Bobby Driscoll, c. 1949
|Born||Robert Cletus Driscoll
March 3, 1937
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||March 30, 1968
East Village, Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart failure|
|Resting place||Hart Island's potter's field, New York, U.S.|
|Notable work||Song of the South (1946)
So Dear to My Heart (1949)
Treasure Island (1950)
Peter Pan (1953)
|Marilyn Jean Rush (m. 1956-div. 1957; m. 1957-div. 1960)|
|Children||2 daughters, one son|
|Parent(s)||Cletus Driscoll (father)
Isabelle Kratz (mother)
|Awards||Academy Juvenile Award
Milky Way Gold Star Award
1954 for his TV and Radio work
Hollywood Walk Of Fame
1560 Vine Street
Robert Cletus "Bobby" Driscoll (March 3, 1937 - March 30, 1968) was an American child actor and artist known for a large body of cinema and TV performances from 1943 to 1960. He starred in some of the Walt Disney Studios' most popular live-action pictures of that period, such as Song of the South (1946), So Dear to My Heart (1948), and Treasure Island (1950). He served as animation model and provided the voice for the title role in Peter Pan (1953). In 1950, he received an Academy Juvenile Award for outstanding performance in feature films of 1949, for his roles in So Dear to My Heart and The Window, both released in 1949.
In the mid 1950s, Driscoll's acting career began to decline, and he turned primarily to guest appearances on anthology TV series. He became addicted to narcotics and was sentenced to prison for illicit drug use. After his release, he focused his attention on the avant-garde art scene. In ill health due to his substance abuse, and with his funds depleted, he died in 1968 in an abandoned building, alone and destitute, fewer than four weeks after his 31st birthday.
He was born Robert Cletus Driscoll in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the only child of Cletus (1901-1969), an insulation salesman, and Isabelle (née Kratz; 1897-1972), a former schoolteacher. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Des Moines, where they stayed until early 1943. The family moved to Los Angeles when a doctor advised the father to relocate to California because he was suffering from work-related handling of asbestos.
Driscoll's parents were encouraged to get Bobby into films. Their barber's son, an actor, got Bobby an audition at MGM for a bit role in the 1943 family drama Lost Angel, which starred Margaret O'Brien. While on a tour across the studio lot, five-year-old Driscoll noticed a mock-up ship and asked where the water was. The director was impressed by the boy's curiosity and intelligence and chose him over 40 applicants.
Driscoll's brief, two-minute debut helped him win the role of young Al Sullivan, the youngest of the five Sullivan brothers, in the 20th Century Fox's 1944 World War II drama The Fighting Sullivans with Thomas Mitchell and Anne Baxter. Additional screen portrayals included the boy who could blow his whistle while standing on his head in Sunday Dinner for a Soldier (1944), the "child brother" of Richard Arlen in The Big Bonanza (1944), and young Percy Maxim in So Goes My Love (1946), with Don Ameche and Myrna Loy. He also had smaller roles in movies such as Identity Unknown in 1945 and Miss Susie Slagle's, From This Day Forward, and O.S.S. with Alan Ladd, all released in 1946.
Driscoll and Luana Patten were the first two actors Walt Disney put under contract. Driscoll then played the lead character in 1946's Song of the South, which introduced live action into the producer's films in conjunction with extensive animated footage. The film turned Driscoll and his co-star Luana Patten into child stars, and they were discussed for a special Academy Award as the best child actors of the year, but in 1947 it was decided not to present any juvenile awards at all.
Now nicknamed by the American press as Walt Disney's "Sweetheart Team", Driscoll and Patten starred together in So Dear to My Heart with Burl Ives and Beulah Bondi. It was planned as Disney's first all-live-action movie, with production beginning immediately after Song of the South, but its release was delayed until late 1948 to meet the demands of Disney's co-producer and longtime distributor RKO Radio Pictures for animated content in the film.
Driscoll played Eddie Cantor's screen son in the 1948 RKO Studios musical comedy If You Knew Susie, in which he teamed with former Our Gang member Margaret Kerry. He and Patten appeared with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers in the live-action teaser for the Pecos Bill segment of Disney's cartoon compilation Melody Time, which was released in 1948.
22nd Academy Award Ceremony of March 23, 1950 - excerpt
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Driscoll was loaned to RKO to star in The Window, based on Cornell Woolrich's short story "The Boy Cried Murder." However, Howard Hughes, who had bought RKO the previous year, considered the film unworthy of release and Driscoll not much of an actor and delayed its release. When it was released in May 1949, it became a surprise hit. The New York Times credited Driscoll with the film's success:
Driscoll was cast to play Jim Hawkins in Walt Disney's version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, with British actor Robert Newton as Long John Silver, the studio's first all-live-action picture. The feature was filmed in the United Kingdom, and during production it was discovered that Driscoll did not have a valid British work permit, so his family and Disney were fined and ordered to leave the country. They were allowed to remain for six weeks to prepare an appeal, and director Byron Haskin hastily shot all of Driscoll's close-ups, using his British stand-in to film missing location scenes after he and his parents had returned to California.
Treasure Island was an international hit, and there were several other film projects involving Driscoll under discussion, but none materialized. For example, Haskin recalled in his memoirs that Disney, although interested in Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate story as a full-length cartoon, always planned to cast Driscoll as Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. He was at the perfect age for the role, but because of a story rights ownership dispute with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, who had previously produced the property in 1938, Disney ultimately had to cancel the entire project. Driscoll also was scheduled to portray a youthful follower of Robin Hood following Treasure Island, again with Robert Newton, who would play Friar Tuck, but Driscoll's run-in with British immigration made this impossible.
Driscoll's second long-run Disney contract allowed him to be loaned to independent Horizon Pictures for the double role of Danny/Josh Reed in When I Grow Up (1951). His casting was suggested by Oscar-winning writer Michael Kanin.
In addition to his brief guest appearance in Walt Disney's first television Christmas show in 1950, One Hour in Wonderland, Driscoll lent his voice to Goofy, Jr. in the Disney cartoon shorts Fathers are People and Father's Lion, which were released in 1951 and 1952, respectively.
Driscoll portrayed Robert "Bibi" Bonnard in Richard Fleischer's comedy The Happy Time (1952), which was based on a Broadway play of the same name by Samuel A. Taylor. Cast with acting veterans Charles Boyer, Marsha Hunt, Louis Jourdan, and Kurt Kasznar, he played the juvenile offspring of a patriarch in Quebec of the 1920s, the character upon whom the plot centered.
Driscoll's last major success, Peter Pan, was produced largely between May 1949 and mid 1951. Driscoll was cast with Disney's "Little British Lady" Kathryn Beaumont, who was in the role of Wendy Darling; he was used as the reference model for the close-ups and provided Peter Pan's voice, and dancer and choreographer Roland Dupree was the model for the character's motion. Scenes were played on an almost empty sound stage with only the most essential props, and filmed for use by the illustrators.
In his biography on Disney, Marc Elliot described Driscoll as the producer's favorite "live action" child star: "Walt often referred to Driscoll with great affection as the living embodiment of his own youth [...]" However, during a project meeting following the completion of Peter Pan, Disney stated that he now saw Driscoll as best suited for roles as a young bully rather than a likeable protagonist. Driscoll's salary at Disney had been raised to $1,750 per week and compared to his salary, Driscoll had little work from 1952 on. In March 1953, the additional two-year option Driscoll had been extended (which would have kept him at Disney into 1956) was canceled, just weeks after Peter Pan was released theatrically. A severe case of acne accompanying the onset of puberty, explaining why it was necessary for Driscoll to use heavy makeup for his performances on dozens of TV shows, was officially provided as the final reason for the termination of his connection with the Disney Studios.
Driscoll encountered increasing indifference from the other Hollywood studios. Still perceived as "Disney's kid actor", he was unable to get movie roles as a serious character actor. Beginning in 1953 and for most of the next three years, the bulk of his work was on television, on such anthology and drama series as Fireside Theater, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Front Row Center, Navy Log, TV Reader's Digest, Climax!, Ford Theatre, Studio One, Dragnet, Medic, 'and Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre. On another series, Men of Annapolis, he appeared with John Smith, future second husband of Driscoll's Song of the South co-star, Luana Patten.
Between 1948 and 1957, he performed on a number of radio productions, which included a special broadcast version of Treasure Island in January 1951 and of Peter Pan in December 1953. And as it was common practice in this business, Driscoll and Luana Patten did promotional radio gigs (starting in late 1946 for Song of the South) and toured the country for various parades and charity events through the years.
In 1947, he recorded a special version of "So Dear to My Heart" at Capitol Records. In 1954, he was awarded a Milky Way Gold Star Award, chosen in a nationwide poll for his work on television and radio.
After he left the Disney studios, Driscoll's parents withdrew him from the Hollywood Professional School, which served child movie actors, and sent him to the public Westwood University High School instead. There his grades dropped substantially, he was the target of ridicule for his previous film career, and he began to take drugs. He said later, "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." At his request, Driscoll's parents returned him the next year to Hollywood Professional School, where in May 1955 he graduated.
However, his drug use increased. In an interview years later, he stated, "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." In 1956, he was arrested for the first time for possession of marijuana, but the charge was dismissed. On July 24, 1956, Hedda Hopper wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "This could cost this fine lad and good actor his career." In 1957, he had only two television parts, as the loyal brother of a criminal immigrant in M Squad, a long-running crime series starring Lee Marvin, and as an officer aboard the submarine S-38 in an episode of the World War II docudrama series The Silent Service.
In December 1956, Driscoll and his longtime girlfriend, Marilyn Jean Rush (occasionally misspelled as "Brush"), eloped to Mexico to get married to avoid their parents' objections. The couple was later re-wed in a Los Angeles ceremony that took place in March 1957. They had two daughters and one son, but the relationship didn't last. They separated, then divorced in 1960.
Driscoll began using the name "Robert Driscoll" to distance himself from his youthful roles as "Bobby" (since 1951, he had been known to friends and family as "Bob", and in Schlitz Playhouse of Stars - Early Space Conquerors, 1952, was credited as "Bob Driscoll"). He landed two final screen roles: with Cornel Wilde in the 1955 release The Scarlet Coat and opposite Mark Damon, Connie Stevens, and Frances Farmer in The Party Crashers (1958).
He was charged with disturbing the peace and assault with a deadly weapon, the latter after hitting with a pistol one of two hecklers who made insulting remarks while he was washing a girlfriend's car; the charges were dropped.
His last known appearances on TV were small roles in two single-season series: The Best of the Post, a syndicated anthology series adapted from stories published in The Saturday Evening Post magazine, and The Brothers Brannagan, an unsuccessful crime series starring Stephen Dunne and Mark Roberts. Both were originally aired on November 5, 1960.
Late in 1961, he was sentenced as a drug addict and imprisoned at the Narcotic Rehabilitation Center of the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. When Driscoll left Chino in early 1962, he was unable to find acting work. Embittered by this, he said, "I have found that memories are not very useful. I was carried on a silver platter--and then dumped into the garbage."
In 1965, a year after his parole expired, he relocated to New York, hoping to revive his career on the Broadway stage, but was unsuccessful. He became part of Andy Warhol's Greenwich Village art community known as the Factory, where he began focusing on his artistic talents. He had previously been encouraged to do so by famed artist and poet Wallace Berman, whom he had befriended after joining Berman's art circle (now also known as Semina Culture) in Los Angeles in 1956. Some of his works were considered outstanding, and a few of his surviving collages and cardboard mailers were temporarily exhibited in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. In 1965, early in his tenure at the Factory, Driscoll gave his last known film performance, in experimental filmmaker Piero Heliczer's underground movie Dirt.
In late 1967 or early 1968, the penniless Driscoll left The Factory and disappeared into Manhattan's underground. On March 30, 1968, about three weeks after his 31st birthday, two little boys playing in a deserted East Village tenement at 371 East 10th St. found his body lying on a cot, with two empty beer bottles and religious pamphlets scattered on the ground. The medical examination determined that he had died from heart failure caused by an advanced hardening of the arteries because of his longtime drug abuse. There was no identification on the body, and photos taken of it and shown around the neighborhood yielded no positive identification. When Driscoll's body went unclaimed, he was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in New York City's Potter's Field on Hart Island.
Late in 1969, about 19 months after his death, Driscoll's mother sought the help of officials at the Disney studios to contact him for a hoped-for reunion with his father, who was nearing death. This resulted in a fingerprint match at the New York City Police Department, which located his burial on Hart Island. Although his name appears on his father's gravestone at Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside, California, it is a cenotaph because his remains still rest on Hart Island. Driscoll's death was not reported until the re-release of his first Disney film, Song of the South, in 1971-1972, when reporters researched the whereabouts of the film's major cast members and his mother revealed the tragic outcome.
Driscoll received an Academy Juvenile Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the 22nd Academy Awards presentation in 1950. The award was presented as a special miniature Oscar statuette for "the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949" for his roles in So Dear to My Heart and The Window, both released in 1949. He also received the Milky Way Gold Star Award in 1954 for his work on television and radio.
|1943||Lost Angel||Bobby, Boy on Train with Sucker||Uncredited|
|1944||The Fighting Sullivans||Al Sullivan as a child||Uncredited|
|1944||Sunday Dinner for a Soldier||Jeep Osborne|
|1944||The Big Bonanza||Spud Kilton|
|1945||Identity Unknown||Toddy Loring|
|1946||Miss Susie Slagle's||Boy with Wounded Dog||Uncredited|
|1946||From This Day Forward||Billy Beesley|
|1946||So Goes My Love||Percy Maxim||Alternative title: A Genius in the Family|
|1946||Three Wise Fools||Pixie||Uncredited|
|1946||Song of the South||Johnny|
|1948||If You Knew Susie||Junior||Uncredited|
|1949||So Dear to My Heart||Jeremiah Kincaid||Academy Juvenile Award for 1949|
|1949||The Window||Tommy Woodry||Academy Juvenile Award for 1949|
|1950||Treasure Island||Jim Hawkins|
|1951||When I Grow Up||Josh / Danny Reed|
|1951||Lux Video Theatre||Billy Crandall||Episode: "Tin Badge"|
|1952||Father's Lion||Goofy Jr.||Voice|
|1952||The Happy Time||Robert "Bibi" Bonnard|
|1953||Peter Pan||Peter Pan||Voice and close-up model|
|1955||The Scarlet Coat||Ben Potter|
|1956||Climax!||Gary||Episode: "The Secret of River Lane"|
|1957||M Squad||Stephen/Steve Wikowski||Episode: "Pete Loves Mary"|
|1957||The Silent Service||Fletcher||Episode: "S01,E15, The Ordeal of the S-38"|
|1958||Frontier Justice||Trumpeter Jones||Episode: "Death Watch"|
|1958||The Party Crashers||Josh Bickford|
|1958||The Millionaire||Lew Conover||Episode: "The Norman Conover Story"|
|1959||Trackdown||Mike Hardesty||Episode: "Blind Alley"|
|1959||Rawhide||Will Mason||Episode: "Incident of Fear in the Streets"|
|1960||The Brothers Brannagan||Johnny||Episode: "The Twisted Root"|
|1960||Rawhide||Billy Chance||Episode: "Incident of the Captive"|
|1965||Dirt||Unknown||Produced by Andy Warhol, (final film role)|
|1954||The Boy With a Cart||The boy||February 1954|
|1954||Ah, Wilderness!||Richard Miller||August 1954 (Pasadena Playhouse)|
|1957||Girls of Summer||unknown||May 1957 (Players Ring Theatre)|
(This is not necessarily a complete list; it displays all those that could be located and verified.)
|1946||Song of the South - Promo-Interview||Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten, hosted by Johnny Mercer||Aired in late 1946|
|1946||Song of the South - Promo-Interview||Bobby Driscoll, Luana Patten, Walt Disney and James Baskett, hosted by Johnny Mercer||Aired in late 1946|
|1946||The Dennis Day Show (aka A Day in the Life of Dennis Day) - "The Boy Who Sang For A King"||Cecil (a little carol-boy)||Aired on December 25|
|1948||Family Theater - "As the Twig is Bent"||Aired in February 1948|
|1948||Family Theatre - "The Future is Yours"||Aired on February 19|
|1948||Family Theatre - "Jamie and the Promise"||Aired on August 19|
|1948||Family Theater - "A Daddy for Christmas"||Aired on December 15|
|1950||Family Theater - "Mahoney's Lucky Day"||Aired on April 19 - hosted by himself|
|1950||Hallmark Playhouse - "Knee Pants"||Aired on June 25|
|1950||Movietown Radio Theater - "The Throwback"||Aired on July 6|
|1951||Lux Radio Theatre - "Treasure Island"||Jim Hawkins||Aired on January 29|
|1951||Cavalcade of America - "The Day They Gave Babies Away"||Aired on December 25|
|1953||Family Theater - "The Courtship of John Dennis"||Aired on April 8|
|1953||Lux Radio Theater - "Peter Pan"||Peter Pan||Aired on December 10|
|1955||Family Theater - "The Penalty"||Aired on October 12|
|1956||Family Theatre - "Fair Exchange"||Aired on September 19|
|1957||Family Theatre - "A Shot in the Dark"||Aired on August 7|
|1946/47||"So Dear to My Heart"||Jeremiah Kincaid||Capitol Records (CDF 3000) - narrated by John Beal|
|1949||"Walt Disney's Peter Pan"||Peter Pan||RCA Victor (Y-486)|
|1950||"Treasure Island"||Jim Hawkins||RCA Victor (Y-416) - narrated by Bobby Driscoll|
|1964||"Treasure Island"||Jim Hawkins||Disneyland Records (DQ-1251) - condensed version of the original motion picture soundtrack - narrated by Del McKennon|
Media related to Bobby Driscoll at Wikimedia Commons