My most vivid memory of Rin Tin Tin is not of a live dog at all, but of something plastic, about eight inches high: a Rin Tin Tin figurine – stoic, bright-eyed, the bud of his tongue draped over his bottom teeth. My grandfather kept this figurine on his desk blotter, maddeningly out of reach. Somewhat dour and formal, my grandfather, an accountant, was not very interested in, or natural with, children. Strangely enough, however, he was very fond of toys; in fact, he collected them, and displayed a few special ones in his office at home. The most exceptional of these was the Rin Tin Tin figurine, that special dog who starred on the television show I loved.
At that time, in the 1950s, Rin Tin Tin was everywhere, universal, almost something in the air. I was only four years old when the show began its initial run so my memory of the time is all outline but my brother and sister watched it with the dedication and regularity of churchgoers, so I’m sure I plunked down beside them. When you’re as young as I was at the time, you just soak something like that up and it becomes part of you, so I feel I have always known of Rin Tin Tin, as if it came to me by osmosis. It became part of my consciousness, like a nursery lullaby you can sing without knowing how you came to know it. In the buzzing white noise of my babyhood, a boy on a television was always shouting “Yo, Rinty,” a bugle was always blowing, and a big dog was always bounding across the screen to save the day.
That is why the first dog I ever wanted was a German shepherd, and why I kept wanting one well past the point at which it had been made amply clear that I was never going to get one – my mother, unfortunately, was afraid of dogs. Like so many childhood passions, it eventually receded but never died. When I came across the name “Rin Tin Tin” a few years ago, while reading about animals in Hollywood, it was after decades of not hearing or thinking about it, and yet a shock of recognition surged through me that made me sit up straight, as if I had brushed against a hot stove.
And I remembered that figurine, and remembered yearning for it. On occasion and with adult supervision, my grandfather allowed us to hold one or two of the other toys, but never Rin Tin Tin. I didn’t understand why this was the treasure we could never touch; it wasn’t more delicate than the other toys, and didn’t have any finicky mechanism. There was no explanation; it was simply not ours to have.
There was something spellbinding about our visits to that office – my grandfather looming above us, his hand hovering over the desk blotter to choose the toy we were going to be allowed to hold, our eyes following his hand as it paused at this toy and that toy, each time drifting close to Rin Tin Tin but passing it by again, lifting our hopes and dropping them; then handing us some other forgettable toy and waving us out of the room.
Copyright © 2011 by Susan Orlean
Rin Tin Tin was found on a French battlefield during World War I—a blind, bald and still-nursing puppy that would surely have perished if Corporal Lee Duncan hadn’t rescued him. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship…and the start of a legendary film and television dynasty.
Illustrated by archival photographs, this book by Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief) examines the life and times of the original Rin Tin Tin and his descendants. Rin Tin Tin is more than a biography. Also discussing such topics as the bond between humans and animals, the evolution of the film and television industries, and the rise of American pet culture, it’s a fascinating cultural history that is must-reading for anyone who loves great dogs or great yarns.
Hardcover Book : 336 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster ( October 04, 2011 )
Item #: 13-427902
Product Dimensions: 5.25 x 8.5 x 0.76inches
Product Weight: 13.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Funny and interesting. Lee Duncan and Rinty had quite a skyrocket ride. A very American story.