The legend of Rin Tin Tin

"Yes," said Orleans. "Rin Tin Tin III, who is supposed to be Junior's son, doesn't look anything like Junior."

But direct lineage or not, Rin Tin III enlisted in the Army in World War II.

In fact, he was an important symbol for the Army at a time when American pets were being recruited for the U.S. military's first K9 Corps.

"I mean, people were being asked to part with their dearest companions and send them to the Army without any guarantee they would come back," said Orlean. "So the Army needed to inspire people to do that. And Rin Tin Tin was the perfect model for that."

So Rinty was still very much in the public eye in 1954, when his TV show, "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," launched.

It was a huge hit, spawning all sorts of products, from wallets to games and feeding bowls ... and a legendary feud with another canine star.

Orlean said the rivalry between Rin Tin Tin and Lassie "kind of prefigured the Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles. You kind of had to choose whether you were a 'Lassie person' or a 'Rin Tin Tin person.'"

In 1960, Lee Duncan, the man who made Rin Tin Tin a legend, died, leaving behind a big mystery: Why the original Rin Tin Tin, who had been buried in California, was later entombed in a pet cemetery in Paris, France?

"I think like a lot of the story, some of it is just believing," said Orlean, "and what I have to think is that there was some motivation that Lee had. And maybe part of it was simply the feeling that Rinty should go back to where he was found."

But no matter where he is buried, Rin Tin Tin embodied the Spirit of America ... and his descendants still do.

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