Friday, July 18, 2014

Going to the dogs with Thunder, Strongheart
double bill on Sunday, July 20 in Wilton, N.H.

Two fans pay their respects at Strongheart's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No lifting of legs, please.

You may not be familiar with dog stars Thunder and Strongheart, but that's about to change. Siriusly. (Hey, a dog-astronomy pun!)

These two silent-era canine performers will be raised from obscurity, if only for an afternoon this weekend, as we present a double feature of their best work.

The show takes place on Sunday, July 20 at 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton (N.H.) Town Hall Theatre. Admission is free, with donations encouraged. It's all part of our ongoing "All-Star Animal Silent Film Extravaganza" this summer at the Town Hall Theatre.

On Sunday, first up is 'Phantom of the Forest' (1926), which finds Thunder the German Shepherd in California's wild Redwood country. Among the highlights: Thunder thwarts a crook planning to steal oil-rich land from its owner, and also saves a baby from a forest fire. (That's a scarce image of Thunder on the left.)

In 'The Return of Boston Blackie' (1927), Strongheart the German Shepherd plays sidekick to the notorious jewel thief, freshly out of prison and trying to turn over a new leaf. I understand this is the only surviving film of Strongheart, which is kind of sad.

Of the two, Strongheart's name has endured longer, if only because of a marketing tie-in that continues to this day.

Yes, Strongheart may have gone to that great dog run in the sky back in 1929, but you can still buy cans of "Strongheart Dog Food" wherever fine dog food products are sold.

And far from being obscure, I was surprised to learn that Strongheart actually has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Wow! (It you want to visit, it's at 1724 Vine St. That's not far from Rin Tin Tin's star at 1627 Vine St.)

But then that makes sense because Strongheart (whose actual name, I kid you not, was "Etzel von Oeringen") actually preceded Rin Tin Tin as cinema's pioneer leading dog man. Strongheart was on screen as early as 1921, when Rin Tin Tin was still giving fits to his owner, Lee Duncan. (Both dogs were refugees of World War I Europe, and helped popularize the then-new German Shepherd breed in America.)

Like Rin Tin Tin, Strongheart fathered a great many puppies. The line apparently continues to this day. So if any Strongheart descendants are out there, come see your long-dead ancestor romp across the big screen!

And there's more. Speaking of long-dead ancestors, Wikipedia actually has an entry under "Strongheart and Spirituality." Here it is in its entirety:

"After Strongheart's death, J. Allen Boone wrote two books, Kinship with All Life and Letters to Strongheart, about animal communication and the survival of the dog's soul after death. Both books were reprinted many times and remain classics of the Spiritualist faith."

Strongheart, if you're watching this weekend, I hope the show makes your tail wag.

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