Everybody knows that Chalie Chaplin, the Little Tramp, was Hollywood’s first moneymaking Superstar. What most movie fans don’t know is that a rescued German Shepherd was its second Superstar.
Audiences first discovered the bright German Shepherd in September of 1924 in the silent movie THE MAN FROM HELL’S RIVER, a Western. The Warner Brother’s film introduced to the world a truly intelligent, courageous and handsome dog, whose actions brought out cheers and standing ovations from enchanted audiences.
Rin-Tin-Tin had been found in a muddy World War One German trench by U. S. Army Lieutenant Lee Duncan. Duncan took “Rinty” to Los Angeles, where he trained the Shepherd for a movie career. During the 1920’s, Rin-Tin-Tin appeared in a number of smash hits, including WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS, FIND YOUR MAN, CLASH OF THE WOLVES, THE LONE DEFENDER, TRACKED IN SNOW COUNTRY and THE LAND OF THE SILVER FOX.
With some of the best directors and writers (such as a young Darryl F Zanuck) working on his movies, and insightful training from his master, Lee Duncan, Rinty’s pictures did fantastic box office. In fact, for several years Rin-Tin-Tin was Warner Brother’s top grossing star. He was more popular and more beloved than any human actor. Insiders referred to him as “The dog who saved Hollywood.” Certainly, he saved Warner Brothers.
Many of Rinty’s actions, of course, were just good training and directing. When he tracked bad guys and lost children through the wilderness, out-fought savage wolves, carried blankets and rope to stranded people, led the hero to the endangered heroine — he was just acting. But it was energized acting. As one reviewer put it: “Rinty plays his big dramatic scenes as if his life depends on it.”
But there were numerous scenes that revealed a genuine intelligence and loving heart. With the years, he learned to show his emotions in a glance.
In THE NIGHT CRY, Rin-Tin-Tin, who was falsely accused of killing sheep, enters his master’s cabin. He lays his great head on the table between his master and mistress, giving both of them long glances — his expression changing from expectant hope — to forlorn sadness — to one of sudden happiness when he discovers one true friend in the cabin: the couple’s baby. The scene brought the house down.
Other dogs would follow Rinty’s lead, appearing from the Silent Era into the new “Talkies.” The stories were quite often based on the literature of such bestselling authors as Jack London, James Oliver Curwood and other writers of Northwestern and canine fiction.
Among the early dog stars were Sandow (CODE OF THE NORTHWEST, 1926), Strongheart, Rin-Tin-Tin Jr., Captain, Buck, Chinook, Ranger, Dynamite, Lassie and others…