Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Arr, Step Lively There, Jim Lad!"

Today is the birthday of Bobby Driscoll, who had a memorable career as an impish child actor, but whose life ended all too soon and tragically in 1968 at the young age of 31. After some years of drug and alcohol abuse as a young adult, Bobby was finally able to clean himself up, yet found himself shunned by the entertainment industry and unable to get work. How different it is nowadays, when even repeat offenders like Robert Downey Jr. seem to get welcomed back into Hollywood's arms for an infinite number of second chances. Bobby Driscoll was never given a second chance though, and he died impoverished after having shown such promise so early on in his young life.

Bobby will always be closely associated with Disney for such films as "Song of the South", "So Dear to My Heart" and "Treasure Island". But I like to believe that he has also achieved a cinematic immortality as the voice and live film reference model for Disney's animated classic, "Peter Pan". As you can see in this still from the film, Pan was essentially a caricature of the then teenaged Bobby Driscoll, with his pixieish face and smile.
I watched "Treasure Island" again a few nights ago in order to draw Bobby Driscoll, and he really was something as the brave Jim Hawkins, who wouldn't go back on his word, even if it meant acting in good faith with the wily but charismatic pirate, Long John Silver. Long John was played by British actor, Robert Newton, who coincidentally also had a problem with alcohol abuse and died at the relatively early age of 50. Newton is a joy to watch in his role as Silver though, with his bright eyes glinting in both menace and mischief, and speaking in a Cornish accent that became the stereotypical pirate "voice", still imitated to this very day. His final role was playing Mr. Fix, the inspector who doggedly pursues Phileas Fogg in "Around the World in 80 Days".

So let's celebrate both Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton on this day - two actors who left us far too early before realizing their full potential.


Thad said...

And to this day, the Disney Empire refuses to acknowledge the accomplishments of its first contracted actor with a Disney Legends award.

Hacky Crapper said...

Trivia time -- it's true

1)You might recall from the documentary about R. Crumb that his older brother often dressed up as Silver when he was a child. Years later it was learned that said brother had a major crush on Driscoll, and the dressing up was a way for him to express that.

2)Long John Silver was married to a black woman.

Floyd Norman said...

While I love show business, I know it can have a corrosive effect on the lives of child actors. Bobby Driscoll is only one in a series of kid stars who would crash and burn later in life.

The happiest kingdom on earth had no shortage of flawed human beings who battled booze, drugs and worst. Even though the mouse house is extremely protective of its corporate image, it’s less than honest to pretend these people never existed.

Craig Mackay said...

Ha ha! Wonderful caricatures! Really love your style and your blog. I'll be back for sure!

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for the piece on Bobby. He was my first cousin and for a brief time we lived near each other. I saw him a few times over the years--my mother and his father were very close sister and brother--and he'd send me cool clothes as he grew out of them. I've spent thirty years writing suspense novels for a living.
From time to time I've tried to interest a showbiz publisher in letting me do a book about Bobby but no luck. Thanks again. Ed

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

I was just lurking around your blog but when I came to this I had to comment.
Treasure Island was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up- and you've captured the two stars spot on. Coolness.