Hollywood has many sad stories about child actors who were unable to make the transition to adult film careers. Peraps the most tragic is that of Bobby Driscoll. Bobby was born March 3, 1937 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was perhaps the best known child star in the 1940s and early 50s. Bobby's parents moved to
Los Angeles in 1943 and a local barber insisted that Bobby should audition for the movies. As a result Bobby landed a small role in Lost Angel opposite child star
Margaret O'Brien. A hard worker and natural actor, he soon had offers from different studios. Unlike some of the sickingly-sweet 1930s child actors, Bobby
delivered charming, believable performances. He played in So Goes My Love with Myrna Loy and Don Amechee. Loy remarked, "He has so much charm, if
Don Amechee and myself aren't on our toes all the time, we know that the audience would be looking at the youngster and ignoring us." Ameche said, "He has talent
and I've worked with a lot of child actors in my time, but done of them bore the talent that seems apparent in young Driscoll." His performances in Song of the South, The Window, and Treasure Island are Hollywood classics.
Bobby was born March 3, 1937 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I know very little about his family like. One report indicates that his parents were very strict, even abusive. His mother was the driving force behind his film career.
He was perhaps the best known boy child star in the 1940s and early 50s. The best known girl at the time was Margaret O'Brien. Bobby is remembered for some classic performances in Treasure Island and The Window. I remember him best for his performance in Song of the south, unfortunately now rearely shown. Bobby's parents moved to Los Angeles in 1943 and a local barber insisted that Bobby should audition for the movies. His mother was very interested and thanks to her tireless efforts he landed a small part
in MGM's Lost Angels. His performance was noticed by none other than Walt Disney. Bobby became the first human actor to sign a long-term contract with Disney in 1946. It was with Disney that all of his better films were made, with the exception of The Window. Bobby apparently was a real trooper and carefully supervised by the Disney people. His mother recalled, "People weren't ever allowed to use a swear word in front of him. He had a great deal of love for Walt Disney. And he always did what ever the director told him to do." She explained that during the filming of Miss Susie Slagle's (1946) when he was about 10, he caught his foot and wound up hanging from a box. He cried his eyes out, but didn't make a sound until he was discovered because the director told him that noise costs money. That same year while filming O.S.S (1946) he was sent to the basement for a sack of coal. "Stay there until we need you," the director told him. When the broke for lunch no one remembered Bobby, he remained quietly in the basement. Bobby as a young actor had it all. He was good looking, alert, and intelligent and ready to try anything a director asked. He had a great a sense of humour. He also had intuitive acting skills.
Bobby appaeared in quite a number of films. Some of them I haven't seen yet. This included several Disney classics: "Song of the South", "So Dear to MY Heart", and "Treasure Island". His most impressive performance was probably the non-Disney thriller--The Window. I remember him best in "Song of the South" which made a huge impression on me as a young boy. It was an extremely innovatiove film mixing live scenes and annimation. The most important film he did, at least in terms of big budget productions, was probably "Treasure Island".
Bobby landed a small role in Lost Angel for his first film. He played opposite child star Margaret O'Brien. While he had only a small part, his talent was obvious. A hard worker and natural actor, he soon had offers from different studios.
Unlike some of the sickingly-sweet 1930s child actors, Bobby delivered a charming, believable performance. He played in So Goes My Love with Myrna Loy and Don Amechee. Loy remarked, "He has so much charm, if Don Amechee and myself aren't on our toes all the time, we know that the audience would be looking at the youngster and ignoring us." Ameche said, "He has talent and I've worked with a lot of child actors in my time, but done of them bore the talent that seems apparent in young Driscoll."
Bobby's first film with Disney was Song of the South. He wore a velvet suit and lace collar. It is Song of the South that I best remember him. Burl Ives's songs in Song of the South, including the popular "Zip-a-dee-Doo-Dah". The movie which combined animation and live actors was a big success. The film today is one of the lesser known Disney films. The Uncle Remus story is considered racially insensitive and is unlikely to be re-released in the United States in the near future. Song of the South was, however, in many ways a ground breaking film, both in the mixing of live action and animation and, for the 1940s, a rather progressive mixed racial film. The message of a boyhood friendship between a white and black boy and the loving and wise elderly black man was also different than the way black people had been portrayed in films. Johnny wears a burgandy velvet Fauntleroy suits and lace collar--which he detests. There is a major scene in the film about that lace collar. He also appears in a sailor suit. Despite the fact it was very progressive film when made, it has unfortunately proven controversial in our modern day. It is less an indightment of the film than a sesire by some to rewrite history.
Another success was So Dear to My Heart. Like the Song of the South there are animated sequences. Unlike Song of he Souty it is the "live" story that dominates the film. It is set on the small Kincaid farm in 1903. Twin sheep are born one white and one black, but the mother sheep rejects the black lamb. Jeremiah Kincaid (Bobby Driscoll) adopts the the black lamb and names it Danny after the great trotting horse Dan Patch. The lamb grows up to be a bit of a problem on the Kincaid farm. Jeremiah's grandmother (Beulah Bondi) wants the boy to get rid of his pet. Jeremiah's only ally is kindly blacksmith Uncle Hiram (Burl Ives), who also worked with Bobby in Song of the South. Uncle Hiram encourages Jeremiah to enter his lamb in blue-ribbon competition at the county fair. Money is tight and Grandma is opposed to the idea. Jeremiah decided to earn the money to pay his own way. Then the plot thickens. During a storm, Danny runs away. Granny refuses to let Jeremiah from searching for him. Granny is convinced that Jerimiah wants to enter the state fair contest for selfish reasons rather than love for his pet. She warns that the Lord may not let Danny survive the night. The next day, however, Danny returns. Jeremiah decides that he won't attend the county fair becuased he had promised that he'd forget about the competition if Danny was spared. Of course this is a Disney film and a happy ending is required. Finally Granny comes around. Danny attend the Fair and whiloe he doesn't win, his real prize is far more important than
the blue ribbon. The musical score included a hit song, "Lavender Blue," which co-star Burl Ives retained added to his standard repertoire. Hal Erickson The New York Times saluted the way Bobby filled the movie "with the eager charm of an idealized childhood."
Bobby was also memorable in Ted Tezlaff's thriller The Window. He was 12-years old at the time. The New York Times exclaimed, "The striking force and terrifying impact of this ROK melodrama is chiefly do to Bobby's brilliant acting." As a result he won an Oscar for the outstanding juvenile actor in 1949. Bobby Driscoll plays a boy who witnesses a murder through a window, but no ne believes him. The film established Bobby as the dominant boy child star of his era, certainly one of Hollywoods finest child stars. The studios were still dominant in Hollywood, although their importance was waining. Disney "loaned" Bobby to
RKO for this film. Many believe this was his finest movie. As a result he received
a special Academy Award in 1949. Remade as "The Boy Cried Murder." Bobby
wears a long sleeve striped "T" shirt in the film. These long-sleeved "T"-shiorts were popular in the Fall, but here is being worn during the summer. This was a very popular style in America during the 1940s and early 50s. I'm not sure that it was worn in other countries. In a tragic ending to his life, an adult Driscoll was found dead in an abandoned New York
City tenement not unlike the setting of The Window of an apparent drug
Bobby most important Disney role was his engaging depiction of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. He was 13-years old. Of all the film versions of Treasure Island, it is Bobby's performance that really makes Jim Hawkins come to life. There was an especially vivid scene in this production, perhaps the goriest of any Disney production. A terrified Jim shoots a murderous pirate between the eyes. It was so gory that the scene had to be cut when Treasure Island was re-issued in the 1980s so that the film, which had been passed and approved by the 1950 censors, could qualify for a "G" rating. His performance earned him his star on the "Walk of Fame". This was his last important film.
Bobbu appeared in many televisions programs, most after his film career had begun to decline. But then television was just beginning to come into its own at the time. None of his TV appearance were particularly notable.
I'm not sure what kind of clothes Bobby wore as a boy when not in costume for one of his films. The available photogaphs suggest that he dressed like the average American boy.
Bobby's career faltered when he reached his teens. An acne-faced teenager, Bobby had increasing difficulty obtaining roles. He was the voice and model for Disney's animated Peter Pan (1953). This was his last work for Disney. His last film was The Party Crashers (1958), a rather over-blown juvenile delinquent melodrama starring Frances Farmer. It was unsucessfull. Bobby moved to New York to try stage work and turned to alcohol and drugs. He found himself unable to get work, a shock for someone that as a boy had been so successful. He dropped from public view. Drug addiction, hospitals, jail sentences and poverty followed. Bobby simply couldn't deal with this. He was unable to adjust to the loss of stardom that he had come to take for granted.
Driscoll mairred Marilyn Jean Rush in 1956. They has three children. She divorced him.
One source says that he was abused by his strict parents. Even at a fairly young age (14) he was experimenting with drugs. As he matured his problems multiplied and he was unable to adjust. His drug problem became increasingly severe. He was arrested several times for a variety of matters and lived as a vagrant in and out of jails, emaciated and sick. He was finally found dead in an abandoned tenement. The setting tragically reminds one of The Window. It was not until more than a year after his burial that he was identified as a result of his finger prints. Surely one of the saddest stories of any child actor, especially distressing when you see the lovely little boy in his films. I will never forget that charming boy in Song of the South with the beautiful smile dressed in the velvet suit and lace collar. He is buried in a pauper's grave on an island in New York City.
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