Rin Tin Tin (often billed as Rin-Tin-Tin in the 1920s and 1930s) was the name given to several related German Shepherd dogs featured in fictional stories on film, radio and television.
The first of the line (c. September 10, 1918 – August 10, 1932) was a shell-shocked pup found by American serviceman Lee Duncan in a bombed-out dog kennel in Lorraine, France, less than two months before the end of World War I. He was named for a puppet called Rin tin tin that French children gave to the American soldiers for good luck. The dog returned at war's end with Duncan to his home in Los Angeles, California. In color he was a dark sable, with very dark eyes.
Nicknamed Rinty by his owner, the dog learned tricks and could leap great heights. He was seen performing at a dog show by film producer Charles Jones, who paid Duncan to film Rinty. Duncan became convinced Rin Tin Tin could become the next Strongheart.
The dog's big break came when he stepped in for a recalcitrant wolf in The Man From Hell's River (1922). Rin Tin Tin would be cast as a wolf or wolf-hybrid many times in his career, though not looking like one.
His first starring role was in 1923's Where The North Begins, playing alongside silent screen actress Claire Adams. This film was a huge success and has often been credited with saving Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. It was followed by Shadows of the North (1923), Clash of the Wolves (1925), A Dog of the Regiment (1927), and Tiger Rose (1929).
Although primarily a star of silent films, Rin Tin Tin did appear in four sound features, including the 12-part Mascot Studios chapter-play The Lightning Warrior (1931), co-starring with Frankie Darro.
Between 1930 and 1955, "Rin Tin Tin" (though not always portrayed by the original dog) was heard in three different radio series, beginning April 5, 1930 with The Wonder Dog, in which the original Rin Tin Tin did his own sound effects until his death in 1932, when Rin Tin Tin, Jr. took over. This 15-minute program was broadcast Saturdays on the Blue Network at 8:15pm until March 1931 when it moved to 8:15pm on Thursdays.
In September 1930, the title changed from The Wonder Dog to Rin Tin Tin. Don Ameche and Junior McLain starred in the series, which ended June 8, 1933. With Ken-L Ration as a sponsor, the series continued on CBS from October 5, 1933 until May 20, 1934, airing Sundays at 7:45pm.
The final radio series was broadcast on Mutual from January 2, 1955 to December 25, 1955 a 30-minute program heard Sundays at 5pm. Sponsored by National Biscuit for Shredded Wheat and Milk-Bone, the series featured Rin Tin Tin's adventures with the 101st Cavalry. The show starred Lee Aaker (born 1943) as Rusty, James Brown (1920-1992) as Lieutenant Ripley "Rip" Masters and Joe Sawyer (1906-1982) as Sergeant Biff O'Hara.
Following Rin Tin Tin's death in 1932 in Los Angeles (in the arms of actress Jean Harlow, according to Hollywood legend), his owner arranged to have the dog returned to his country of birth for burial in the Cimetière des Chiens, the renowned pet cemetery in the Parisian suburb of Asnières-sur-Seine. He was 14 years old.
Rin Tin Tin, Jr. appeared in several short films in the 1930s, including the 12-part serial, The Adventures of Rex and Rinty. He voiced the part of Rinty in the radio shows produced during that era as well. There was another legacy which did not pursue the entertainment business named "Rinny's Boy", living on Louisville's Plainview Farms and owned by R.C. Tway.
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, an ABC television series, ran from October 1954 to May 1959. It featured Duncan's Rin Tin Tin IV as the lead dog, although some of the work was performed by a dog owned by Frank Barnes called J.R. and another of Duncan's Rin Tin Tin line dogs named Hey You. This Rinty was far lighter in colour than the original sable-pelted dog, but had similar stance and mannerisms.
The authentic bloodline of Rin Tin Tin was not lost following the death of Lee Duncan on September 20, 1960. With his endorsement, the bloodline continued in Texas with Jannettia Brodsgaard Propps, who had purchased several direct descendants from Duncan. Her granddaughter, Daphne Hereford, continued the lineage and the legacy of Rin Tin Tin following her grandmother's death on December 17, 1988. With Hereford's guidance, the authentic bloodline of Rin Tin Tin continues through breeding of his offspring at El Rancho Rin Tin Tin in Latexo, Texas. The current Rin Tin Tin is tenth in line from the original and makes personal appearances across the country to promote responsible pet ownership.
The authentic Rin Tin Tin line dogs are also trained as service dogs to provide assistance to special needs children.
Produced by Herbert B. Leonard, the 1988–1993 Canadian TV series Katts and Dog, featuring the adventures of a police officer and his canine partner, was titled Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop for its American showings. More recent films featuring authentic Rin Tin Tin line dogs include the 2006 production titled "Rin Tin Tin...A Living Legacy."
In the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin's financial success for Warner Brothers inspired several imitations from other studios looking to cash in on his popularity, notably RKO's Ace the Wonder Dog, also a German Shepherd.