Rintintin - Silent Film

Silent Film

Duncan walked his dog up and down Poverty Row, talking to anyone in a position to put Rin Tin Tin in film, however modest the role. The dog's first break came when he was asked to replace a camera-shy wolf in The Man From Hell's River (1922). The wolf was not performing properly for the director, but under the guidance of Duncan's voice commands, Rin Tin Tin was very easy to work with. When the film was completed the dog was billed as "Rin Tan". Rin Tin Tin would be cast as a wolf or wolf-hybrid many times in his career because it was much more convenient for filmmakers to work with a trained dog. In another 1922 film titled My Dad, Rin Tin Tin picked up a small part as a household dog. The credits read: "Rin Tin Tin – Played by himself".

Rin Tin Tin's first starring role was in Where the North Begins (1923), playing alongside silent screen actress Claire Adams. This film was a huge success and has often been credited with saving Warner Bros from bankruptcy. It was followed by 24 more screen appearances. Each of these films was very popular, making such a profit for Warner Bros that Rin Tin Tin was called "the mortgage lifter" by studio insiders. A young screenwriter named Darryl F. Zanuck was involved in creating stories for Rin Tin Tin; the success of the films raised him to the position of respected film producer.

Rin Tin Tin was much sought after and was signed for endorsement deals. He was featured in ads for Ken-L Ration, Ken-L-Biskit, and Pup-E-Crumbles. Warner Bros got thousands of requests for publicity photographs of Rinty, which were signed with a paw print and a line written by Duncan: "Most faithfully, Rin Tin Tin." In the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin's 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. Around the world, Rin Tin Tin was extremely popular because, as a dog, he was equally well understood by all viewers. At the time, silent films were easily adapted for various countries by simply changing the language of the intertitles. Rin Tin Tin's films were widely distributed. By 1927, Rin Tin Tin was the most popular actor with the very sophisticated film audience in Berlin.

Author Susan Orlean investigated the Hollywood legend that Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the first Academy Award competition in 1929. Orlean says that the Academy wished to appear more serious, that they determined to have a human actor win the award. Rin Tin Tin was removed as a choice and the votes were cast once more: German actor Emil Jannings won the Best Actor award.

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. In these films, vocal commands would have been picked up by the microphones, so Duncan likely guided Rin Tin Tin by hand signals.

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