It was just over 100 years ago that a German Shepherd was born in Germany under the name Etzel von Oeringen. Little did anyone guess that this small pup, born during the ravages of World War I, was just starting on a life journey that would take him to the heights of stardom in the movies. Hollywood and the era if silent films were waiting for him-- as were the people of America.

Strongheart
Strongheart

Image via Wikipedia

Etzel was born on October 1, 1917 in Quedlinburg, Germany. As a young dog he trained in Berlin to become a police dog and went on to serve with the German Red Cross during the final days of World War I. After the war his owner was left impoverished and could no longer afford to care for Etzel. To make sure that the dog would remain in humane hands he was shipped off to a kennel in White Plains, New York, the U.S. At the tender age of three his life had changed dramatically.

Strongheart and Lady Jule
Strongheart and Lady Jule

Image via Wikipedia

He was entered in dog shows and was ultimately seen by film director Laurence Trimble.  He recognized Etzel's potential and talked screenwriter Jane Murfin into buying him. His name was changed to Strongheart and he was on his way to stardom. He was trained to perform in action/adventure films. With films like Brawn of the North and White Fang under his collar, Strongheart became the first major canine film star in history.

Strongheart with Jane Murfin
Strongheart with Jane Murfin

Image via Wikimedia

It was his films that encouraged the popularity of the German Shepherd in the first half of the 20th century. He was mated with another German Shepherd by the name of Lady Jule and together they had several litters of puppies. Their famous lineage still survives today. Strongheart only starred in six movies. During the making of his seventh film in 1929, Strongheart was burned by a hot studio light. This caused a tumor to form which lead to his death a short time later.

Strongheart in his First Movie -- The Silent Call
Strongheart in his First Movie -- The Silent Call

Image via Wikimedia

Sadly, most of Strongheart's films have been lost, but one that survives is The Return of Boston Blackie from 1927. Here is the film in its entirety for your viewing pleasure:

Several books have been written about the dog. The first was a picture book published in 1926 and it chronicled his journey from coming to the U.S. to becoming  a movie star. It was titled Strongheart: The Story of a Wonder Dog. More recently Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog was another picture book about the pooch in 2014. A novel, Stronghear: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen, for children 8 to 12 years old was published in 2018.

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen
Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen

His popularity continued so much even after his death that in 1932 the Doyle Packaging Company chose to use his name and image to market dog food. Strongheart Dog Food was available until around 2012 in some places. In 1960 Strongheart received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Strongheart in White Fang
Strongheart in White Fang

Image via Wikimedia

In case you were wondering, Strongheart preceded the famous Rin Tin Tin by two years and was the highest grossing star of his time. You might say that Strongheart helped pave the way for many famous cinema dogs. Etzel was a dog born to be strong and brave. He lived up to his birthright and he is remembered, regarded, and loved more than a century after his birth. Good dog.

Sources: Spirit Lyric, Silents are Golden, Wikipedia

 

Some of the sites we link to are affiliates. We may earn a small commission if you use our links.
Comments

Share Your Thoughts!