Book Reviews

Rin Tin Tin: The Life And The Legend by Susan Orlean | Book Review

Rin Tin Tin: The Life And The Legend by Susan Orlean | Book Review Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
Genres: Animals, Biography, Non-Fiction
Original Publication Date: 2011
Source: Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher.
Find the Author: Website, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon

He believed the dog was immortal. So begins Susan Orlean’s sweeping, powerfully moving account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from abandoned puppy to an international movie star who appeared in twenty-seven films throughout the 1920s. Spanning almost one hundred years of history, from the dog’s improbable discovery on a battlefield in 1918 by an American soldier to his tumultuous rise through Hollywood and beyond, this book is a love story and “a masterpiece” (Chicago Tribune) that is also a quintessentially American story of reinvention, and a captivating exploration of our spiritual bond with animals, and a stirring meditation on mortality and immortality.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend is Susan Orlean’s examination of the career of the famous German Shepherd in films and TV.

The Dog Became A Huge Movie Star in the Silent Era

Orlean spent 10 years investigating the story of the dog who became a huge movie star.  She discovered an incredible story of one man’s love for his dog.

Lee Duncan found “Rinty” during WWI on the battlefield of France. He found and rescued a German Shepherd mother and her puppies.

Duncan couldn’t feed and care for the whole family. He gave away all but the last two puppies – Nanette, and her brother, Rin Tin Tin. He was named after popular dolls in France.

Duncan managed to get them back to the U.S. He eventually started to try to find a way for his beloved Rinty to work at the movie studios.

It was easier to crash into movies during the silent era when the movie business was still in its infancy.

The dog became a huge star, and the consequences for both man and dog were unexpected. Rin Tin Tin was world-famous, because silent films were truly international, with no language barrier.

After the original Rin Tin Tin died in the early 1930s there were several other German Shepherds who “acted” under the same name.

In the 1950s, there was a very popular television series, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

Susan Orlean, best known for The Orchid Thief, spent many years researching and writing this book. She clearly became deeply personally involved:

Final Analysis

Susan Orlean is a fine writer, but there is a major problem in the book.

The book concentrates on the life of Lee Duncan, and Duncan simply is not interesting enough to sustain an entire book.

I enjoyed the part of the book concerning his discovery of Rinty in France, and also when he was trying to break his dog into movies. He was a nice man although somewhat eccentric, and he cared far more for his dogs than his wife and child.

One of the other major characters in the book is the producer of the television show, Herbert Leonard, who sounds like an interesting character. I found him more interesting than Duncan.

There are other interesting people in this book, too, as they all fight for control of the empire continues to this day.  Lee Duncan never gave instructions in his will on who should be controlling the dynasty.

I was also disappointed that there are very few photos

I did find the book interesting, and it did make me look up videos of Rin Tin Tin.

I’d heard about him but had never seen him in anything. The television show was on before I was born and silent movies are not shown very often and apparently, not many of Rinty’s movies still exist.

I do recommend this book if you are interested in dogs, movies, or television.

You can check out her website here.

You can read about another great dog in my review of Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, And An Extraordinary Friendship. 

Thank you for reading The Literary Lioness!

About Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean (born October 31, 1955) is a journalist and author. She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1992 and has contributed articles to many magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside.

She is best known as the author of the 1998 book The Orchid Thief, which was adapted into the film Adaptation (2002).

I love books, writing, film, and television.

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