingly surreal.
▼ In 1955 the canine and child stars of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin appeared on the cover of TV Guide. At that time it cost 15 cents. Just trying buying a copy of it on eBay for that price today!
▼ Lee Duncan’s first wife divorced him pretty quickly after Rin Tin Tin’s career grew, telling the press, “All he cared for was Rin Tin Tin.”
▼ According to Orlean’s book, Rinty once bit a Chihuahua during a publicity tour. The victimized dog’s owner sued for the cost of the veterinary bill, a repair to her coat, some silk stockings, and dental work. She eventually settled for $25.
▼ Search for Rin Tin Tin online, and you can find a site where you can buy Grain Free Gluten Free Rin Tin Tin All Natural Dog Treats. I’ve tried them, and they’re good.
– Robert Nott