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100 Years Ago…
“Dog of War”

A surprising story of the end of WW1 and the creation of a top Hollywood star.
…All through the compassion of a Groundcrew Corporal of the Allied Air Corps

A German war-dog (with a message canister on his collar) leaps over a trench during WW1.

Today, the name “Rin-Tin-Tin” evokes memories of a very clever German Shepherd dog that starred in a cute 1950s TV Series, set in the Wild West of the USA.  - But that TV series was actually a “re-make”.  

Back in the 1920s, the original Rin-Tin-Tin was a notable star of the ‘Silent’ film era.  He had been rescued by a Corporal in the US Army Air Service in September 1918, as a newborn puppy, from an abandoned German war-dog kennel.

Corporal Leland “Lee” DUNCAN named “Rin-Tin-Tin” after a French good-luck mascot. 
Lee served in the 135th Aero Squadron in the US Army “1st Corps Observation Group”.
- A unit with very similar responsibilities to 3AFC. 
- Indeed, 3AFC supported the US 2nd Corps in September 1918.

The puppy’s name sprang from a wildly-popular fad that had swept Paris in 1918.  Small dolls, made of woollen-yarn and called Nénette and Rintintin, were often gifted to soldiers at the front for “good-luck”.  (And also between the citizens of Paris themselves - suffering under German aerial bombing and long-range artillery attack.)

These dolls had an interesting war-history.   German toy manufacturers had dominated world doll markets in the years that led up to WW1.  In 1913, as tensions rose, patriotic French “substitute” dolls were designed by Francisque POULBOT (a popular artist) portraying two Montmartre street-urchins, Nénette and Rintintin. 

As WW1 went on, Poulbot created a flood of newspaper cartoons, posters and books,
featuring the same two children in sentimental situations evoking the Great War.

In 1917, a popular song featured a grown-up Nénette and Rintintin
surviving a German bomber attack on Paris…

...When that “good-luck” song spread, the hand-made woollen dolls suddenly appeared everywhere.  They were well-known to Allied service personnel in France.

After the Armistice, the puppy Rin-Tin-Tin grew up rapidly.  In 1919 he was shipped back to Lee’s home in California, where the silent-film industry was just starting to boom.  Lee taught tricks to “Rinty” and succeeded in getting him his own movie in 1923.  Rin-Tin-Tin was an outstanding performer and immediate box-office success.  - He went on to star in 27 Hollywood films, distributed worldwide.

By 1926, Rin-Tin-Tin was the world's biggest box-office draw.  His films were so profitable that Warner Bros paid its canine star a much bigger salary than the Studio’s most famous human stars!  Rinty also appeared in stage shows and advertising. (e.g. For the first commercial dog-food.)  Lee Duncan became a very wealthy showbiz entrepreneur.

1927 Movie Poster

The Academy Awards were first presented in 1929 and the story is still told that Rin-Tin-Tin, who had by then made many critically-acclaimed movies, actually received the most votes for Best Actor.  (But to save face, the Oscar was awarded to the next-best human!)

Warner Bros and the media treated Rin-Tin-Tin just like a human celebrity.  After he died of old-age in 1932 (in his Hollywood mansion!) newspapers all around the world carried obituariesRinty’s remains were returned to the country of his birth and entombed in a celebrity cemetery in Central Paris.


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