Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
by Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster, September, 2011

...Well researched and well written, thankfully the dogs carry the story

My only memories of Rin Tin Tin (RTT) are from the 1950s. It was a never to be missed Friday night TV show that in our house included the entire family, my best friend and TV Time popcorn. We lined up as the bugle called us to report and we faithfully watched Rusty, Rinty and Lt. Masterson overcome the trials of life on a Western army fort (Yo Rinty!). Who knew that RTT had a fascinating story that started on the battlefields of WW1.  In this in depth telling of the life and legend of the dog (s) Susan Orleans gets the story. Interspersed with personal recollections from her life she leads us on a fascinating journey through the twentieth century.

The original RTT was born in France on a battlefield and rescued by an US Army private, Lee Duncan. Working through what must have been considerably less red tape than today Duncan was able to get the dog shipped to his southern California home. Duncan, taciturn and in many ways unknowable trained the dog and secured for him parts in the rapidly growing film industry. The author gives a full picture of Hollywood in the 1920s. I had no idea of the wide influence movies had in the 20’s and 30’s. To quote one of many statistics in the story 100 million movie tickets were sold weekly in a country with a population of 150 million people – everyone went to the movies! And in the late 20’s before talkies everyone went to see RTT movies. RTT and Duncan would travel the country appearing at theaters, hospitals, and civic events. In Houston 10,000 people attended a RTT appearance! So the TV show that all of us boomers watch in the 50’s had its beginnings with our parents in the movie culture of their generation.

The author does a comprehensive job of describing all aspects of this story. The origination of the German Sheppard breed in pre WWI Germany, the training of the dogs for use in war by the Nazis, the movement from dogs as working farm animals to domestic pets, the evolution of dog shows in the US, the efforts of the US to quickly develop a canine corps at the start of WWII are all side stories supporting the main narrative and many of them are wildly interesting. Good thing too because the major human characters in this story are not interesting. Lee Duncan was a one dimensional man more interested in dogs than in wives, children, other people, etc. Bert Leonard, the RTT producer responsible for much of the RTT programming was a similarly uninteresting character. Thankfully the dogs can carry this story, the original RTT and his assorted namesakes and offspring were iconic symbols for several generations of Americans.

This book is hard to characterize, part autobiographical by Orleans, part a social history of the US in the twentieth century and part man loves dog biography. Well researched and well written this book reads like an extended New Yorker (for which Orleans writes regularly) non-fiction article. I enjoyed this book and had no trouble skipping some of the latter parts of the story that dragged along.

I read a copy of this book provided by the publisher.


Zibilee said...

I am not sure if I would like this one. Based on what you say, it had a lot of different elements competing for space among the pages, and I have to admit that I found some more interesting than others. I think I would like the bits about the dog, but not the bits about the humans, which is just like me. I really did enjoy your thoughtful analysis on the book today though!

Kathy said...

Ziblee, thanks for your comment. I really appreciate your comments and your taking the time to read my reviews.

Unknown said...

I didn't realize RTT was ever on TV. I thought it was just a book. It sounds like the history is very interesting in the book. =D

I'm following you from Cym's Linky and would love to have you visit my blog when you have a chance. There are 2 blog tours and 2 book giveaways - 1 for kids and 1 for adults. =D


Stop by when you have a spare moment or two - Tina "The book Lady" =D

Daphne Hereford said...

You can learn more about RIN TIN TIN at the official website at www.RinTinTin.com - the RIN TIN TIN line is alive and well still today

Ruth Cox aka abitosunshine said...

I, too, grew up with Rin Tin Tin on the TV and loved it!