Last updated
Strongheart in 1921
Species Canis lupus familiaris
Breed German Shepherd Dog
BornEtzel von Oeringen
(1917-10-01)October 1, 1917
Wrocław, Germany
DiedJune 24, 1929(1929-06-24) (aged 11)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1921–1927
Owner Jane Murfin

Etzel von Oeringen (October 1, 1917 – June 24, 1929), better known as Strongheart, was a male German Shepherd who was one of the early canine stars of feature films.



Laurence Trimble and Strongheart (1921) Trimble-Strongheart-1921.jpg
Laurence Trimble and Strongheart (1921)

Born October 1, 1917, Etzel von Oeringen was a male German Shepherd dog bred by a private breeder, Robert Niedhardt of Quedlinburg, Germany. [1] Etzel was trained in Berlin as a police dog and served in the German Red Cross during World War I. [2] His owner was left in poverty after the war, and was unable to even support the dog. Concerned that Etzel would end up in less humane hands, he declined larger offers and instead sent the dog to a friend who operated a reputable kennel in White Plains, New York. [3] At age three, Etzel was brought to the United States to be sold. [4]

At the sixth annual show of the Shepherd Dog Club of America, October 15–16, 1920, Etzel placed third in his class. He was described as "immense in body and hind leg formation, in body and legs a trifle better than either of the dogs above him". [5]

Etzel was seen by film director Laurence Trimble, who had owned and guided Jean, the Vitagraph Dog, the first canine movie star in the United States. Trimble recognized Etzel's potential and persuaded Jane Murfin, a screenwriter for his films, to buy the dog. [3] [4] A new name, Strongheart, was suggested by the publicity department of First National Pictures, which released his first film. [6]

Strongheart and Lady Jule (1924) Strongheart-Jule-1924.jpg
Strongheart and Lady Jule (1924)

Trimble trained Strongheart and directed him in four rugged outdoor adventure films scripted by Murfin: The Silent Call (1921), Brawn of the North (1922), The Love Master (1924) and White Fang (1925). [7] Strongheart became the first major canine film star, [8] preceding the fame of Rin Tin Tin by two years. [9]

Strongheart's films did much to encourage the popularity of the German Shepherd breed. Strongheart and his mate, Lady Jule, had many offspring and their line survives to this day.[ citation needed ]

In 1929, while being filmed for a movie, Strongheart accidentally made contact with a hot studio light and was burned. These burns caused a tumor to form, which ultimately caused his death. [10] Strongheart died June 24, 1929, at Murfin's home. [2]


Die-cut herald for Brawn of the North (1922), a lost film Brawn-of-the-North-Flyer-front.jpg
Die-cut herald for Brawn of the North (1922), a lost film

Virtually all of Strongheart's films have been lost. [12] :61 A print of The Love Master (1924) survives in France, at the National Center of Cinematography and the moving image. [13] The Return of Boston Blackie (1927) survives from a 16mm print [14] [15] and is available on region-free DVD. [16]

1921The Silent Call Laurence Trimble [7]
1922 Brawn of the North Laurence Trimble [7]
1924 The Love Master Laurence Trimble [7]
1925 White Fang Laurence Trimble [7]
1925North Star Paul Powell [7]
1927 The Return of Boston Blackie Harry O. Hoyt [7]


Strongheart was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. His star is located at 1724 Vine Street. [17]

Cultural references

Strongheart; The Story of a Wonder Dog (1926) Strongheart-Book-1926-FC.jpg
Strongheart; The Story of a Wonder Dog (1926)

In the 1926 picture book Strongheart; The Story of a Wonder Dog, Trimble wrote the story of how Strongheart came to the United States and was chosen for motion pictures, of his training, and of his progress in films culminating with White Fang. [3]

Strongheart's popularity inspired Doyle Packing Company to adopt his name and photograph for a canned dog food in 1932. [18] [19] Strongheart Dog Food did a respectable business, especially in the Midwest, [20] and was available in stores until at least 2002. [21]

J. Allen Boone wrote two books, Letters to Strongheart (1939) [22] and Kinship with All Life (1954), [23] 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. Boone was a Washington Post correspondent who looked after Strongheart for an extended period while Murfin and Trimble were away on business. Boone and Strongheart reportedly formed a deep bond, and Boone believed the dog was a transformational being. [12] :62–63

Strongheart: The World’s First Movie Star Dog (2014) is a picture book for young audiences by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully. [24] The New York Times praised her "meticulous job of recreating the quicksilver 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." [25]

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen (2018) is a novel for ages 8–12 by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Eric Rohmann. [26] Kirkus Reviews said, "Like a silent movie plot, Fleming’s narrative is full of adventure, romance, and suspense." [27] The book received a starred review in Booklist. [28]

See also

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