As Rusty, the boy whose parents were killed by Indians and who was subsequently adopted by a cavalry unit at Fort Apache on the popular adventure The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954), tyke actor Lee Aaker left a lasting mark in the early days of television, but he had in fact appeared in several major films prior to this series.
He was born on September 25, 1943, in Los Angeles, where his mother owned a dance studio. On TV almost from infancy, he started appearing in unbilled film bits at the age of eight in such classics as The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and High Noon (1952). He quickly moved to featured status before year’s end. He showed promise as the kidnapped Indian “Red Chief” in a segment of the film O. Henry’s Full House (1952) and another kidnap victim as the son of scientist Gene Barry in _Atomic City (1952)_. From there he co-starred in the John Wayne western classic Hondo (1953) as the inquisitive blond son of homesteader Geraldine Page, and appeared to good advantage in other movies such as the film noir thriller Jeopardy (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck, the hoss opera drama Arena (1953) with Gig Young and the comedies Mister Scoutmaster (1953) with Clifton Webb and Ricochet Romance (1954) with Marjorie Main.
Stardom, however, was assured after nabbing the role of the famous dog’s young master on the “Rin Tin Tin” series. After the show’s demise, however, Aaker did not survive the transition into adult roles. He instead moved into the production end of the business, serving as an assistant to producer Herbert B. Leonard on the Route 66 (1960) series, then later dropped out altogether to become a carpenter. He still attends nostalgia conventions and was recently a “Kids of the West” honoree at the 2005 Golden Boot Awards.
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