TV series based on one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin was one of two survivor of an Apache assault on a wagon train, a scenario that wasn't a million miles from the dog's true origins. The original Rin Tin Tin was discovered by Corporal Lee Duncan as one of five puppies of German Shepherd Dogs who survived a bombed out war dog kennel in Lorraine, France during World War I. Duncan decided to keep two of the puppies for himself, and named the male and a female after tiny French puppets the children gave to the American soldiers for good luck. He called male Rin Tin Tin and the female Nannette.
Back at camp, Duncan began working with the dogs and soon became impressed with their ability to learn quickly. When he discovered that the German kennel master was a prisoner in the camp he soon found out as much as he could about the breed. Then, when the war was over Duncan took his two pups back to the United States and to his home in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, soon after arriving home the female Nannette died, but Duncan continued to train Rin Tin Tin and entered him into a number of shows. It was at such a show in 1922 that Rin Tin Tin astounded the crowd by jumping 11 feet 9 inches during a performance. In the crowd was Charles Jones who asked if he could film the dog with his new camera. He offered Duncan $350 which was readily accepted.
Duncan saw an opportunity to make money and on returning home he began writing a script for a movie which he later touted around all the Hollywood film studios. Unfortunately for him nobody was interested. Rejection followed rejection and Duncan was probably about ready to give up when one day an unexpected opportunity presented itself. He was walking away from another rejection when he discovered a film crew shooting a scene on what was called 'poverty row'. The scene the crew were trying to shoot involved a wolf, but the wolf was being uncooperative. Duncan approached the crew and told them he and his dog could do the scene in one take. In desperation the crew agreed to film Rin Tin Tin and he was as good as Duncan's promise. The crew kept him on for the filming of Man From Hell's River.
The name of fledgling studio on the verge of bankruptcy was Warner Brothers Pictures. The film was a hit and Rin Tin Tin was a sensation. The public loved him and his heroic ability and at the peak of his career he received in excess of 10,000 fan letters a week and was considered to be one of Hollywood's top stars. Rin Tin Tin ultimately made 26 pictures for Warner Brothers before his death on August 10th, 1932 and was referred to as the 'mortgage lifter' and credited with saving the studio from financial ruin during the silent film era. Duncan had raised several litters from Rin Tin Tin and had kept a pup he called Junior. Like his father, Junior was soon put to work for the studio winning the hearts of fans across America. Rin Tin Tin II would sire Rin Tin Tin IV and both dogs were used in the filming of the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. In the series, having been rescued by the cavalry, ten-year old Rusty (Lee Aaker) and his dog Rin Tin Tin are given a new home on the Fort Apache base in Arizona where they are given the rank of honorary troopers where they help establish law and order in and around Mesa Grande with the dog heroically leaping into action whenever needed. Reruns of the show ran on daytime television and on Saturdays until 1964. A new set of reruns was shown in 1976 when former star James Brown (Lt. Rip Masters) came out of retirement to film new introductions for them. The original black and white prints were tinted light brown.
The series was shown in the UK on the fledgling ATV channel as part of Independent Television's campaign to lure young viewers away from the BBC. The first episode, Meet Rin Tin Tin aired in the US on 15 October 1954; the last on 8 May, 1959. Today, Rin Tin Tin stands alongside Lassie and Flipper as TV's best known animal characters. An enduring and faithful companion if ever there was one.
Published on November 26th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.