Leland Leroy “Lee” Duncan, 67, owner and trainer of the famous family of Rin-Tin-Tins, German shepherd dogs, died of a heart attack on September 20, 1960 at his ranch home, El Rancho Rin-Tin-Tin.” Duncan had lived in Riverside for 24 years.
In France at the close of World War I, Duncan rescued a litter of German shepherd dogs abandoned in the trenches by the retreating Germans and brought them back to the United States. One of the pups became the famous original Rin-Tin-Tin, who starred in 22 Warner Brothers films from 1922 until his death in 1932. Rin-Tin-Tin and subsequent litters (including Rin-Tin-Tin, Jr., III, & IV) brought fame and fortune to Duncan. Rin-Tin-Tin puppies went to movie stars like Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo and industrialists like W. K. Kellogg.
Duncan and his sister, Marjorie, were born in Hanford, California. In 1897, their father abandoned them and they spent time in an Oakland area orphanage until their mother was able to care for them.
Duncan enlisted to serve in World War I on November 1, 1917. He was among the first 300 Americans sent to France in the 135th Air Squadron. According to his obituary, “he had charge of the squadron’s ordinance and was the first American to synchronize machine gun fire through aircraft propellers.” Wounded in action and awarded the Purple Heart, Corporal Leland L. Duncan was honorably discharged from the United States Army on May 26, 1919.
During World War II, Duncan trained more than 5,000 war dogs for the Army K-9 Corps at Camp Hahn, Riverside, California while continuing to train the descendants of the original Rin-Tin-Tin in successive Hollywood movie roles.
From 1954 to 1959, Rin-Tin-Tin IV starred in the television series, “The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin.”
In Riverside, Duncan was active in youth work. One of the many groups he aided was Boy Scout Troop 2, sponsored by the First Baptist Church. Upon his untimely death, these Scouts reverently donned their uniforms and honored Duncan by attending his funeral at the First Baptist Church.