Gold Gato, December 31, 2012 (view all comments by Gold Gato)
I was one of the heathen. As a Generation Xer, I had never seen a Rin Tin Tin movie or even knew a television series existed. Yes, the name was familiar, but as a cinematic legend up there with Chaplin, Chaney, and Fairbanks. After reading this wonderful journey of a dog, his owner, and all of the people connected to his name, I immediately jumped to YouTube for clips of the original Rinty silent movies. Now, I'm a member of the family.
Susan Orlean captures the essence of 'yearning' in this account of how the silver screen's greatest canine star (not you, Lassie) changed the lives of people who needed a flagpole in their lives. Her first description of the dog, "the resigned and solemn air of an existentialist", lets us know this wasn't a modern-era cloistered dog but a disciplined orphan who brought hope to his discoverer and trainer, Lee Duncan. Whether she is comparing orphanages to pawnshops or explicitly telling the reader exactly what the Brits did to the thousands of family dogs donated to the war effort in WWI, Orlean gives us a page-turner as each decade opens a new tale with new people. The solemn dog born on a wretched battlefield in the War To End All Wars was a companion for the companionless, and this rule holds true throughout the book.
She also lets us understand how quickly the role of the dog changed in western households, thanks to Rin Tin Tin. When he was born, German Shepherds were still a new breed, strong and fluid. As Rinty's popularity soared worldwide, everyday people wanted the same dog and the resulting breeding miscues have now provided a breed that suffers painful hip dysplasia and shorter lifespans. The fame of Rin Tin Tin also meant that dogs started progressing from outside rural farm workers to indoor urban pampered pets, and this drastic change moved rapidly with the end of WWII and the beginning of the Baby Boomers.
As I read this, I realized just how much a dog can affect a person. A three-legged canine, who came with the name of "Tripod", entered my own life when I accidentally agreed to take on a rescue dog no one else wanted. My life changed because I had to adapt to his special needs. As I walked this strange dog (German Shepherd/Lab/Lucifer), a new world opened to me. People who previously walked by would stop to talk to him and learn his story (I think he cut off his own leg). Since we lived in La-La Land, I received weekly cards from film industry scouts who were desperate to sign him (I still have a box with dozens of the requests). Tripod was friend to all, foe to none. He had a special affinity for comforting those in need, whether it was a wandering Alzheimer's patient who believed Tripod had landed with him during D-Day or an elderly widow who woke up early each morning to sit with Tripod and talk about his late wife (to the dog, never to me), the dog taught me not to worry about the past or the future. I could only stand by in bemusement as complete strangers told us their life stories, unasked. When he died, the world he had opened to me closed forever.
And I'm not even a dog person. Thank you, Rinty, the dog who saved Hollywood and a few human souls. And thank you, Susan Orlean, for such a treasure.
Tahoe Reader, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by Tahoe Reader)
As an only child, I fell in love with Rin Tin Tin. He was my constant companion even if an imaginary one. Susan Orlean, in this biography, not only furnishes a thorough fascinating history of Rinty's life, but also analyzes and provides the explanations of why this dog was beloved and idolized by this nation. Fabulous read, but have a tissue nearby. Parts may bring a tear to your eye.
Sami Gray, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by Sami Gray)
Like her book The Orchid Thief (inspiration for the film 'Adaptation'), Susan Orlean's new book is in part the story of an obsession. Like the previous book, Rin Tin Tin also weaves together social history, biography, and a personal narrative of the process of researching the story. Orlean illuminates the modern history of social attitudes about dogs, the role of the movies in culture and psyche, the special place that a particular dog may occupy in the life of a person whose connections with humans are problematic, and meditations upon evanescence or transience in the lives of dogs and humans, and in culture. Fascinating, thought-provoking... and highly filmable. Attention, Spike Jonze!
Simon & Schuster -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"With this stirring biographical history, Orlean follows up her bestselling The Orchid Thief with another tale of passion and dedication overcoming adversity and even common sense — this one centering on Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd who founded a film and TV dynasty. After spending a lonely childhood in an orphanage, the young soldier Lee Duncan discovers on the battlefield of WWI France the puppy that will make a name for him as one of Hollywood's top dog trainers, and become his life's guiding purpose. The book follows Rin Tin Tin's trajectory from early Hollywood's 'Poverty Row,' where Duncan sought the dog's first film deal, to international celebrity in silent films, radio shows, and TV programs. Though Rin Tin Tin's contracts began to lapse in later years, Duncan never ceased grooming canine successors and shopping around scripts, and producer Bert Leonard lived on friends' couches as he poured money into colorizing old episodes of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. Orlean directs a sympathetic gaze toward these men so haunted by their memories of the dog that swept them into stardom. 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.' (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin and Einstein,
"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."
by Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto,
"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."
by Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,
"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."
by Kirkus Reviews (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."
by Publishers Weekly,
"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.'"
by Booklist (Starred Review),
"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."
Acclaimed bestselling author of The Orchid Thief Susan Orleans traces the life and enduring legacy of canine hero Rin Tin Tin.
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