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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bobby Driscoll (1937-68)

Robert Cletus Driscoll was born March 3, 1937, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His parents were Cletus Driscoll, an insulation installer, and the former Isabelle Kratz, who had been a schoolteacher. Shortly after his birth, the Driscolls moved to Des Moines. In 1943, while taking a routine medical exam, Cletus was found to have a lot of asbestos in his lungs. The doctor suggested the dry warmth of Southern California and the family moved to Altadena.

One Saturday afternoon, Cletus and his son, Bobby, were getting their hair cut at a barber shop in nearby Pasadena. Bobby, being a normal active boy, was doing an entertaining routine. The barber, whose own son was an occasional child actor, suggested that Bobby try his luck in the motion picture business. Bobby auditioned for Metro Goldwyn Mayer and got a tiny role in the 1943 film, The Lost Angel, starring Margaret O'Brien. Actually, he got the part in the movie because, during the audition he was playing on a make believe ship on a sound stage. The casting director was so impressed with Bobby's curiosity and ambition, he hired him. After this 20th Century Fox cast him as Al Sullivan, the youngest of the Sullivan Boys (five brothers who joined the US Navy together in World War II) in The Fighting Sullivans. Bobby did several other motion pictures for other studios and became known as the Wonder Boy.

Walt Disney took notice of Bobby Driscoll. In 1946, he made his first live action film since the 1920s, Disney was making movies depicting real people (he had done a series of live action/animated short subjects called Alice in Wonderland starring Lois Hardwick). Bobby starred in Song of the South (1946) and So Dear to My Heart (1948). His co-star was Luana Patten (1938-96).

After these movies, Bobby did a few "B" movies for RKO, which handled the distribution for Walt Disney until 1953, when Walt and Roy Disney decided to distribute the studio's productions through a company called Buena Vista Pictures (this was also the same year RKO began selling off its property in Hollywood.) Bobby won an Oscar for his performance in The Window (1949). This was for the Best Juvenile Performance, a category which was awarded 1934, 1938, 1939, 1944 through 1946, 1948, 1949, 1954, and 1961. Had they decided to give this award for 1947, both Bobby and co-star Luana Patten would have won, according to Academy sources.

Bobby was working with Disney again as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island (1950). This was filmed in England. Since the Driscoll family's time was limited there, many of Bobby's scenes were performed by a double. He was the voice of Goofy, Jr., in theater cartoon shorts. Then he did Peter Pan (1953). For this, he was the voice of the character, plus he was the model for the close up shots for Peter Pan.

And then, he turned 16, the world changed. His face became loaded with zits. Walt Disney canceled his contract with him. His mother took him out of the Hollywood Professional School and enrolled him in University High School, located near the campus of UCLA. Bobby didn't belong there. He was an actor. He needed to be with other actors. He was still working in TV and managed to do a couple of terrible movies. And, in 1955, he actually graduated from University High School.

As a student at University High, he got in with the wrong crowd. He started experimenting with mind altering drugs. Beginning as a minor thing, it lapsed into a full addiction and it would lead him down the road to destruction. By 1956, he had several brushes with the law. He went from being the Golden Boy to being the Bad Boy in just a few years.

Bobby married Marilyn Jeanne Rush on December 3, 1956. Because he was underage and didn't have her parents' permission, the marriage was annulled. When he turned 20 in 1957, they remarried. They had three children. They divorced in 1960.


By 1958, Bobby was nothing. He had no work. He was a drug addict. He would do anything he could to get drugs. Marilyn was supporting the family, even during pregnancy.

In 1961, he was sentenced to the Narcotics Section of the California Institution for Men in Chino. (There is a newspaper clipping above explaining the whole thing.) He was released in 1962, having only spent six months in prison. But he was now free from drugs. No one wanted him anymore. In Bobby's words, "I have found that memories are not useful. I was carried on a silver platter and dumped in the garbage can."

Andy Warhol invited Bobby to work with him on his 1965 film Dirt. Not having the resources to go anywhere else, Bobby became a homeless person on the streets of Manhattan. He quit the drugs but he continued on his addiction as an alcoholic and would often be seen sleeping in the gutter.

On March 30, 1968, two children were playing in an abandoned apartment building when they found whom they thought was an unknown, forgotten homeless man. The authorities did an autopsy on him and had him buried in an unmarked grave at Potters Field on Hart Island in the Bronx. After the results of the autopsy returned, they realized that they had buried Bobby Driscoll but didn't know where they had buried him. His parents, now living in Oceanside, California, near San Diego, made a grave for him, even though he could never be in it. Actually, it's impossible to know when Bobby died exactly, but it is certain he lived past his 31st birthday on March 3.

With regards to this site, Bobby made several momentous radio appearances. The first was an interview show in which he and Luana Patten were talking about Song of the South. He was frequently heard on several episodes of Lux Radio Theater, Family Theater, and Dragnet. On Dragnet, he was usually unbilled. He appeared on other shows as well, also not usually mentioned by name.


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An interesting note is that Luana Patten was also out of the motion picture industry after she became a teenager. She went back to her native Long Beach, California, and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. In 1957, she was working as a cashier in the box office of a movie theater in Long Beach when she was held up. The show playing was Song of the South.

2 comments:

Bylot said...

This is a pretty sentimental story, but nothing else. Meanwhile available facts jazzed up with own fiction and imagination. Many passages even totally wrong and/or simply trumped up.
Read the articles on Wikipedia.com and Citizendium.com and his biography on www.bobbydriscoll.net to learn the real story of his life and the backgrounds to the events in question.

Oliver Renye
creator of www.bobbydriscoll.net
and major author of both articles, mentioned.

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