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Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend Paperback – October 9, 2012
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Amazon Exclusive: Garth Stein Reviews Rin Tin Tin
Garth Stein is the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain and How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets .
I have no cultural or historical reason to be interested in Rin Tin Tin: I was not born in the 1920's when Rinty was a silent film star; I was not swept up in the dog obedience training craze of the 50's; as a child, I was warned that German shepherds were a mean and violent sort and I should stay away from them; while I spent a lot of time watching television when I was a kid in the 60's (most of it on a black &;amp white Zenith with rabbit ears and a knob you would use to change the channel--remember knobs?), I am still non-plused by the fact that I never--not even once--saw an episode of the Rin Tin Tin television show. Why then did I find this book utterly engaging?
I remember my Calculus teacher raising a question in class one day many years ago: is math something that is created, or is it discovered? As a teenager, I found the question quite provocative. And I couldn't help but ponder the question again--though in a different context--as I read the absolutely fascinating history of Rin Tin Tin, as told by Susan Orlean. Is a hero, an icon, a star, a cultural phenomenon created, or discovered?
Surely, Lee Duncan "found" the first Rin Tin Tin. And he set about training his dog, and he made the rounds in Hollywood with Rinty, knocking on doors, looking to be discovered. But he did so with such determination, one wonders if it were the idea of Rin Tin Tin or the dog, himself, that inspired Duncan. In other words, was the concept of Rin Tin Tin bigger than the dog from the very beginning?
As the story of Rinty unfolds, we realize that his history is a clear reflection of the history of film in the 20th Century, as well as the history of popular culture during the same period. From the beginnings of the moving picture, silent films, talkies, the advent of color, and then the innovation called television, Rinty was reimagined to adapt to the changing media, and continued to find his way into the hearts of Americans.
What I find most interesting is that Rin Tin Tin's biggest champions, Lee Duncan and Bert Leonard, pursued the Rin Dynasty (there were many, many generations of Rin Tin Tins), at great personal cost. And while they got paid, to be sure, their compensation was never commensurate with their efforts. Rather, they both felt a greater duty to disseminate the message of Rin Tin Tin; personal gain was a secondary consideration. They felt that what they were doing was a service to society. That the story of Rin, and, then again, the stories Rin told, were life-affirming, healing, and inspiring, and that is what a damaged world needed.
Though Lee Duncan proclaimed Rin Tin Tin to be immortal, his downfall did come, and with it, the downfall of Duncan, and later of Leonard and others who tried to keep the dynasty alive. Did we, as a society, simply outgrow Rin Tin Tin? Was he undone by computer graphics technology, short attention spans, loss of ability to suspend disbelief, and a skeptical inability to anthropomorphize? Or did we simply heal the wounds inflicted by world wars and atrocities of the last century? Did Rin Tin Tin, who was found on the battlefield in World War I, come to the aid of an ailing society, and, having provided solace to the people, simply serve his purpose and move on? One can argue either point, but I like to think the latter is more fitting. And I like to think that the love and devotion of a dog named Rin Tin Tin helped us greatly in our healing.
There were many Rin Tin Tins, and sometimes dogs who weren't even Rintys played Rinty on television and in the movies. Because Rin Tin Tin, the hero, is larger than any one dog.
Was the hero discovered or was he invented? I think a little of both. For certainly it was good fortune that Lee Duncan stumbled upon the dog, Rin Tin Tin, in France. But it was hard work, clever marketing, and sensitivity and understanding of the larger issues with which our society struggled that made the dog a hero. Having the key to the door is not enough; one must know to unlock the door and step through.
Rin Tin Tin is a wonderful, compelling book that will have you thinking long after you've set it down. Susan Orlean has created a fascinating history of a dog, yes, but she has also opened a discussion of many larger issues, which are highly relevant and provocative. This is a truly terrific book! --Garth Stein
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A masterpiece.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Magnificent.” (Vanity Fair)
“Epic . . . Heartfelt . . . An enormously satisfying story about a dog and the man who believed in him.” (Carol Memmott USA Today)
“Fascinating . . . Sweeping . . . Expertly told . . . [Orlean] may persuade even the most hardened skeptic that Rin Tin Tin belongs on Mount Rushmore with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least somewhere nearby with John Wayne and Seabiscuit.” (Jennifer Schuessler The New York Times Book Review)
“A story of magnificent obsession. Nearly a decade in the making, combining worldwide research with personal connection, it offers the kind of satisfactions you only get when an impeccable writer gets hold of one heck of a story.” (Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times)
“Stunning . . . Truly exceptional . . . A book so moving it melted the heart of at least this one dogged Lassie lover . . . . Calling Rin Tin Tin the story of a dog is like calling Moby-Dick the story of a whale.” (Meredith Maran The Boston Globe)
“Susan Orlean has written a book about how an orphaned dog became part of millions of households, and hearts, in a way that may reveal the changing bonds between humans and animals, too. . . . One of the many pleasures of this book is the historical breadth of the story.” (Scott Simon NPR’s Weekend Edition)
“An improbably fascinating tale of one of the first canine celebrities, the times that catapulted him to fame, and the legacy that endures.” (People magazine's "Great Fall Reads")
“Brilliant . . . If there were any book she was born to write, it's this one. The product of years of dogged research, it's her magnum opus, a work filled with fascinating stories . . . [and] stunning prose that is both compassionate and perceptive.” (Michael Schaub NPR)
“Engrossing . . . Delightful . . . Orlean finds much more to the story than a man and his dog . . . . Its heart lies in her exploration of how a dog could come to embody the ideal of heroic devotion and, eventually, exist as an icon outside the boundaries of time.” (Douglass K. Daniel The Associated Press)
“Orlean relates the histories of the original Rin Tin Tin and his various successors with her customary eye for captivating detail.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Heartening . . . It’s a story that may surprise you. . . . Rin Tin Tin embodied the spirit of America.” (Rita Braver CBS Sunday Morning)
“Rapturous . . . This dog’s eye history of Hollywood in the 1920s is exuberant and told with as much energy as love. . . . It is to be numbered among the best Hollywood biographies.” (David Thomson The New Republic)
“Fascinating . . . Orlean’s deadpan sense of humor and ear for the odd and beguiling fact make it hard to put down the book. But there’s also something haunting about it, a sense of the brevity of life and fame. . . . Orlean’s writing is built to last. As individual as a fingerprint, or a face, it turns what could have been a footnote to history into a touching account of the way one life resonates with others.” (Margaret Quamme The Columbus Dispatch)
“Rin Tin Tin is a tale of devotion . . . [and] an eloquent, powerful inquiry into ‘how we create heroes and what we want from them,’ and about what endures in our culture. . . . Orlean’s book runs much deeper than Baby Boomer nostalgia. . . . Orlean manages to surprise us repeatedly.” (Heller McAlpin The Christian Science Monitor)
“It is a book that is best read in solitude, or at least in the company of someone who won't be annoyed when you speak up every few moments to share some fascinating fact that Orlean has uncovered, which she does on nearly every page.” (Robert Philpot Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
“Rin Tin Tin was more than a dog. He embodied the core paradoxes of the American ideal: He was a loner who was also a faithful companion, a brave fighter who was also vulnerable. I was astonished to learn from this delightful book that he has existed for eleven generations over a century. By chronicling his amazing ups and downs, Susan Orlean has produced a hugely entertaining and unforgettable reading experience.” (Walter Isaacson author of Steve Jobs)
“Not only does Susan Orlean give us a fascinating and big-hearted account of all the many incarnations of Rin Tin Tin, she shows us the ever-changing role of American dogs in times of war and peace. This book is for anyone who has ever had a dog or loved a dog or watched a dog on television or thought their dog could be a movie star. In short—everyone.” (Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto)
“I adored this book. It weaves history, war, show business, humanity, wit, and grace into an incredible story about America, the human-animal bond, and the countless ways we would be lost without dogs by our sides, on our screens, and in our books. This is the story Susan Orlean was born to tell—it’s filled with amazing characters, reporting, and writing.” (Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
“Move over Seabiscuit, Rin Tin Tin will be the most-talked-about animal hero of the year and beyond. . . A spectacularly compelling portrait . . . Engrossing, dynamic, and affecting." (Booklist (starred review))
“[Orlean] combines all her skills and passions in this astonishing story . . . A terrific dog’s tale that will make readers sit up and beg for more.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“Stirring . . . A tale of passion and dedication overcoming adversity. . . . Even readers coming to Rin Tin Tin for the first time will find it difficult to refrain from joining Duncan in his hope that Rin Tin Tin’s legacy will ‘go on forever.’” (Publishers Weekly)
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Top Customer Reviews
This is her second book length piece, based more on research than on observation, and it shows. The writing is just as captivating as ever. Rin Tin Tin and his career are both interesting and throw light on both how movies have changed in 90 years and how the place of dogs in our culture has changed in the same period. Much of the story is about the humans around Rin Tin Tin, from Lee Duncan the orphan boy who discovered Rinty in France to the producers and writers of the TV shows, to the various people who feel that they are the true custodians of the legacy of Rin Tin Tin.
We spend a lot of time with these guys, and they just aren't that interesting. Rin Tin Tin himself and his assorted namesakes and descendants are more interesting than their human handlers and promoters. Which makes parts of the book dull going despite the sparkle of most of the writing. The best parts came at the start, where we get the story of how Rin Tin Tin was found and brought back to the US, and in the spots where Ms. Orlean observes such scenes as the dog's grave in France and so on. The history drags a bit, I am sorry to say.
So: if you are interested both in dogs and in how they were presented in the movies and on TV, this book is for you. If you enjoy Susan Orlean's writing, this book might be for you. It's not her best, but her less-than-best is still beyond what most nonfictioneers can do.
The little we are told about Duncan's training the dog to display different facial expressions was also of interest. As was the dog's success in silent films (he didn't mug) and his difficulties in talkies.
However when the book began telling us what felt like the life story of almost everyone who ever petted Rin Tin Tin or his successors I couldn't wait for it to end. The author's own interest in this dog was unconvincing. She could have just told the fascinating story of the dog, his owner and some of their adventures in tinsel land.
A good dog has to conform to a meaningful and useful shape. So too, does a story.
Duncan was a young soldier in France during World War I, where he found the first Rinty and his littermate, Nanette. He named the two pups after popular French dolls of the time. When Duncan demobbed to the United States after the war, he brought both dogs with him.
In the early days of Hollywood, Duncan took the well-trained Rinty with him door-to-door. He asked if there was anyway that his dog (who could emote on command) could be in a film -- little realizing that the dog would eventually become an enormous franchise that required succeeding generations of new Rintys in order to accomplish. From the early days of silent films through television and beyond, Rin Tin Tin acquired new fans long after the death of the original dog found in France.
Orlean studied Duncan's records, as well as those of Bert Leonard (who was the producer of the 1950s Rin Tin Tin television program). She interviewed people who have Rinty pups and who could tell stories of the earliest days in Hollywood working with the dog -- as well as Duncan's family.
What I came away with after reading this book was a sense that Rinty would be immortal because there would always be stories to tell about him -- and that there would always be a place for courage in the face of difficult odds. This book is, in an unusual way, a love story about the public and the Wonder Dog of the Movies. Animal lovers are sure to enjoy it.
(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you are looking for a book about a dog don't buy this book. It is about a child, semi orphaned, spending critical formative years in an orphanage. Traumatized by war. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Lloyd F. Mercer
This book received the lowest review in my book club out of the dozens we have read. The author inserted her own experience with Rin Tin Tin and the memory far too much. Read morePublished 3 months ago by JS
Tells the story of Lee Duncan who had a sad childhood and discovers German Shepherds in a bombed our kennel during Word War I. Read morePublished 4 months ago by ellison
A fascinating historical story of love and loyalty. I found myself swept up in the obsession for Rin Tin Tin. Orlean is a fine writer - this book is definitely a 'keeper'.Published 6 months ago by Shelley Tupper
Susan Orlean, who admits being a fan of the original Rin Tin Tin long ago, has constructed a fascinating story about the dog and his master, Lee Duncan, who found the dog in France... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Richard C. Reynolds
Followed this dog while growing up. Enjoyed finding out more about himPublished 8 months ago by Bernard V. Bauer