The story of how Rin Tin Tin was found in a German trench by Capt. Lee Duncan during WWI reads like typical Hollywood baloney—but it is true.
Rin Tin Tin shows why he’s the most famous of all dog stars in “The Lone Defender”, made in 1930 just a few years after his peak. He doesn’t kid around. In Ch. 1, spotting enemy Bob Kortman in a saloon, he’s instantly on the attack, launching himself into the air and landing on Kortman’s back. When Kortman breaks loose, flees and leaps from a balcony, Rinty is right behind him. Of the screen dog stars, Rinty (and his namesake) is the only one who consistently leaps at his opponents, usually going for the neck. The others tend to stay on the ground, nipping at a heavy’s legs or arms.
He’s also smart: discovering pal Buzz Barton trapped in a well, desperately treading water, he races to Walter Miller and pulls on his vest to get him to follow. When that doesn’t work he runs back to Buzz and, using his teeth, grabs one end of the lasso tied to the saddle horn on Buzz’s horse and drops it into the well, drags lengths and pushes them in until the rope reaches Buzz, then leads the horse away so Buzz is pulled up—a tribute to the scriptwriters as much as the dog.
He does his own stunts. In Ch. 4, tied up and muzzled but knowing friend Walter Miller is in another room being attacked by a wild dog, Rinty unties himself reasonably convincingly and, even more convincingly, gets rid of the muzzle, scales two doors, leaps through their transoms and takes on the wild dog. Scaling doors and leaping through transoms was one of Rinty’s specialties.
The doors were constructed with camouflaged cleats, to make scaling a little easier (and doubles were sometimes used). But there’s no cheating in a later chapter when, from the limb of a tree, he spies Miller bound and helpless in the back of a horseless, runaway buckboard. Rinty jumps from the limb, hits the ground running, dashes after the wagon, tries leaping into it, fails, tries again and succeeds. The leaps into the wagon are each photographed in one shot from the wagon, so there’s no faking. Then he proceeds to gnaw at Miller’s bindings until they tear—all done in convincing closeup.
Aside from stunts, Rinty does all the things the other movie dogs do; he delivers messages, leads rescuers and is good at detecting secret passages and trapdoors. It’s not so much what he does as how he does it. It’s one thing for a dog to perform well while the camera is on him and he’s doing something he’s been trained specifically to do. It’s another to be merely one of the actors in a busy scene with several people. Other dogs often race around aimlessly. Many times, if you’re watching closely you’ll often see a dog looking for signals from his trainer. None of that for Rin Tin Tin. Somehow he seems more focused, more engaged in what’s going on. There’s no standing around while a fight is on, no hesitation, no tail-wagging, except when it’s called for. He’s strictly business, the consummate professional.
Rin Tin Tin Jr., shows many of his dad’s qualities in “Law of the Wild” (and his other two serials “The Wolf Dog” and “Adventures of Rex and Rinty” in which he co-stars with the horse Rex.) He demonstrates his acting chops in the first chapter: when brutal Richard Alexander injures him and has his horse trample Rinty’s master, Bob Custer. Rinty crawls piteously to Bob, licks his face ad revives him momentarily. He shows real discipline when he stands his ground as a flivver driven by Lafe McKee heads straight for him and swerves only at the last second to very narrowly avoid hitting him–all in one shot.
Weasely, sad-faced little Ernie Adams was one of the more talented serial and B-Western performers. Short in stature with a wide mouth, high-set nose and peering, darting eyes, Ernie became typecast as a badman, specializing in whimpering fink “stool pigeon” roles. Whenever the hero threatened to beat up Ernie, you always knew he would “spill the beans”. A usual assignment called for Ernie to strut cockily through the evil doings as a henchman up to the point when a double cross was called for. It was he who then “ratted” on his confederates and was then methodically eliminated before he could reveal the big boss’ name, or when his gang found him out.
It is Ernie who confesses in the final reel of “Shadow of the Eagle” revealing (name withheld) as the Eagle. With at least 32 sound serials in all to his credit, pretty evenly divided between Mascot, Columbia, Universal and Republic, these are some of Adams’ most devious roles. “Galloping Ghost” (‘31 Mascot)—Brady, one of Walter Miller’s minions; “Hurricane Express” (‘32 Mascot)—Barney, one of the Wrecker’s thugs; “Shadow of the Eagle” (‘32 mascot)—sideshow barker Kelly who reveals the identity of the mysterious Eagle; “Fighting with Kit Carson” (‘33 Mascot)—outlaw Wade; “Law of the Wild” (‘34 Mascot)—Raymond, who with Richard Cramer as Nolan, plots to steal the horse Rex; “Miracle Rider” (‘35 Mascot)—storekeeper Janss’ sneaky clerk Stelter; “Jungle Raiders” (‘45 Columbia)—Charley, one of Charles King’s three henchmen; “Hop Harrigan” (‘46 Columbia)—Dr. Tobor’s assistant Retner; “Son of Zorro” (‘47 Republic)—corrupt Judge Hyde.
Occasionally Ernie would step out of character and portray a nice guy, or perhaps even have a meaty role. Two examples are his portrayal of the Phantom’s ally Rusty Denton in Columbia’s “Phantom” serial (‘43) which starred Tom Tyler, and as legendary baseball manager Miller Huggins in “The Pride of the Yankees” (‘42) with Gary Cooper as baseball legend Lou Gehrig.
Ernest S. Adams was born in San Francisco, CA, June 18, 1885. Married to Berdonna Gilbert, the couple spent the early years of their entertainment careers as the vaudeville team of Adams and Gilbert. According to reports at the time, Ernie was quite a song and dance man.
Adams came to the film business in 1919 with a role (appropriately) as Shorty in “A Regular Girl”. This film was made back East and Ernie didn’t arrive in Hollywood until 1924. His first film “out west” was “Hutch of the U.S.A.”, a Charles Hutchinson action film. Ernie actually made only about six Westerns in the silent era where he was usually cast as a convict, ex-con, valet, pitchman or some sort of low-rent gangster and only one serial, “Melting Millions” (‘27 Pathé).
As sound came his roles began to increase. He was a saloon singer/henchman in Gary Cooper’s classic “The Virginian” in ‘29. He was in serials and Westerns almost exclusively until about ‘39 when he began to obtain roles in A-films as well (“Young Tom Edison”, “Sea Wolf”, “Jack London”, “Merry Monahans”, “Murder My Sweet”, “Blue Dahlia”, “Buck Privates Come Home”, etc.). Not that Ernie ever stopped making serials—his last was as Blinkey, Sombra’s photographer in Republic’s “Black Widow”. From ‘30-‘47, 17 years, Ernie worked in over 350 films!
Badman Pierce Lyden remembered Ernie as “always jumpin’ around. He was like a kid that gets into everything. Asking to do something, suggesting things to the director. He was a volunteer and he loved the business. The people in charge loved him and kept him busy. He was great to have around.”
Adams lived at 1830 N. Cherokee Ave., in L.A. with Berdonna and their daughter Robin until his death at 62 on November 26, 1947. He spent a week at West Olympic Sanitarium in L.A. before dying of pulmonary disease. His wife, 58 at the time, died February 12, 1961.
After the huge success of “Lightning Bryce” (‘19) for Arrow, Jack Hoxie immediately contracted with Berwilla Film Corp. and Arrow to star in “Thunderbolt Jack” (‘20), a 10 chapter serial directed by Francis Ford and Murdock MacQuarrie under supervision of Ben Wilson. Marin Sais, whom Jack married about the time “Thunderbolt…” was filmed, was Jack’s leading lady. Jack’s brother Al played Marin’s brother. When oil is discovered on Jack’s parent’s ranch, thieves plot to secure the ranch. Back East in college, Jack returns to help his parents, teaming up with Sais.
Former newspaper reporter W. Ray Johnston founded Arrow Film Corp. in 1914 and it remained in operation through the mid ‘20s. Johnston formed Rayart in ‘24 which later merged with other minor companies to form Monogram in ‘31. Hoxie made dozens of silent Westerns and a handful of talkies in the ‘30s. Leaving filmwork, he moved with his third wife to Arkansas. He died at 80 in Kingfisher, OK, March 28, ‘65. Born in San Rafael, CA, Marin Sais was descended from one of the earliest Spanish families of California. (Marin County was named after one of her ancestors.) She entered films in 1910, appearing in over 160 silents, but this was her only silent serial. After her divorce from Jack in the late ‘20s, she became a respected character actress in over 60 films through ‘53 including the role of Red Ryder’s Auntie Duchess in the four Jim Bannon Red Ryders. Sais was 81 when she died December 31, 1971, in Woodland Hills, CA.