Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rin Tin Tin and the Mystery of the Missing Oscar

Rin Tin Tin
Way back in 1929, when the Academy of Motion Picture Artsand Sciences was brand new, they organized the first Oscar presentations.  The members of the Academy voted on the (then short) list of awards, including best actor and actress.  When the votes were counted, the winner for best actor was Rin Tin Tin.

It really wasn't surprising.  Though it's hard to imagine today, Rin Tin Tin was the biggest star of his era.  Rinty, as he was known, helped to turn Warner Bros. from a small, struggling studio into the huge industry leader it became.  He was so famous -- and so beloved -- that when he died in 1932 radio broadcasts all over America were interrupted with the news.  In 1929 there really was no other clear choice for Best Actor.  There was Rin Tin Tin, and there was everyone else.

But (according to Susan Orlean, in her book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend) the Academy was worried that if they gave the first ever Best Actor award to a dog, no one would take their new organization seriously.  And so, they gave it to the runner up, a German silent film actor named Emil Jannings.

Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel" (1930)
(Who?  Emil Jannings was a German actor, well known to silent film audiences.  He starred opposite Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.  Jannings had a thick German accent, which effectively ended his career in Hollywood once talkies came in.  During World War II he starred in Nazi Propaganda films and was reportedly close with Joseph Goebbels.  If you've seen Quentin Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds, Jannings is portrayed as one of the German actors in the climactic theater scene. You can find his Wikipedia page here -- and in the spirit of full disclosure, it was me who added the information about Rin Tin Tin to his biography.)

Taking into account the times, and the youth of Hollywood, the decision is understandable.  But over the years, the Oscars have become an institution, one that is devoted to celebrating and preserving the history of Motion Pictures.  And now, it seems only fitting that one of the greatest movie stars of all time -- Rin Tin Tin -- should finally get his due.

The folks over at The Dog Files (a great blog -- if you're not familiar with it, check it out) have started a petition to do just that.  They are calling on the Academy to include in the live Oscar ceremony a montage honoring animals in film, and then award (re-award) a posthumous Best Actor Oscar to Rin Tin Tin.

As my friends could tell you, I can go a little overboard on the subject of pop culture injustices (Why aren't the Monkees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?)  But this, I really believe, is a cause whose time has come.  So I would like to call upon all my readers to sign the petition -- and if the spirit moves you, maybe write directly to the Academy of Motion PictureArts and Sciences.   

Let's get Rinty back his Oscar.


Readers of Birds and Beasts might also enjoy our sister blog Birdland West, which covers birds and wildlife, mostly in the Seattle Area.  Currently at Birdland West, CSI: Pigeon Town, an avian murder mystery.