By Sheli Ellsworth

Susan Orlean’s current best-seller, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, drew a standing room only crowd at the Paley Media Center in LA on October 12. And yes, her book is about the dog known as Rin Tin Tin. The non-fiction book about the German Shepherd rescued by the American soldier, Lee Duncan, during WWI in France, drew German Shepherd lovers from all around—and even an actual German Shepherd. Orlean showed clips from the silent movie, “Clash of Wolves” and the television series, “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.”

The author, who also does free-lance writing, said she ran across the story while writing an article for a magazine about animal actors. Orleans credits the success of the book to finding an amazing story. After listening to several excerpts, I realized that the book’s success was due to the caliber of Orlean’s writing—not the story.

Susan Orlean is a writer for The New Yorker along with the likes of E.B. White and J.D. Salinger. Her style is literary, genuine, and soulfully honest. She had the crowd eating out of her hands in no time. Her first book was The Orchid Thief, for which the film, “Adaptation,” starring Meryl Streep, was based.

“The first obstacle I had to overcome was the idea that Rin Tin Tin was a real dog, not just a character,” Orlean said. The German Shepherd breed was developed in the late 1800s. They were used as military dogs in WWI by many counties. After the start of WWII, the US decided to get in on the trend, but had to ask citizens to donate their pets for military service to obtain enough dogs. As many as 80 different German Shepherds eventually starred in film and television after the war. “There was a figurine of Rin Tin Tin on my grandfather’s desk that we weren’t allowed to touch,” said Orlean. “The soldier who rescued Rinty, as he was called, trained dogs before the war. He entered Rinty in a dog show. Someone was trying out an experimental moving film camera and caught Rinty hurdling a 12-foot wall on film. Then they sold the clip to a studio who ran it before movies.”  Before long, Lee Duncan was getting residual checks. .” Rin Tin Tin’s first starring role was in the 1923 film “Where the North Begins,” which is credited with saving Warner Brother’s from bankruptcy.” He was actually awarded the very first Oscar, but then it was decided that a dog shouldn’t be the first awardee.”

“Rin Tin Tin became an iconic hero,” said Orlean. “He was a stroke of luck in a luckless time …”


Sheli Ellsworth is a free-lance writer and mother of two teenagers who lives in Thousand Oaks, CA. She has a master’s degree in psychology used mainly to annoy family and friends. Her writing has been published in the Pacific Daily News, the Ventura County Star, BackHome magazine, Auto Week, Zone4 and she also writes Dear Miss Betty-advice for those who need to be slapped forSpotlight on Recovery.