6 questions on "Rin Tin Tin" for Susan Orlean

Rin Tin Tin was a magnificent German Shepherd with a great backstory and an unmatched Hollywood career. But more recently he was looking a bit like a fading babyboomer memory. Then, this fall, came the publication of Susan Orlean's book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Suddenly, Rin Tin Tin is trending on Twitter – and finding a whole new place in our hearts. I recently asked Orlean six questions about her book and its regal subject. Here are excerpts of our conversation.

1. You ended up spending a decade researching "Rin Tin Tin." Did that surprise you?

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I never dreamed that it would be anything like this scope. Part of the way that I write stories is that I’m satisfying the scope of my own interest about something, so I don’t go into it knowing what I’m going to find.

I had no idea. I didn’t know [Rin Tin Tin's] story. I didn’t know anything except that I had some gut reaction to thinking, “I really want to know more about this." The more I learned, the more I felt that I needed to learn, and the more I found sidetracks that became essential to the story. And the more the story became a bigger tale about 100 years of American culture, really, and the history of entertainment, and the story of our relationship to animals.

At one point when I thought I had finished my reporting I found another treasure trove of material. That was both wonderful and vexing, because I thought I was done, and I was given the key to [Rin Tin Tin's TV producer] Bert Leonard’s storage locker. And he had been a character but not a very fleshed-out character. I just saw him as the guy who produced the show but the story didn’t seem that complex to me. Then very quickly I realized that it was.

Looking back, I couldn’t think I would have been happy doing it any other way.

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