Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

I don't often read a new book the moment it's released, but this was an exception--I pre-ordered it on Amazon. This is to dogs what Lauren Hillebrand's amazing "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" was to horses. And of course, it's more about people obsessed with animals than the animals themselves, because people can talk about themselves, but Susan Orlean has three dogs (in interviews she claims to not think of herself as a dog person--denial, denial, denial) and she understands there had to be something real under all the mythology that surrounds Hollywood's greatest canine movie star.

Because he was a star--for a time, the biggest in Hollywood. He saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. Every kid in America dreamed of meeting him, and thousands did. His performances were seriously reviewed in major newspapers. He was the main protagonist of his films, and always the best actor in them--as Orlean points out, in the silent era, dogs didn't suffer any disadvantage by not being able to read and speak dialogue. He wasn't the first or anywhere near the last dog to make it big in movies, not even the first German Shepherd Dog, but he was the one whose name has traveled the furthest, and meant the most. And with that, I'll give you the opening paragraph of this book, and then go back to devouring it the way my Shepherd Mix devours a nice piece of chicken.

He believed the dog was immortal. "There will always be a Rin Tin Tin," Lee Duncan said, time and time again, to neighbors, to family, to friends. At first this must have sounded absurd--just wishful thinking about the creature that had eased his loneliness and made him famous around the world. And yet, just as Lee believed, there has always been a Rin Tin Tin. The second Rin Tin Tin was not the talent his father was, but still, he was Rin Tin Tin, carrying on what the first dog had begun. After Rin Tin Tin Jr., there was Rin Tin Tin III, and then another Rin Tin Tin after him, and then another, and then another: there has always been another. And Rin Tin Tin has always been more than a dog. He was an idea and an ideal--a hero who was also a friend, a fighter who was also a caretaker, a mute genius, a companionable loner. He was one dog and many dogs, a real animal and an invented character, a pet as well an international celebrity. He was born in 1918 and he never died.

Yo, Rinty.

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