Taken from The Boston Phoenix's "Character Sketches," a celebration of
viewers' favorite TV characters. Click here for the full article.
You think these are the dog days of TV? Flash back to the '50s, the Golden Age
of the Canine. I'm talking Cleo, the basset hound on The People's
Choice; wire-haired Asta on the Motorola version of The Thin
Man; Bullet being upstaged by Trigger on The Roy Rogers Show; a
funny Saint Bernard on Topper -- what was his name? [Editor's note:
Neil.] But the big two had their own pooch shows, both debuting in 1954:
Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.
As a kid, I liked Lassie, but I didn't love him/her. The androgyny was a wee
bit confusing, and the
pettable collie was just too tail-wagging sucky, protecting frail little Timmy
and Gramps and Timmy's kindly mom. However, I adored Rin Tin Tin, that sleek,
no-nonsense, unsentimental German shepherd. The Adventures of Rin Tin
Tin was set, appropriately, in a boy's idyllic adventureland, a fort in the
Old West. The cavalry officer in charge was reliable Lieutenant Rip Masters;
hilarious comedy was provided by Sergeant Biff O'Hara; and the boy was the
fabulous, freckle-faced Rusty, who got to wear a mini-cavalry outfit and have
an honorary title: Corporal Rusty.
And Rusty set Rin Tin Tin in motion. Has TV ever again been so
glorious as at the moment when a sullen bad guy idiotically pulled a gun, or a
renegade Indian foolishly went to shoot with his bow and arrow, and Rusty
unleashed his mighty dog with the immortal command "Yo-o-o-o RINTY!!!"? Rin Tin
Tin made like Superman and flew through the air, teeth landing deep in the
wrist of the villain. The West was saved!
At the end of each episode, Rusty would get on his knees to hug his dog, and
the other series regulars would gather around in tribute. I approved, a true
believer in Rin Tin Tin's omnipotence. Years later, I met a skeptic who told
me, seriously, that he became a permanent atheist from watching The
Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. "I realized that the ridiculous way everyone
worshiped Rinty was the way everyone bowed and scraped before a supposed God,"
he told me.