The year was 1918 and World War I was underway. U.S. Army corporal Lee Duncan was sent ahead to the French village of Flirey, recently-cleared of German occupiers, to find a suitable air landing strip. What he found was a bombed and abandoned German kennel, recently used to provide dogs for the German military. Most of the dogs were dead except for a starving mother and her five pups—pups so young, their eyes were not opened yet.
Corporal Duncan rescued the animals, nursed them back to health, and found homes for them, except for two which he decided to keep: a female, Nanette and a male, Rin Tin Tin. When the war ended, he managed to get them aboard the ship transporting him home.
Back in California, he began training his dogs and found that Rin Tin Tin was a quick learner. Duncan was convinced that Rin Tin Tin would be great in (then silent) films and would buttonhole anyone who had any kind of connection to film production. Eventually, Rin Tin Tin was hired to replace a wolf—when the wolf failed to follow the director’s instructions. And, thus, a star was born.
Rin Tin Tin went on to star in 26 more Hollywood films. He greatly increased the popularity of German Shepherds as American household pets and influenced the military’s use of dogs when WWII came around. And it has long been rumored that in the first Academy Awards (1929), Rin Tin Tin won the greatest number of votes. But the Academy, wishing to project a serious demeanor, re-calculated the votes amongst the human nominees alone.
The cast iron bookends, shown above, were made in the 1920’s—during the peak of Rin Tin Tin’s popularity.
Happy Birthday, Rin Tin Tin!