He was born Robert Cletus Driscoll, awarded the "Oscar for "Outstanding Juvenile Actor of 1949", at 1560 Vine Street, in Hollywood, California, you will find his "Star" on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame", but, if you could, you would also find his "unmarked pauper's grave", in "Potter's Field, on Hart Island, New York.
Part One: "The Second Star to the Right, Shines in the Night for You"
"Bobby" Driscoll was born on March 3, 1937, in Grand Rapids, Iowa. His father was Cletus Driscoll, an insulation salesman, and his mother was Isabelle Katz Driscoll, a school teacher. Shortly after their son was born, the family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and Robert's father continued working with asbestos. This would lead to a pulmonary illness and his doctor recommending he move to California, the family settled around Los Angeles.
As the story goes, one day, Bobby's father's barber's son, Bill Kadel, who was a movie actor, suggested to Cletus that his son might become a child actor. Kadel arranged an audition at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and while the family was touring the studio lot. Bobby saw a mock-up of a pirate ship, asked director Roy Rowland, who happened to be there, where the water was?
As the story continues, Rowland was so impressed by Bobby's curiosity, that he hired him over forty other applicants for the uncredited role of "Bobby", in child star, Margaret O' Brien's, 1943, "Lost Angel".
Bobby Driscoll was on-screen in "Lost Angel", less than two-minutes, but resulted in the novice actor portraying the young "Al Sullivan", in the Ann Baxter and Thomas Mitchell, 1944, "The Fighting Sullivans". The fictional story of the five Sullivan Brothers who served together in the Navy during the Second World War, died together on the same ship, ending the military permitting brothers to serve together
A Civil War Era, Western, 1944's, "The Big Bonanza", followed with Driscoll, his name on the film's posters in sixth billing, as "Spud", the brother of Richard Arlen's "Union Captain Jed Kilton".
Bobby Driscoll portrayed the young "Percy Maxim", in the fictional biography of the inventor of the "Maxim Gun", the first automatic machine-gun, designed by American-British inventor "Hiram Stevens Maxim". In the movie his name is "Hiram Stephen Maxim", and is played by Don Ameche. "Hiram's" wife, "Jane Budden Maxim", was played by actress Myrna Loy. This biography, comedy, drama. was 1946's, "So Goes My Love".
With fourteenth billing as "Gerard", Bobby Driscoll was next seen in the Alan Ladd, and Geraldine Fitzgerald, World War Two spy drama, 1946's, "O.S.S.".
In the picture, the uncredited Driscoll portrays a "Pixie", foreshadowing a Walt Disney role he is remembered for.
Next, for the first time, Walter Elias Disney, now entered Bobby Driscoll's life and the young actor received a thirteen-week contract.
SONG OF THE SOUTH premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 12, 1946
It really wasn't a "ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH" Day for the First African American Actors to get "Academy Awards".
Hattie McDaniel had received her Best Supporting Oscar for 1939's, "Gone with the Wind", by being brought into the Academy Awards ceremony through the kitchen, spoke her great acceptance speech, see my article, and after being presented her "Oscar", was escorted out through the kitchen.
James Bassett only received his Oscar, because of the fight against "The Academy" by Walt Disney.
The story, set right after the Civil War, is about young "Johnny" experiencing the separation of his parents, so his father can continue his controversial, pro-Union, Atlanta Newspaper. Going to live on his grandmother's plantation with his mother, learning life's lessons by meeting the slave and storyteller "Uncle Remus", and his characters of "Br'er Rabbit", "Br'er Fox", and "Br'er Bear".
The motion picture storyline is considered racist and Walt Disney was accused of being one himself. Especially with the inclusion of the Joel Chandler Harris "Tar Baby" story and the "Happy" singing slaves of "Johnny's" grandmother's plantation.
Above left to right, Erik Rolf as "Johnny's" father, "John", James Bassett, Ruth Warrick, Lucille Watson as "Johnny's" grandmother, and Bobby Driscoll.
The press, at the time of the release of "Song of the South", was very supportive of the motion picture and both Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten were discussed as recipients of special "Juvenile Oscar's", but the "Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences" decided not to make the award for 1946. However, the two were now being called Walt Disney's "Sweetheart Team", and both Bobby and Luanna were now officially "Child Stars".
Along with Roy Rodgers and the "Sons of the Pioneers", both Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten appeared in a, May 1948, teaser to advertise the upcoming "Pecos Bill" segment of the animated "Melody Time".
That movie was to have been Walt Disney's first motion picture without any animation. "So Dear to My Heart", went into production almost immediately after "Song of the South" ended its. Bobby Driscoll had third billing behind actor Burl Ives and actress Beulah Bondi. Luana Patten had fourth billing.
The live action movie was completed, but Walt Disney's film distributor at the time, "RKO", wanted animated sequences in the motion picture. The studio's demand on Disney caused "So Dear to My Heart", to be delayed until November 29, 1948, two-years after "Song of the South" had been released.
In the comedy, "If You Knew Susie", released on February 7, 1948, Bobby Driscoll had portrayed the son of comedians Eddie Cantor, and Joan Davis.
His parents, "Mary Woodry", portrayed by Barbara Hale, and "Ed Woodry", portrayed by Arthur Kennedy, of course, won't believe their son, and he is made, by his mother, to go and apologize to the "Kellerson's". Inadvertently, tipping them off, that he saw the murder and turning "Tommy" into their target.
...this incredibly tense nail-biter stars Driscoll as a young boy who has a habit of crying wolf...The Window presents a frightening vision of helplessness, vividly conveying childish frustration at being dismissed or ignored by one's parents. Director and onetime cameraman Tetzlaff adroitly injects a maximum of suspense into the film, enabling the audience to identify with Driscoll's predicament and to view his parents as evil, almost as evil as the murderers themselves. Having photographed Hitchcock's Notorious just three years before, Tetzlaff had, without a shadow of a doubt, learned something of his suspense-building craft from the master of that art (as did just about every working director)...An exceptional film
The mounting terror of a young boy who lives in mortal fear of his life is projected with remarkable verisimilitude by 12-year-old Bobby Driscoll in "The Window," which opened on Saturday at the Victoria The striking force and terrifying impact of this RKO melodrama is chiefly due to Bobby's brilliant acting, for the whole effect would have been lost were there any suspicion of doubt about the credibility of this pivotal character. Occasionally, the director overdoes things a bit in striving for shock effects...But "The Window" is Bobby Driscoll's picture, make no mistake about that.
The following photo, at the "22nd Academy Awards", March 23, 1950, is of Bobby Driscoll receiving, from actor Donald O'Connor, the "Oscar" for "Outstanding Juvenile Actor of 1949".
My article, "Walt Disney's Four British Tax Features (1950 to 1954", will be found at:
The star of the motion picture was Bobby Driscoll portraying "Jim Hawkins".
The second movie was ut have been Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer", but producer David O. Selznick still owned the copyright from his 1938 version and refused to release it to Walt Disney.
Instead, Bobby Driscoll was lent to "Horizon Pictures", founded by producer Sam Spiegel and director John Huston to make 1951's "The African Queen". The screenplay for Bobby Driscoll was entitled "When I Grow Up", and he portrayed "Danny Reed" in 1951, and through his grandfather's diary, "Josh Reed" in the 1890's.
In 1951, in the "Goofy" cartoon, "Fathers Are People", and in 1952, in the cartoon, "Father's Lion", Bobby Driscoll provided the voice of "Goofy's son, Goofy Junior".
Between the two cartoons, on December 3, 1951, Driscoll appeared on the television anthology series, "Lux Video Theatre", in the "Tin Badge", a precursor to all of his future television appearances after "Peter Pan".
Prior to that classic animated feature, Bobby Driscoll portrayed teenager "Robert 'Bibi' Bonnard", in 1952's "The Happy Time", starring Charles Boyer and Marsha Hunt as his parents. Director Richard Fleischer, was only one other film away from directing Walt Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", in 1954.
The Disney Company no longer needed his services.
Bobby Driscoll's reaction was to break down in tears and the secretary's reaction was to call Security and have him escorted off the property.
Now, Bobby Driscoll's schooling changed dramatically, his parents withdrew him from "Hollywood Professional School", a private school in Hollywood, California, for young people in show business, grades K-12.
Among the student body at one time, or another, were Natalie Wood, Annette Funicello, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable, and John Drew Barrymore.
Bobby was enrolled in "Westwood University High", a completely different environment from what he had known until then, and his grades started to drop.
The other kids didn't accept me. They treated me as one apart. I tried desperately to be one of the gang. When they rejected me, I fought back, became belligerent and cocky—and was afraid all the time.
His parents bowed to their son's wishes and Bobby returned to "Hollywood Professional" until his high school graduation in May 1955.
However, there was another aspect to Bobby Driscoll's grades at "Westwood University High". To protect himself, he became part of a gang and start experimenting with different drugs.
In a "Los Angeles Times" article for July 12, 1956, "Actor Bobby Driscoll, 19, Seized On Dope Charge", Driscoll is quoted as stating:
I was 17 when I first experimented with the stuff. In no time I was using whatever was available... mostly heroin, because I had the money to pay for it
As to that charge, the following day it was dismissed,
Hollywood Gossip Columnist Hedda Hopper wrote about the drug charge in the "Los Angeles Times", for July 24, 1956, that:
This could cost this fine lad and good actor his career.Bobby Driscoll's agent had been attempting to get him roles in motion pictures after he was terminated by "The Disney Company", but both his agent and Driscoll, himself, met with resistance. He was seen as "A Disney Kid". A problem that would be faced by many of the young people who worked for Walt Disney.
To fight that perception, Bobby Driscoll attempted to become Robert Driscoll, but only found work on television as Bobby Driscoll.
His first television appearance was in "The Big Sophomore", the October 1, 1953, episode of producer, writer, and star, Jack Webb's "Dragnet". Speak to irony for Bobby Driscoll, the filming location was 500 South Buena Vista Boulevard, Burbank, California, otherwise known as "The Walt Disney Studio".
Returning to "Peter Pan", in December 1953, a special radio version of the story was heard, and Bobby Driscoll portrayed "Peter". Which only makes sense, if the radio production had been recorded prior to his termination.
My reader should note that Bobby Driscoll's name appears in semi-large print in seventh position on the above poster. Indicating that he still had name recognition over Robert Douglas and John McIntire with the general public.
a person who participated in a social movement of the 1950s and early 1960s which stressed artistic self-expression and the rejection of the mores of conventional society
Bobby Driscoll was introduced to Wallace "Wally" Berman, below second picture, by his actor friend Dean Stockwell, directly below in 1956's "Gun for a Coward". Berman was an experimental film maker and a full-time artist within the 1950's "Beat Movement" and highly influential. He had noted, as had Stockwell, Driscoll's art work, but the actor was not interested in pursuing it.
Before that second appearance, Bobby Driscoll's son was born, the couple would have two more children, both daughters, and divorce in 1960.
On December 16, 1960, Bobby Driscoll appeared on televisions "Rawhide", in the episode entitled, "Incident of the Captive ". Some sites state this was also his last role on-screen role as an actor, but that is incorrect. Driscoll would have the uncredited role described as a "Young Mexican Holding Chapel Door", in the Sidney Poitier, 1963, "Lilies of the Field".
Sometime the following year, Bobby Driscoll moved into a home in Topanga Canyon, that runs between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, with his girlfriend Suzanne Stansbury. On March 4, 1961, the day after Bobby turned twenty-four, the two were arrested for stealing money from an animal clinic, but a burglary charge would be dropped. In April, Bobby Driscoll was arrested for forging a check, and plead guilty as charged.
I have found that memories are not very useful. I was carried on a silver platter—and then dumped into the garbage.
What exactly he did till almost the end of 1963, I could not locate. However, he met Sharon "Didi, Dee Dee" Morrill and went to work as a carpenter for a company in Los Angeles.
It was reported that Bobby Driscoll became extremely depressed, was without money, and had developed Hepatitis. He was arrested again in February 1968, and wrote writer and poet Allen Ginsberg for money.
Bobby Driscoll was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Potter's Field, Hart Island, New York.
In late 1969, Isabelle Katz Driscoll, arrived at the Burbank, California, studios of Walt Disney. She was seeking their help in finding her son, because his father Cletus Driscoll was nearing death. This resulted in a fingerprint match by the police department to the unknown body found by the two boys, because the bodies in Potter's Field are unmarked, there was no way to find her son's actual grave and return his body to his mother.
Robert Cletus Driscoll's name appears on his father's gravestone in, Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, California, but his son is not with his father.
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