Whilst watching House Hunters Renovation, I saw a commercial for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Disney’s 1953 classic cartoon Peter Pan. Fantastic, wonderful kid-friendly tale, about Peter and Wendy and Never Never Land and pirates and a crocodile.
I watched the commercial, munching a handful of chocolate Teddy Grahams, trying to remember the name of the kid actor who voiced Peter Pan.
Oh right, Bobby Driscoll. He was the animation model for the boy who never grew up, too.
Bobby Driscoll (man, that’s like the perfect fifties name) was born on March 3, 1937, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1943. Soon after, a barber, after cutting Bobby’s hair, insisted that his parents audition the kid for the movies.
These people are possibly the only ones in the history of ever to take a barber’s advice.
Bobby soon found himself working alongside Myrna Loy in So Goes My Love. Then there were roles in Disney’s Treasure Island and Song of the South.
He was, by all accounts, a sweet kid and a natural actor. Disney thought enough of him to sign him to a long-term contract in 1946, the first actor to do so.
So, what happened?
He got teenaged. And zits.
Peter Pan would be his last work for Disney. After the studio dropped him, he went back to public school, which must have been hell. He managed to graduate in 1955, although by this time, he was already experimenting with drugs (marijuana and heroin) and alcohol (all kinds). In 1956, he and his long-time girlfriend, Marilyn Jean Rush, married. Bobby worked sporadically in TV, using makeup to hide his acne. He starred in the unsuccessful juvenile delinquent drama The Party Crashers in 1958, alongside a maybe-lobotomized Frances Farmer. 1961 saw him imprisoned in the Chino, California Narcotic Rehabilitation Center. He was paroled in 1962, and after his three-year probation was up, relocated to New York City.
He hoped for the stage, but that didn’t happen. He found himself hanging out with Andy Warhol at The Factory, Warhol’s Greenwich Village experimental art community. He supposedly had some artistic talent, but left The Factory in late 1967 or early 1968 for the streets.
Two boys playing inside an abandoned East Village tenement found his body on March 30, 1968, about three weeks after his thirtieth birthday. The police took a photo of his body and showed it around the area, but when no one recognized him, they buried him in an unmarked grave in Potter’s Field, on Hart Island. The cause of death was heart failure, due to hardened arteries, a result of his drug abuse.
In 1969, Mrs. Driscoll contacted Disney studio officials, wanting their help in finding Bobby for a reunion with his father, who was on his deathbed. This resulted in a fingerprint match with the NYPD, and the revelation of who was in that unmarked grave (one of the many graves, anyway). Bobby Driscoll’s name appears on his father’s gravestone in Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside, California, but his remains are still on Hart Island. His death wasn’t reported to the public until 1971, when Song of the South was re-released.
Well, enjoy Peter Pan!
Next time, I’ll tell you what happened to that kid who stuck his tongue to the metal pole in A Christmas Story.