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Rin-Tin-Tin as a Puppy


I don’t remember much about my puppyhood, so I have to rely on my vague memories and what I have heard and been told. Most people think I was found as an infant with my mother and brothers and sisters in mid-September, 1918, on a battlefield in France. The story goes that we were abandoned by the Germans during the fierce and terrifying battle. Lee Duncan, who called himself my owner and trainer, and some other Americans of the 135 Aero Squadron supposedly found us and brought us back to headquarters. Duncan then adopted me and my sister Nanette. That story may not be true, though enough people have believed it that it might as well be.
I was less than a year old when I appeared at a dog show in Los Angeles and wowed the crowd so much that a Los Angeles Times reporter asked to interview Duncan. This is the story he told then, before I became famous, about my parentage and birth. According to him, then, he and some other men found my grown-up father, probably a German war dog, on that battlefield in mid-September, 1918. They named him Fritz and mated him with my mother, another abandoned war dog.  This means that their puppies (and that includes me) were born some months later, either right before or even after the Armistice on November 11 of that year. Almost six months after that, we came to the United States. It is strange – my biographer would call it ironic – that the Los Angeles Times article was titled “Famous War Dog to Be Exhibited Here.” I guess nobody thought to do the math.
So how could I know anything of the Great War? I never was in the Red Cross, though I wore a Red Cross vest in some of my movies.
You can find the story in detail in my biography, Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, and more about me — including a free excerpt — on my website http://www.rintintinmoviestar.com.
My biographer, Ann Elwood, wants me to include the evidence:
Lawrence L. Smart, The Hawks that Guided the Guns (Privately Printed, 1968);  Percival Gray Hart, History of the 135th Aero Squadron: The ‘Statue of Liberty’ Observation Squadron in World War I (Nashville: The Battery Press, 1990)
Rin-Tin-Tin Collection, Riverside, California, Letter from Otto Sandman, September 21, 1960, Box 7, Folder 13-H.
“Famous War Dog to Be Exhibited Here,” Los Angeles Times (1186-Current File); October 13, 1919,  II2

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Rin-Tin-Tin as a Puppy


I don’t remember much about my puppyhood, so I have to rely on my vague memories and what I have heard and been told. Most people think I was found as an infant with my mother and brothers and sisters in mid-September, 1918, on a battlefield in France. The story goes that we were abandoned by the Germans during the fierce and terrifying battle. Lee Duncan, who called himself my owner and trainer, and some other Americans of the 135 Aero Squadron supposedly found us and brought us back to headquarters. Duncan then adopted me and my sister Nanette. That story may not be true, though enough people have believed it that it might as well be.
I was less than a year old when I appeared at a dog show in Los Angeles and wowed the crowd so much that a Los Angeles Times reporter asked to interview Duncan. This is the story he told then, before I became famous, about my parentage and birth. According to him, then, he and some other men found my grown-up father, probably a German war dog, on that battlefield in mid-September, 1918. They named him Fritz and mated him with my mother, another abandoned war dog.  This means that their puppies (and that includes me) were born some months later, either right before or even after the Armistice on November 11 of that year. Almost six months after that, we came to the United States. It is strange – my biographer would call it ironic – that the Los Angeles Times article was titled “Famous War Dog to Be Exhibited Here.” I guess nobody thought to do the math.
So how could I know anything of the Great War? I never was in the Red Cross, though I wore a Red Cross vest in some of my movies.
You can find the story in detail in my biography, Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, and more about me — including a free excerpt — on my website http://rintintinmoviestar.com.
My biographer, Ann Elwood, wants me to include the evidence:
Lawrence L. Smart, The Hawks that Guided the Guns (Privately Printed, 1968);  Percival Gray Hart, History of the 135th Aero Squadron: The ‘Statue of Liberty’ Observation Squadron in World War I (Nashville: The Battery Press, 1990)
Rin-Tin-Tin Collection, Riverside, California, Letter from Otto Sandman, September 21, 1960, Box 7, Folder 13-H.
“Famous War Dog to Be Exhibited Here,” Los Angeles Times (1186-Current File); October 13, 1919,  II2


 

Kapitan, a German shepherd owned by L.R.Lenhart and billed as “Hollywood’s beautiful dare-devil dog of the movies,” was, according to newspaper stories, a stunt double when he first started appearing on movie house stages in the Midwest in 1929. However, he soon metamorphosed into Rin-Tin-Tin’s son – at least in publicity. Insured for $25,000 (a large amount in those days), he traveled in a special automobile and did his whole show (15-25 minutes) by himself. He had supposedly attended Hollywood Movie Dog School for fifteen months to become “the world’s most highly educated canine star” and to be chosen from 200 other dogs as a double for Strongheart, another famous German shepherd dog star. By August, 1931, he was famous as the star of a movie called Frozen North, which, as far as I can find out, did not exist. (I do not find him listed as part of the cast of any of the movies titled Frozen North. Moreover, no movie of that name was made in his lifetime except one short in 1922.) On stage, he showed his ability to add and subtract, walk a tight-wire, and tell one brand of cigarette from another. In Kapitan’s publicity for the Gentry Brothers Animal Show in 1933, he was touted as more beautiful and intelligent than Rin-Tin-Tin.

As far as I know, Rin-Tin-Tin did not know he existed.

And then there was Ron-Ton-Ton. . . 

Shameless self-promotion: Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, a project three years in the making, is now finished and for sale on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.


Mascots

During World War I, in France, Rin-Tin-Tin was the mascot of the 135th Aero Squadron. He wasn’t the only one, nor was he the first.

Broncho, an Irish terrier who belonged to Lieutenant Blair Thaw, the first commander of the 135th Aero Squadron, was there ahead of Rin-Tin-Tin. Broncho entertained the officers with standard tricks (“leave it,” roll over and play dead) with an anti-German twist. On August 18, 1918, attempting to land after developing engine trouble, Thaw, Broncho with him, flew his plane into some telephone wires and crashed. He was killed. Broncho ran from the scene. According to a New York Times article, with accompanying photograph of Mrs. Thaw and Broncho, Mrs. Thaw went to France in 1920 to visit her son’s grave and bring Broncho back to the United States.

Wopsie, a floppy-eared black-and-white terrier type, who lived at the Air Service Headquarters of Second Army (to which the 135th Aero Squadron belonged) was the mascot of the enlisted men, who made fun of the officers by quoting the dog. When “interviewed” by a reporter, Wopsie spoke in Brooklynese: “Youse army guys are all wrong. . .You let these higher-ups around here bluff you into thinking that they are some punkins. They don’t impress me much. I’d just as soon break into a conference of generals and colonels as I would on a crap game in the Message Center. They’re all alike – I’ve got the dope on ‘em all.”

Newspapers and magazines of the late teens featured many stories about regiment mascots. The dogs were often picked up by chance and what happened to them after the war was anybody’s guess. In the end no one was responsible for them. Rin-Tin-Tin was lucky. He had people who cared enough about him to take him to the United States after the war.

I don’t know who the dog is in this photograph of the officers of the 135th Aero Squadron.  He doesn’t look like Rin-Tin-Tin. Maybe it’s Wopsie.


Hello, again,

Ann’s friend, Aline Hornaday, remembers me!

“Hi, Ann,

“I may be one of a very few among your readers who remember seeing R-T-T movies, my father loved them. We would spend Saturday mornings together at his newspaper office while my father cleaned up the remaining work from the week & my mother slept in at home, & I pushed around the ‘turtle’ with the typeset pages waiting to go into the next edition. Sometimes a typesetter catching up on work would set a slug of type with my name on it for me & I went crazy with an inkpad putting my name on everything. Then we bought an indigestible but delicious tamale from Mr. Gonzalez, who pedalled one of the old tamale wagons that plied downtown San Diego in those days. After all that, we went up a couple of blocks to the old Spreckels movie theater & saw the Saturday movie. We never missed a R-T-T showing.

“I saw the Thorne Smith movies that way too, no idea why my father thought they were so funny, saw Al Jolson sing ‘Mammy’ for the first sound movie, AND watched R-T-T save victims & go after villains. Watching him & his kindly persona got me over the fear of dogs I’d developed after being bitten by a stray. After that my fearful mother accepted the idea of a dog. We got a wonderful female Samoyed from the pound who took one look at my quivering mother, sized the situation up accurately, walked over in front of her, sat down & daintily offered a paw. Mother was charmed, Daddy convinced her to take the offered paw, & Tootie licked her hand. The tactful creature came home with us that day & was a joy in our house for years.

“Years later, it was Tootie who alerted us to my father’s peaceful death as he took an after-lunch nap. She was lying by his bed, & suddenly sat up & began to howl – she adored him & loved to show off the tricks he had taught her, & she instantly knew he had left us. . “

Thank you, Aline!

Rin-Tin-Tin

P.S. Here’s a picture of me with my “wife,” Nanette, and children. I’m the one on the left.


Here I am again, Rin-Tin-Tin the Original.

I find myself thinking about my owner and trainer, Lee Duncan, and those expensive cars parked in our yard. One was a Cleveland sport phaeton, whatever that is. Of course, the Cadillac. And the Reo – you can see me and Duncan in it in the picture at the bottom of the page. I liked that one because it was a convertible. I could smell all the air when we rode in it.

Sometimes Duncan had me pose behind the wheel as if I were going to drive away. Let’s set the record straight – I never had any interest in driving, as Louie, Ann’s dog and my friend-across-the-ages, does, at least according to the picture. The newspapers said I bought the cars, and that’s true – without the money I made with my fantastic acting ability Duncan could never have afforded them. Nor, I have to add, could he have paid for the big house overlooking the Los Angeles Country Club. Or those kennels where he put me when I wasn’t working. We — my “wife,” Nanette, our puppies and I — lived in what humans call “luxury.” Reporters carried on about how I ate my meals (dog food) from a silver trough. But silver – what’s that to me but another metal? They said classical music was piped into the kennel. Whoop-de-do. Listen, while I can hear a rabbit turning in its burrow and that gets me excited, human music doesn’t do anything for me – the Great Caruso sounds little different from Bing Crosby. I’ll tell you what would have been luxury to me – more access to Nanette and freedom to run.

Running was my passion. On foot, Duncan couldn’t begin to keep up with me. (Maybe that’s why he liked to drive those fast cars.) Sometimes when we were filming on location in Yosemite or Lake Tahoe and he was telling me to run, while those cameras had their eyes on me, who knows why.. . . sometimes I thought to myself, maybe, maybe I will just keep running and never come back. But I am a German shepherd, and German shepherds come back. Something in me switches on and turns me around when I hear the word “come.”

If someone had asked me (and no one ever did), “What is it you want, Rin-Tin-Tin?”, I would have said, “To be free.”

Tell me, you other dogs out there, what is it you wish for?


I am Rin-Tin-Tin (1918-1932), a famous movie star of my time

This quill pen I have in paw is pretty awkward to handle, so I’ll drop it and channel myself to this newfangled device you modern people call a computer. Not too hard. I’m a ghost in the machine, gone these 78 years. You wonder that a dog can do this? Remember, I was among the smartest of the smart German shepherds of my time.
You should know about me: I was famous for my intelligence, not to even mention my ability to leap into second-story windows, run like the wind, and make grown men cry with my fabled acting ability. It helped that I was a German shepherd. Humans loved German shepherds when I was alive: we were the saviors of lost sheep, the rescuers of wounded soldiers, the fierce defenders of those we loved, and we were Germanically deep, thinking profound canine thoughts. But I digress. I know you’re wondering why am I communicating with you in your language, now that I have tossed off earthly cares and enjoy the pastures of dog heaven. (Incidentally dog heaven is heady with smells of meat and bitches in heat.) Here’s why: My biographer, Ann Elwood, has summoned me to help her fire up interest in her book about me through this blog. I’ve always been a fool for human women. (Don’t ask.)
I was famous and justly so. Let me tell you how famous I was. When I died, Movietone News announced my death equally with stories about Herbert Hoover, F.D.R., and the Crown Prince of Germany. My movies – and I was their star – were held over for weeks because of audience demand. In those movies, I often played my very self, something that Lassie never did, Lassie being a male and named Lassie so he could play the part. The Russian director Sergei Eisenstein posed with me, the writer Willa Cather was a fan of mine, and the poet Carl Sandburg reviewed my films.
I have some questions for you:
Is there anyone out there who remembers seeing me in movies while I was alive? Did you love them – or not? What do you remember about them?
Ann wants me to ask: Do you know where she can get a copy (and permission to use) of the photograph of the 135th Aero Squadron from which the above fragment came? Do you know when it was taken? I don’t remember, being such a small pup at the time.

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