Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's A Dogs Life But Oh, What A Way To Go.

Between 1920 and 1923, the four Warner brothers were spending money like drunken sailors in a cat house on shore leave.  Buying land, constructing filming stages, support buildings, a fabulously gaudy administration building, personnel, contract players, state of the art equiptment, even two houses for their parents just outside the east side of the studio.

Modern Wind Machine, Warner Bros. Studio Lot, 1922

By the time they formally incorporated in April of '23, money was tight, but plenty.  It was fortunate timing then that a recently signed player was getting ready to step in front of the camera for his first feature.  The words "Hit" and "Star" are almost to weak to describe the public response to their new Matinee Idol; a dashing, daring, handsome bloke called Rin Tin Tin.

Toward the end of WWI in war torn France, an American GI, Lee Duncan rescued the 5 day old foundling pup from a bombed out kennel. 

At war's end the pooch accompanied Duncan back to his home in Los Angeles.  Named after a good luck trinket that French children would give to US troops, Rin Tin Tin was a quick study and he was soon performing at local dog shows.  At one of these events, dog and owner were "discovered" by, then writer, Darryl Zanuck, who brought them to Warners and the honeymoon was on.  Duncan knicknamed his Shepherd 'Rinty' and Jack Warner called him 'The Mortgage Lifter'.

Zanuck, Jack Warner, Duncan & Rinty

For the next 8 years Rinty starred in 28 Warner Bros. pictures and quite frankly saved the Warner bacon until "The Jazz Singer" came along. 

The work was so consuming for both the star and his owner that at one point, Duncan's wife actually sued for alienation of affection naming Rin Tin Tin as corespondent.  The case was thrown out.

Not just another pretty face, Rinty could act!

Registering alert, but pensive concern!

Registering loyal sorrow!

At his height, Rin Tin Tin received 10,000 fan letters and $6000 salary each week.  Warners provided 18 trained stand-ins to reduce any stress on their dog star, while a private chef prepared daily lunches of tenderloin steak, consumed to the strains of live classical music to ease digestion.

Have you ever seen such lovely penmanship?

When the sound revolution came Rinty was voice tested and it was determined that he would be suitable for 'The Talkers'.

Ultimately time and age took their toll.  The star made his last picture in 1931 and retired to his Beverly Hills manse.  One day while out in the yard he received a visit from the neighbor across the street.  They hit it off immediately, developing a warm fondness for one another.  In the pre-air conditioning days of open doors and windows, he would often wander over to her house and let himself in for a visit.

Just prior to his 14th birthday, Rin Tin Tin spent his final days happy and peaceful.  The inevetible came one day when the neighbor-friend looked out her window and saw Rinty on his front lawn not looking good at all.  She ran across the street and alerted Duncan to call the doctor and then went and sat on the lawn with her friend.  It was there, cradled in her lap, hearing her soothing voice that Rin Tin Tin slipped away.  His neighbor was Jean Harlow.


Stephen said...

Another fine post from the delightful Philip. Canines just don't live long enough. I have grieved for the loss of 4 dogs & it never gets easier.

Rinny was a great dog & a world class star. He seemed to live a scandal free careeer, but I have seen photos of Rin Tin Tin licking his own balls. I don't judge him, there are similar photos out there of me.

normadesmond said...

i grew up with the most wonderful german shepherd because my father grew up with rin tin tin. i may have to put a photo up of her.

oh stephen, i think i saw that photo of you. your flexibility is impressive.

MJ said...

Are his paw prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater?

Mean Dirty Pirate said...

I heard he was temperamental and could be quite the 'bitch'.

Incidentally how fab would it be to have Jean Harlow as your neighbor?

kabuki zero said...

kabuki says 'woof woof'. you know kabuki is fond of all natures creatures. except hyenas - because they're nasty. kudos to you and your research staff.

zeldafitz79 said...

I saw "Clash of the Wolves" on the More Treasures from American Film Archives dvd-- couldn't get over the fact that a) a 74 minute silent movie with a canine lead could be as exciting as it actually was (and I'm a big silents fan...it was the "dog star" that was the sticking point for me) and b) each time Rin Tin Tin needed to save someone on the second floor, there was a conveniently placed ladder or two by four handy, which he went up lickety split and to the rescue. What kind of Old West town is just littered with ladders? Still, a great flick.

Very informative post!

FelixInHollywood said...


The same kind of town where there's always a set of train tracks handy to tie a poor young damsel to, I guess!

Welcome aboard, I don't believe you've commented here before. I hope you'll have much to say, and often!

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

Strange. Jean Harlow had no problem calling the doctor for Rin Tin Tin, buther Christian Scientist faith lead to her own untimely ending...

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