Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend
by Susan Orlean

Simon & Schuster, 2011. ISBN 978-1-439-19013-5.
Reviewed by Martha Meacham
Posted on 12/08/2011

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Animal Companions

Aptly named, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, this book tells the story of this super-hero's mythic life as he morphed from a sable-coated, black-faced working dog to the black and tan, saddle-backed German Shepherd Dog of the 1950's TV screen. The author, Susan Orlean, shatters any sacred-held notions that the brand name, RIN TIN TIN® reflects anything but a series of German Shepherd Dogs that were carefully selected throughout the years to carry on the trademark that Lee Duncan originated in his early Hollywood days.

Even with the secret revealed that multiple dogs actually represented Rin Tin Tin in movies and television and that much of the hype around the Rin Tin Tin dogs was intended for publicity, these facts still don't detract from the allure of the legacy of this famous dog who for decades reigned in the hearts of people all over the world.

This lovely book is rich in detail and facts ranging from the first Rin Tin Tin Lee Duncan brought back from France in World War I, to the lineage of German Shepherd Dogs now found in Crockett, Texas. Susan Orlean even relates her personal story to the dogs and milleu of TV Rinty, as she runs down the timeline in the life of Rin Tin Tin. The historical parts of her text would serve well to teach history to students these days, yet it was her subjective voice reminiscing about growing up in the 1950's, when Rin Tin Tin was a TV legend, that fascinated me.

"I began to understand that what drew me to Rin Tin Tin most of all was his permanence-how he had managed to linger in the minds of so many people for so long when so much else shines for a moment only and then finally fades away. He was something you could dream about. He could leap twelve feet, and he could leap through time."

There is so much for a wide audience to glean from this book. There is the world history found in the fine tribute to the war dead of 1918; a beautiful testament for the lives lost in France. There is the description of Hollywood glamour, the depiction of the rise and fall of celebrity status for dog as well as human stars, there is Lee Duncan's biographic information, who we find out was so much more than just Rinty's trainer, and for aficionados of The Fifties, you have a review of that decade. There is much to devour and digest in this book.

Subliminal childhood messages no doubt manifested in my life when I first decided to pick out a tiny, sable-coated, black-faced, German Shepherd Dog for my companion almost ten years ago. This is a great book to curl up with by the fireplace with your loyal dog at your feet...or in your lap.

Watch a video excerpt from this book.

Susan Orleans is an accomplished author of several books and staff writer for The New Yorker. On her website she identifies herself as dog owner and parent.

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