They called him the Dog Wonder, the Mastermind Dog, America’s Greatest Movie Dog. He was listed in the Los Angeles phone book, made more money than his human costars and actually came unnervingly close to winning the first Academy Award for actor. He was Rin Tin Tin and, as Susan Orlean puts it, “He was something you could dream about. He could leap twelve feet, and he could leap through time.” “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend” is New Yorker writer Orlean’s first original work since the celebrated “The Orchid Thief,” and like that book, it’s a story of magnificent obsession. Nearly a decade in the making, combining worldwide research with personal connection, it offers the kind of satisfactions you only get when an impeccable writer gets hold of one heck of a story. Rin Tin Tin (Rinty to his intimates) was not the first dog on film; that honor went to 1905’s “Rescued by Rover.” He wasn’t even the first Hollywood dog star. That would be Strongheart, who was promoted as “More Human Than Human.” But Rin Tin Tin was bigger than them all, and he had a story so unlikely it would have made a movie in itself.
more from Kenneth Turan at the LA Times here.