On September 15, 1918 American Army Corporal Lee Duncan found a German Shepherd pup of five days old in a bombed dog kennel in Lorraine, France. He named him Rin Tin Tin after a French puppet that was given to the American soldiers for luck. When the war was over Duncan took Rin Tin Tin back to Los Angeles with him.
Rin Tin Tin was called Rinty by Duncan and he quickly learned many tricks and could leap great heights. He caught the eye of film producer Charles Jones at a dog show. Jones paid Duncan to film Rin Tin Tin. The dog’s first big break came when he stepped in for a recalcitrant wolf in “The Man From Hell’s River” (1922). His first starring role was in 1923 “Where The North Begins”, playing alongside silent screen actress Claire Adams. The film was a huge success and has often been credited with saving Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. Rin Tin Tin was a sensation, making 26 pictures for Warners, while starring in his own live 1930s radio show “The Wonder Dog”. At the peak of his popularity, Warners maintained 18 trained stand-ins to reduce any stress on their dog star, they also provided him with a private chef who prepared daily lunches of tenderloin steak (consumed as live classical music was played to help ease the dog’s digestion). Rin Tin Tin also signed his movie contracts with a paw print. By 1926 it was recorded that he was earning $6,000 a week. It has also been documented that during his career Rin Tin Tin received over 10,000 fan letters a week.
Sadly in 1932, Rin Tin Tin died at the age of fourteen. His owner Duncan arranged to have the dog returned to his country of birth for burial in the “Cimetiere des Chiens”, the renowned pet cemetery in the Parisian suburb of “Asnieres-sur-Seine”. He was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1623 Vine Street.
Rin Tin Tin is considered to be the most recognized name in the history of the German Shepherd Dog Breed and likewise one of the oldest continuous bloodlines in the breed’s 111 year history. Rin Tin Tin’s legacy went on in Rin Tin Tin Jr. and Rin Tin Tin the third. After helping out in World War Two training war dogs, Duncan continued Rinty’s film career. The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin aired from 1954-1959 and starred Rin Tin Tin the fourth. Lee Duncan died September 10th 1960, but the lineage of Rin Tin Tin was protected first by Jannettia Brodsgaard Propps and then by her grandaughter Daphne Hereford. Currently, she has possession of Rin Tin Tin the eighth.
Trainer Lee Duncan on the first film he made of Rin Tin Tin, ” At first the dog did not know he was Watching pictures of himself, but when it dawned on him his tail wagged ferociously”.