Modern Hollywood owes a large debt to the silent film era. The film industry as it exists today would not be as it is without the stars in front and the creative talents behind the camera of that era. This story is about one of the most famous silent films stars ever.
This star is actually one of the more unlikely Hollywood stories. In the period after World War I, sentiments about Germans and German actors wasn’t favorable. However, this star was German, but he was among the most popular star of the silent era. And, sadly, his contribution to the success of the film industry in the 1920s and beyond is often overlooked.
Throughout the decade of the 1920s, this star made almost 30 pictures. He worked with almost all the leading actors and actresses of his day. He received a key to the city of New York. Fan clubs and well wishers could not get enough of him. There was even a period where he even received more fan mail and sent more autographed photos of himself than did Charlie Chaplin.
Darryl F. Zanuck, the famous Hollywood producer, first made his reputation writing screenplays specifically tailored for this actor. One of these early films did so well that it is said that this actor alone saved Warner Bros. Studios from financial ruin. When film transitioned from silent to talking pictures in the late 1920s early 1930s, this star, despite being from Germany, made the transition seamlessly and had no issue at all adapting to the new medium. Amazingly, he had no accent whatsoever.
Unfortunately, near the height of his popularity, this film star passed away at a young age. Condolence telegrams flooded into Hollywood. The worldwide acclaim for the talents of this actor astounded many in the industry. “His ability to convey emotions on the screen transcended culture and language,“ one foreign newspaper reported. “There will never be another like him.“ Rumor had it that he died in Jean Harlow’s arms, but this wasn’t so.
Yes, this German actor, honored and beloved, was discovered by an American soldier who ran across him living in a bombed out shelter in eastern France at the end of World War 1. The soldier took pity on him, noting how weak and thin and malnourished he was. The American GI brought him to the US and eventually to Hollywood, and the rest is history. Yes, even though he was discovered while living in France, he was really German—a German Shepherd, in fact.
You know him as Rin Tin Tin.