Rin Tin Tin, the canine superstar of the 1920’s, was a big hit with young Shaftesbury film-goers. A local resident recalls that her father, born in 1918, enjoyed going to the “The Fleapit” to see Rin Tin Tin. This might have been the Picture Palace which, according to Roger Guttridge in Shaftesbury Through Time, closed in 1925 or its replacement further up the High Street called the Palace. The Savoy Cinema in Bimport opened in 1933, two years after Rin Tin Tin’s last film.
Rin Tin Tin was rescued in 1918 as a puppy from a wrecked kennels in north-eastern France by an American serviceman, Lee Duncan. He took the German Shepherd back to California and trained the dog, which he called Rinty, to be very responsive to commands and to leap prodigious heights. In 1922 the dog made his film debut, doubling for a very unresponsive wolf. In 1923 he had his first starring role in Where The North Begins. This film made six times its production costs and was credited with saving the Warner Brothers studio from bankruptcy.
By 1929 Rin Tin Tin was an international favourite. He appealed to all nationalities and the absence of a soundtrack meant that no commands were heard. (The advent of talkies required Lee Duncan to devise a code of visual signals.) The first Academy Awards ceremony, hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, took place in that year and legend has it that Rin Tin Tin should have won Best Actor. The organisers, however, decided that a dog could not be nominated and German actor Emil Jannings won the rerun vote.
The original Rin Tin Tin starred in 27 Hollywood films and died in 1932. Lee Duncan never copyrighted the name and so there was a succession of imitators, including a television series which the writer vaguely remembers from the 1950’s.
If you have reminiscences of the early days of the cinema in Shaftesbury, please get in touch with us.