Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean c.2011, Simon & Schuster $26.99/$29.99 Canada 325 pages
You’ve never actually visited that big house but you’ve seen pictures and wow: sumptuous bedrooms with ridiculously huge beds, lush lawns, garage-door-size fireplaces, serious marble bathrooms, and a kitchen that belongs in a five star French restaurant. It almost makes your place look like a doghouse by comparison.
But — depending on the doghouse — that might be a good thing, as you’ll see in the new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend by Susan Orlean.
For Leland Duncan, growing up without a father was bad. Being temporarily left in an orphanage by his mother was worse. But each time he was forced to leave behind yet another beloved dog, the pain was almost unbearable.
Memories of abandonment were perhaps on his mind when, while serving in France during the First World War, Lee found a litter of puppies in a bombed-out kennel. Feeling a kinship with the animals, he rescued and raised them, and eventually kept his two favorites, naming them after a 1918 French fad.
It was a struggle for Lee to get Nanette and Rin Tin Tin to America, but he wasn’t leaving France without his dogs. Sadly, Nanette sickened and died before Lee could get both dogs to his home in California and while he mourned her death, it was in “Rinty” that Lee saw the most potential.
Dog and master bonded as Lee devoted his life to training Rinty. Lee had a dream of making his dog a star in movies, which was then a relatively new medium. Film footage had been taken of Rinty in action and Lee literally knocked on doors to drum up interest in the pup. He quickly got a contract and Rin Tin Tin just as quickly became a star, complete with tour schedule and private kennel.
It’s a sad fact of life, though, that dogs rarely outlive their people. It’s also a fact that nothing lasts forever. Leland Duncan didn’t prepare for either inevitability. Though there were other Rintys and other chances to showcase his dogs’ talents, nothing, for Lee, was ever the same.
Deeply researched and endlessly entertaining, Rin Tin Tin is one of those books you just want to savor. That’s a good thing, too, because author Susan Orlean doesn’t hurry her tale at all; instead, she allows readers to wander along in her exploration of her subjects’ lives.
I loved this book, not just because it’s a dog-lover’s treat, but for the sense of time travel that Orlean brings to it: so much has changed since Rinty made his first movie, and Orlean puts it all into perspective with a little history, a little culture, and some personal references to make things interesting. She also looks at the Rin Tin Tin legacy and the dogfight that came from it.
If you’re a dog lover, a Rin Tin Tin fan, or if you’re feeling a little nostalgic, this is a book to sink your teeth into. For you, Rin Tin Tin is something to bring home.