New book looks at the life of legendary dog Rin Tin Tin

Story from The Sound of Young America. Listen to audio above for full interview.

Rin Tin Tin went from being an abandoned puppy in a bombed-out dog kennel to being one of the best-recognized and best-loved dogs in recent history.

His owner Lee Duncan devoted his life to showing the world the fantastic stunts his dog could do, including jumping 12-foot fences and climbing trees. The dog starred in movies and on radio and his descendents eventually starred on television as well.

Susan Orlean has published a new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, that looks at, appropriately, the life of the legendary dog.

Rin Tin Tin was born almost literally on a battlefield during World War I. Many dogs in the kennel where he was born had been killed in an intense battle that happened around it. Among the very few survivng dogs were Rin Tin Tin, his four siblings, and his mother.

“World War I was utterly brutal,” Orlean said. “It was absolutely ugly.”

Orlean said the sight was most likely particularly horrifying for a dog-lover like Duncan.

Duncan rescued all the dogs and took them back to the barracks with him. He shared the other dogs with his fellow soldiers, but only Rin Tin Tin would go onto be famous.

“He blew people’s minds. He was jumping fences for real. He climbed trees and untied ropes,” Orlean said.

Rin Tin Tin starred in more than a dozen movies, most of them silent but a few with sound, as well as on radio. As he grew older, Duncan focused on continuing the Rin Tin Tin line. The dog fathered 48 puppies and Rin Tin Tin II and III went on to star in movies and TV shows of their own.

The Rin Tin Tin line continues to this day.


“The Sound of Young America” is an irreverent weekly arts and entertainment interview program, described by its creator and host, Jesse Thorn as “a public radio show about things that are awesome.” More “The Sound of Young America.”
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