Rin Tin Tin is possibly the most famous German shepherd dog in the world. He rose from obscurity in World War I Europe to become an international star of American movies and TV. The original Rin-Tin-Tin made 26 motion pictures with Warner Brothers Studios between 1922 and 1932. His descendants have made many more movies, as well as a 1950s TV show. The bloodline continues today, with hundreds of progeny, but only ten special dogs have been officially named Rin Tin Tin.
On 10 September 1918, a United States soldier named Lee Duncan found the original Rin-Tin-Tin as a newborn puppy in Lorraine, France. His combat unit stumbled upon a litter of pups and a mother dog in a bombed out building, and decided to rescue them. Duncan picked out one of the male puppies, and named him RinTinTin, after a popular French puppet.
After the war, Lee Duncan returned to the United States with Rinty, as the dog was nicknamed. Duncan had learned a lot about the German shepherd breed while in Europe, and he enjoyed teaching Rin Tin Tin to perform canine tricks. The dog showed amazing agility and intelligence and his talent soon caught the attention of Warner Brothers Film Studios. “Man From Hell River” was Rinty’s first movie and he was an instant celebrity. At the height of his fame, Rin Tin Tin was receiving 10,000 pieces of mail weekly and his movies literally saved the studio from bankruptcy.
After the death of the original, Duncan continued to train and show German shepherd dogs from Rin Tin Tin's bloodline. Duncan freely admitted that the next dog in line to perform, known as Junior, did not live up to his expectations. Duncan soon turned his attention to Rinty III, and he and the dog helped to train military K9 units during World War II.
Oddly, it was the fourth dog in line that captured the name Rin Tin Tin II. Number four worked alongside another descendant designated as Rin Tin Tin IV, who starred in the television show, “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” from 1954 to 1959. The TV series captivated children and adults with the adventures of a boy named Rusty (Lee Aaker) and his heroic dog in the old West. Altogether, four different German shepherds were used to film the TV show.
Although Lee Duncan died in 1960, his love for German shepherds lives on in the bloodlines of the famous Rin Tin Tin. Descendants of the original dog are still making appearances and performing in films, including “Rin Tin Tin, A Living Legacy,” released in 2006. Re-runs of the TV show are also in popular syndication in some markets. The fine legacy of Lee Duncan’s special dog is cherished and preserved around the world by dog lovers young and old.