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What Ever Happened to Rin Tin Tin?

The genetic descendants of the original Rin Tin Tin.

The very mention of the name Rin Tin Tin evokes in most people the image of a strong, intelligent, heroic German Shepherd dog. The original Rin Tin Tin starred in 30 movies and his direct genetic descendants appeared in approximately three dozen more films and 164 episodes of the television series "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin." More importantly, the genetic line tracing back to the original Rin Tin Tin has been maintained in a line a service dogs for disabled children.

The story of Rin Tin Tin began on September 15, 1918, when Corporal Lee Duncan and his battalion visited a bombed-out war-dog kennel in Lorraine, France. The only survivors were a litter of German Shepherd puppies. Duncan rescued two of them, naming the male Rin Tin Tin and the female Nanette after the little knitted puppets that the French people gave to the allied soldiers as good luck tokens. Nanette did not survive long, however Rin Tin Tin returned to the U.S. with Duncan.

Lee Duncan found that the dog was incredibly intelligent and athletic and he had him participate in a number of informal dog exhibitions in and around Los Angeles. One of these was

Image licensed from Clipart
Source: Image licensed from Clipart

attended by the young film maker Darrel Zanuck who would go on to produce many movie classics, such as "All About Eve," "Twelve O'clock High," and "The Longest Day." When Zanuck saw the dog jump 13.5 feet he made a film of this performance with his new moving picture camera. He then suggested to Duncan that there might be a place for the dog in the new motion picture industry.

Rin Tin Tin's first role was as a stand in for a wolf in a film called "The Man From Hell's River" and he performed his part in a single flawless take. From this bit part a star was born.

Rinty, as he came to be known, became the largest earning star for the fledgling Warner Brothers studio. During the silent movie era revenue from Rin Tin Tin's films saved the company from bankruptcy and provided the funds which allowed them to become a major force in Hollywood. At this time, when a feature film actor might earn $50 to $100 a week, Rin Tin Tin was earining $2,300 a week and he was the only dog in Los Angeles to be listed the telephone directory. Rinty always played the role of an intelligent hero and was well loved. Because of such roles he received up to 10,000 fan letters each month.

Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, and Duncan and Rinty's son Rin Tin Tin Junior continued touring and making films. Duncan's devotion to producing a line of dogs which continued to have the intelligence and sound structure of the original Rin Tin Tin became an obsession. In fact when Duncan's wife filed for divorce she cited Rin Tin Tin as a co-respondent, claiming that her husband loved the dog more than he loved her.

The descendents of Rin Tin Tin continued to perform in the movies, and between 1954 and 1959 Rin Tin Tin II and Rin Tin Tin IV starred in a popular television series named "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," which was a western set in a U.S. Army Cavalry fort.

Duncan's health was beginning to decline and so in order to make sure that the dog's lineage would continue he gave one of Rin Tin Tin IV's sons to Janiettia Brodsgaard Propps. He then went on to work out a set of guidelines for breeding the line of dogs with her. Intelligence and working ability were always to be emphasized, and the deleterious changes that were already creeping into some of the lines of German Shepherds bred to be show dogs, were to be avoided.

Duncan died on September 20, 1960, but Rin Tin Tin's bloodline was safely in the hands of Ms Propps and later she passed it on to her granddaughter Daphne Hereford, who still maintains it today. Today the puppies she breeds are virtually identical to the early generations of Rin Tin Tin. The soundness of the line is maintained through a closed breeding program, meaning that all puppies are adopted under a nonbreeding agreement to protect the integrity of the genetic lineage and the Rin Tin Tin name.

In the late 1990's Ms Hereford became sensitive to the problem that many handicapped children who could benefit from assistance dogs were being placed on long waiting lists. For this reason, in 1999, she founded ARFkids, which is short for "A Rinty for kids." This was originally done in cooperation with Rin Tin Tin Incorporated and then became a foundation which continues to provide service dogs to disabled children at no cost. ARFkids is staffed by volunteers and funded completely by grants and donations. Through this foundation and the careful breeding program it maintains, the direct genetic descendants of the original Rin Tin Tin, who played the hero in so many adventure films, can still be heroes. These are more quiet heroes of a different type, but still as worthy of our admiration as the Hollywood star who began this line of clever, strong and brave dogs.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events, How Dogs Think : Understanding the Canine Mind, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome.

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