R.I.P. Lee Aaker, child star who played Rusty in 'The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin'
He later became a carpenter. He was 77.
In World War I, an American soldier named Lee Duncan rescued a German Shepherd from a battlefield. He named the dog "Rinty" and brought the pooch back to the States. "Rin Tin Tin" found work in movies and became an overnight canine star.
By the 1950s, Duncan and Hollywood were on Rin-Tin-Tin IV. The dog got his own television series in 1954, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. There was one little problem — Rin Tin Tin IV was not a great "actor." A well-trained performer named Flame Jr. played Rin Tin Tin. In this series, the dog was living at Fort Apache a US Cavalry post.
Any loyal dog needs a human companion, and that's where Lee Aaker came in. The young star portrayed Rusty, an orphan raised by soldiers and living in the military fort.
Aaker was 11-years-old when the series kicked off. He appeared in all 164 episodes across five seasons of Rin Tin Tin, making him one of television's first adolescent superstars.
He was no newcomer, either. In 1952, he appeared in The Atomic City, a nuclear-bomb thriller. In the 1953 noir Jeopardy, he played the son of Barbara Stanwyck. He had 10 films to his name by the time he was 10.
Following the end of Rin Tin Tin in 1959, Aaker, like most child stars, struggled to break out of his stereotype. He appeared in two episodes of The Donna Reed Show. You might remember him as a stuttering classmate who acts in a school play with Mary (Shelley Fabares) in "That's Show Business."
His final role came on The Lucy Show and it was a bit of a callback to his most famous role of Rusty — he played a cadet at a military academy in "Lucy and the Military Academy."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Aaker transitioned away from acting to become a carpenter. On April 1, he died at the age of 77.