September 11, 2015 | Posted in Famous TV & Movie Dogs
Rin Tin Tin may have been the most famous German Shepherd film star, but there was a Shepherd who came before him, to pave the way.
His screen name was Strongheart, though his real name was Etzel von Oeringer. The handsome, powerful 100-pound black and tan canine was born in 1917, but not into a show business environment. He was trained in Germany during World War I as an attack dog, going on to serve with the police who worked with the German Red Cross.
But when he was three years old, husband and wife filmmakers Laurence Trimble and Jane Murfin heard of him and realized that he would be perfect for some films they were planning. They persuaded the Red Cross to release the dog to them and they headed to America, where his acting training began. Because of his police background, he was not a social animal at first. It took the filmmakers months to de-emphasize the attack dog mentality while still keeping his strength and bravery. He also maintained a good sense of judgment when it came to which people to trust and his new owners said they knew his instincts were always right.
They re-named him Strongheart and he starred in his first silent film, “The Silent Call”, in 1921. It immediately made him a star and did wonders for the popularity of the German Shepherd breed. Strongheart traveled by train to make personal appearances and was written about often in newspapers. He went on to star in a total of 6 silent films, certainly the most famous canine film star of his time and for a long time after his last film. A brand of dog food named Strongheart was produced and still exists today. In 1924, he even received a star on the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame and fans can still visit it, at 1724 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Strongheart fathered several pups and his bloodline still survives today. In fact, his grandson, Lightning, was the star of several films in the 1930s.
Laurence Trimble was always proud of the fact that he took a former police dog and turned him into a silent film star who knew how to portray violence without actually causing it, saying, “His human counterparts were pleased with Strongheart, for even though he tore their clothes to shreds, he never left a mark of a fang or nail on any actor.”
Sadly, in 1929 while preparing for his next film, Strongheart slipped on the set and made contact with a hot light. It caused burns that were thought to be minor, but shortly, a tumor grew and he passed away before the end of that year. Laurence Trimble said the eulogy at his funeral, concluding with, “God bless you, Strongheart; God bless you.”
Since the canine’s passing, books have been written about him, including two by J. Allen Boone, an early-day animal communicator who claims Strongheart’s spirit lives on. The books are Kinship with all Life and Letters to Strongheart. It seems that they have become classics in the spiritualist faith, keeping the memory of Strongheart alive.