Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog
A Best Book of the YearBank Street College of Education
Leonard S. Marcus in the New York Times:
It turns out that a picture-book biography can have a hero with four legs and a fearsome bark. Emily Arnold McCully's "Strongheart" unearths the little- known (except to die-hard movie buffs) story of the dog who became a silent-film star before Rin Tin Tin. Strongheart - the screen name of Etzel von Oeringen - was a purebred German shepherd descended from a line of champion police dogs. Etzel had the chops to perform daredevil deeds on command, to tiuickly master new tricks and even to display a repertoire of three-hanky emotions for the camera. How did stardom come his way? McCully points to a devoted director/trainer who, with his screenwriter wife, built a powerful bond with the dog, then made the films that brought them their fleeting fame. McCully, the 1993 Caldecott Medal winner for "Mirette on the High Wire," has done a meticulous job of recreating the qiuicksilver world of that bygone media age. The megaphones, bobbed hair and jodhpurs are all here. And in Etzel, a dog born and bred to be strong and brave, she has given young readers a rare portrait of a Hollywood hero who was just as heroic off-screen as on.
The Wall St Journal:
In "Strongheart: The World's First Movie Dog" (Henry Holt, 40 pages, $17.99) we meet a remarkable real-life German-American character, this one a police dog with the wonderfully musical name of Etzel von Oeringen. Born in Germany in the latter days of World War I, Etzel had been "bred to be alert, brave, strong, and perfectly loyal," Emily Arnold McCully writes. That much he shared with others of his breed, perhaps, but Etzel also had charisma: Sent after the war to an American kennel, the dog so impressed a visiting film director and his screenwriter wife that they determined to use him in a silent movie. First, however, they had to teach the regimented Teuton to relax and play. Ms. McCully's jaunty prose and detailed ink-and- watercolor illustrations show scenes from this amusing training period, which culminated in Etzel's appearance in "The Silent Call." The movie so thrilled audiences that it launched the 1920s craze for canine matinee idols and for German shepherds themselves.
BOOKLIST: Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog.
Born in Germany in 1917 during WWI, Etzel von Oeringen was trained by the police, but he became a popular Hollywood movie actor. Etzel was a German shepherd, renamed Strongheart after being adopted by an American movie producer–dog trainer and his screenwriter wife. Strongheart's life in Germany had been all work, but once in the U.S., he learned to relax, play, and "act." The canine's physical abilities and facial expressions helped make him a crowd-pleasing star of six silent films. The colorful illustrations, in pen, ink, and watercolor, consist of a few double-page spreads, but it's mainly the small vignettes that reveal Strongheart's work and home life, beginning with an image of the fat, fluffy, sweet-faced puppy. The dog's participation in films led to... Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, and to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fans of dogs, movies, and dogs in movies will like this one. - Maryann Owen
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books: One early silent star whose fame has since faded is Strongheart, the German Shepherd, who dazzled audiences in the 1920s with his emotive acting. McCully gives a brief overview of the tiuadruped actor's life, starting with his birth and police dog training in Germany, moving on to his discovery by Larry Trimble, a movie director searching for a new canine star, and culminating in the dog's film career... it's a lively tale of doggy achievement as Strongheart captivates audiences, lives the high life, and fights off a bogus journalist; indeed, it's a story that itself would make a fine film.... scenes of his exploits are ... appealing, and the art effectively captures the flair of the period in costume and décor. The text's energetic style is suitable to reading aloud as well as reading alone, and animal- loving audiences will appreciate learning about an old-school canine star. - DS