Or Would You Rather Be A Dog? A Sci-Fi short-short from 1952

November 2, 2008

Here’s a two-page sci-fi short short story called “The Terrible Planet” written by Allan Anders. It appeared in the November, 1952 issue, No. 6 of “Fantastic Worlds — Amazing Planet and Space Adventures” a title published by the modestly named Standard Comics. [ A postal regulation required comic books to have at least two pages of text to qualify for a discounted magazine mailing rate. ]

In this tale the Men of Earth Finally Find a Way to Conquer the Menace of Saturn! (Thank God!)

What if the Solar Council offered to temporarily transplant your brain into a robotic body called a Rover. The Rover was nine feet long and six feet high and looked like a giant metal greyhound. This body needed no food and it  would function for 60,000 years before it began to deteriorate.

What if you didn’t want to give it back?

Clicking twice on the images below will open a larger, much more readable image in your browser.


Terrible Planet page two

Rin Tin Tin: Cinema’s Second Great Dog Star

October 5, 2008

The life of Rin Tin Tin would be completely unbelievable if you saw it in a film, and is worth telling here again. It’s also the perfect example of Mark Twain’s famous line from Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” No other dog in history ever went from a more frightful beginning to such a prosperous end. 

Not only is Rinty’s story fact, but this incredible German Shepard was rescued from a battlefield, discovered by Darrell Zanuck, became a star after his first film, saved a fledgling film studio on Hollywood’s ‘poverty row’ from bankruptcy and died in the arms of Jean Harlow. His name is a registered trademark. At his peak, the studio reported he received 10,000 letters a week from fans. Even given a publicist’s natural tendency for hyperbole and exaggeration, it is certainly true that Rin Tin Tin was one of Hollywood’s top stars and top earners (at $1,000 a week) during his career. 

It begins on September 15, 1918 when American Corporal Lee Duncan investigated a bombed-out war dog kennel in Lorraine, France. A German Shepard mother and her five puppies were the only survivors of the assault. While the rest of the battalion took the mother and three of the 10-day old pups, Duncan chose one male and one female. He gave them names based on the tiny puppets given by French children as symbols of good luck to American soldiers, Nannette and Rin Tin Tin. Soon after the mother, Betty, and the other pups perished. One can imagine the difficulty of maintaining a new litter amidst the carnage of the battlefronts of World War One.

After the war, Duncan went back to work at a California hardware store. Nannette had died of distemper in New York after her journey by sea from France so only Rin Tin Tin was left from the original litter. Impressed by the breeds’ ability to learn Duncan worked with Rin Tin Tin in his spare time, training him and taking him to local dog shows.

It was at one particular show in 1922 that a film entrepreneur named Darrell Zanuck, who would go onto found 20th Century Fox, saw Rinty make an amazing 13 1/2 foot jump. He gave Duncan $350 to film his German Shepard in action for the sake of testing a new camera. At this point in the story Zanuck exits the scene but the concept that Rinty could become a canine action star was now firmly planted in Duncan’s mind. He wrote a script called Where the North Begins and began making the rounds of Hollywood’s studios. Everyone who saw the dog or looked at the script turned him down.

It was when Duncan came across a film crew working for a struggling low budget outfit called Warner Brothers, trying unsuccessfully to shoot a sequence with a wolf that he, and Rinty finally got their break. He walked up and told the frustrated moviemakers that he had a dog that could do the scene in a single take. Of course, he was told, less than politely, to mind his own business. Still, Duncan would not give up and, since they were having no luck with the recalcitrant wolf, one crewmember thought it would be easier to try a take than to keep arguing with Duncan. 

And, just as a hackneyed screenwriter might type it between eye openers of Kentucky’s finest distilled spirits and a blue cloud of Lucky Strike’s tobacco, a Star was Born. Rinty performed the scene flawlessly; Duncan and his wonder dog were kept on for the filming of the otherwise forgettable Western by director Irving Cummings Man from Hell’s River. To everyone’s amazement the modest film was a hit with the public and those who saw him on the screen fell in love with the noble, heroic dog that had been scooped out of war torn France four years earlier. Third-billed Wallace Beery played the heavy as Gaspard, the Wolf, while Rin Tin Tin played ‘himself.’ 

He would go on playing himself in a total of 26 pictures for Warner Brothers. Rinty went on radio in 1930 as ‘The Wonder Dog’ providing his own dialogue. Though there were a dozen stand-ins and stunt doubles available, Rinty, like Jackie Chan in his prime, did almost all his own stunts. He was capable of remaining motionless for up to 30 minutes at a time in order to complete his scenes during camera and lighting changes. His last picture was completed when Rinty was 13, the equivalent of 94 in human years. Rinty died on August 10, 1932 his head cradled in the arms of the screen’s original ‘blonde bombshell’ Jean Harlow (who, sadly, would only outlive him by five years). She had been visiting Lee Duncan and Rinty in the yard of his Beverly Hills home.

Rinty’s descendents and Lee Duncan would go on to help train over 5,000 dogs and handlers during WWII and provide one of the most sought after blood lines in the breed and star again, in films like 1947’s The Return of Rin Tin Tin with Robert Blake (as Paul, the Refugee Lad), The Challenge of Rin Tin Tin (1957), and ABC-TV’s in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin 1954-1959. Lee Duncan died on September 20, 1960 while the lineage, both blood line and cultural, that this 10 ten-day old rescued war dog began lives on.

We look forward to one of our favorite writers, Susan Orlean’s upcoming book on Rin Tin Tin, to be released in 2009 by Little, Brown. 


The First Great Cinema Dog Star: Strongheart

October 5, 2008

The first great cinema dog star was Strongheart (1917-1929) a German Shepherd Dog who was originally trained in German as a police dog.  Laurence Trimble and his wife Jane Murfin, filmmakers who originally worked with Jean, the Vitagraph Dog, brought Strongheart to the United States where he made several highly successful movies, including an adaptation of Jack London’s White Fang in 1925.

Most of Strongheart’s films are believed to have been lost, though his lineage continues to the present day. The Return of Boston Blackie is one film known to have survived. During the course of filming a scene in 1929 Strongheart was burned when he fell against a studio light. This burn led to a tumor that eventually killed him.  He was also the subject of a 1939 book by Robert H. Sommer, Letters to Strongheart. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a line of dog food still produced today by Simmons Pet Food, Inc. is named after him, Strongheart Dog Food.

The Dog Days of Summer

October 5, 2008

“When Sirius parches the head and knees and the body is dried up by reason of the heat, then sit in the shade and drink.” The Greek poet Hesiod wrote these lines 3,000 years ago referring to that stretch of summer that came to be known as the ‘Dog Days.’ Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (the Big Dog) and its name comes from the Greek word for “scorching.” 

Sirius is more than three times the size of our sun and is the brightest star in the night sky, even at 9 light years distance. The Dog Star is so bright that the ancient Romans believed that the Earth was heated by it at night. 

In the summer months Sirius rises and sets with the sun. During late July Sirius is in conjunction with the sun and they believed that the combined heat of the Sun and the Dog Star created this stretch of uncomfortably hot weather. The Romans named this period, from 20 days before conjunction to 20 days after, the Dog Days. 

Of course, today we understand that the heat of the mid-summer season is a result of the Earth’s tilt towards the sun, not from the added ‘heat’ of the Dog Star. Due to the ‘precession of the equinoxes,’ the positions of the constellations have drifted over time; the stars are not in the same place as they were in the night sky in ancient Rome. Today the Dog Days are specifically July 3 through August 11. But this sense has been loosened in popular usage to refer to any stretch of hot, humid weather in the summer.

“We were told they were nothing but dogs.”

October 2, 2008

“We were told to rough up Iraqi’s who wouldn’t cooperate. We were also told they were nothing but dogs. Then all of a sudden you start looking at these people as less than human.”

— Sgt. Ken Davis
     372nd MP Company
      Abu Ghraib

     “Taxi to the Darkside”
      Winner 2008 Oscar
      Best Documentary

Dorothy Parker’s Dogs

June 14, 2008

Dorothy Parker in April 1953 with Misty,
photographed by Roy Schatt at his Murray Hill studio, NYC.
(from the book, A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick)

I love Dorothy Parker. I once had a hard drive named for her (Dot). A friend’s wife dismissed her by complaining that there was too little Parker to read.

I countered and said there’s just enough Dorothy Parker to suit me. Putting down Mrs. Parker because her output has not deforested the nation like Stephen King’s made me suspect every judgment made by my friend’s wife. (They divorced).

Here is a partial list of dogs owned by Dorothy Parker:

  • Amy—mutt
  • Bunk—Boston terrier
  • C’est Tout—poodle
  • Cliché—poodle
  • Cora—Bedlington terrier
  • Daisy—Scottish terrier
  • Flic—Boxer
  • Fraulein—dachshund
  • Jack—dalmation
  • Limey—poodle
  • Misty—poodle
  • Nogi—Boston terrier
  • Poupée—poodle
  • Rags—Boston terrier
  • Robinson—dachshund
  • Scrambles—mutt
  • Timothy—Dandie Dinmont terrier
  • Troy, aka Troisiéme—poodle
  • Wolf—Bedlington terrier
  • Woodrow Wilson—Boston terrier

Balthasar and the Night Janitor

February 2, 2008

“Dogs are even able in old age to develop lasting and deep attachments if their love and bonding are reciprocated. . .One very sweet mutt, Balthasar, escaped from his new master three times and came back to us at the university, and so we were stuck with him. We thought he bonded with us so strongly that he was unable to develop new attachments. Thus, Balthasar became the watchdog at the Göd research Station, which made everybody, including him, very happy. One day, when he was twelve years old and had to be considered a rather old dog, the research station hired an elderly person as night janitor and superintendent. One day I was looking for Balthasar in vain. My colleagues told me that recently he started to leave in the mornings with the night janitor, only to return to ‘job’ at night. I learned from the group that Balthasar and the old janitor got to like each other quite a bit. “Just think,” they said, “they sleep together and he even buys Balthasar hot dogs.” Unfortunately, this relationship lasted only a few months, because the night janitor became ill, had to be hospitalized, and eventually died. In spite of this, Balthasar would disappear from time to time, particularly in the mornings. We tracked down what he was doing during his absences, and found that he would cross the busy highway, got to his adoptive master’s old house in the village, and sit in front of it for hours.”

– from If Dogs Could Talk; Exploring the Canine Mind by Vilmos Csányi, translated by Richard E. Quandt, North Point Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 2005. Originally published in 2000 by Vince Kiadó Kft., Hungary

The story of RCA’s Nipper: His Master’s Voice

February 2, 2008

his_masters_voiceNipper, (1884-1895) the fox terrier on His Master’s Voice label (RCA) was the dog of an English painter, Francis Barraud (1856-1924). His painting, and the rights to reproduce it, was sold for one hundred pounds. Click on painting for larger view.


The only known photograph of Nipper (left) and Frances Barraud (right) working on one of the 24 copies of “His Master’s Voice” that were commissioned by the Victor Company.

— from The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by Roger Grenier (translated by Alice Kaplan), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000.

Nazis, Jewish Prisoner of War and a stray dog

February 2, 2008

“Emmanuel Levinas, captured by the Germans in 1940 and sent to a forest work detail with other Jewish prisoners of war, realized that in the eyes of his guards, and even of passersby, he and his fellow prisoners no longer belonged to the human race. Then a stray dog came and joined them: ‘For the dog, there was no doubt we were men.’ ”

from The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by Roger Grenier (translated by Alice Kaplan), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000.

Gaston Febus de Foix-Béarn, “Book of the Hunt” (1387)

February 2, 2008

“The dog is loyal to his master and with good and true love. The dog is of good understanding and great knowledge and great judgment. The dog has force and goodness. The dog has wisdom and is a true beast. The dog has a great memory. The dog has a great sense of smell. The dog has great diligence and great power. The dog has great valor and great subtlety. The dog has great lightness and great perception. The dog is good for giving orders to, since it learns everything just as a man does when taught. Much frolicking is in a dog. So good are dogs that rare is the man who doesn’t want to have one, either for one job or for another.”

–Gaston Febus de Foix-Béarn

from The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by Roger Grenier (translated by Alice Kaplan), The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000.

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