In these first weeks of September 2015, silent Hollywood lost two more of its own. On September 4th Jean Darling, one of the child actors in “Our Gang” shorts during the late ’20s, passed away at the age of 93. Not long after this news sunk in (and before I had time to post an appropriate piece on Jean), another Our Gang alumni passed away on September 10: 89-year-old Dickie Moore, who debuted in silent films as a baby and starred in the famous series during the Depression era.
Dorothy Jean LaVake, later to be known by the cute name of Jean Darling, was born August 23, 1922. Her parents split up soon after her birth, and her mother may have debuted her in films as a “freelance baby.” In 1926, at the age of four, she became a part of Hal Roach’s popular “Our Gang” series (which had been around since 1922). With her golden curls and face like a porcelain doll, Darling was soon known as “The Most Beautiful Little Girl in Pictures”. She would later state: “I thought I was a god…I was worshipped. That sort of thing could have destroyed me. I sometimes think the fact I was spared was just plain magic.”
She appeared in nearly 50 silent films and several talkies, and would go on to appear in vaudeville and on the stage as the original Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel. She also made appearances on television, which including hosting her own show, A Date With Jean Darling.
In 1954 Darling married television magician Reuben Bowen. They had one son, Roy. Their marriage lasted 19 years until they separated; Darling went on to become a prolific author specializing in short mystery stories.
John Richard Moore, Jr., or Dickie Moore, was born September 12, 1925. Today would’ve been his 90th birthday.
Moore’s first silent was an appearance in The Beloved Rogue (1927), as the infant version of John Barrymore’s character. By the early thirties he was given substantial supporting roles in Blonde Venus (1932) and Man’s Castle (1933), and at age 7 became part of the Our Gang cast. He appeared in eight Our Gang shorts before leaving to concentrate his career on features.
Moore had many supporting roles, although by young adulthood he was reduced to appearing in B-movies. In Miss Annie Rooney (1942), he gave Shirley Temple her first onscreen kiss. He would later appear onstage and in television before retiring from acting in the 1950s.
Always a busy man, Moore would go on to own a public relations and firm and teach and write about acting, including a book on his experiences as a child actor. He had been married three times, the last marriage being to actress Jane Powell, and had one son and three stepchildren. Looking back on his career, he once said: “There was a time when I bridled whenever a fan bothered me for an autograph or someone started with the jokes about dimples, but now I’m rather pleased that someone remembers.”
Hollywood is just a little poorer now as its circle of surviving silent film stars grows ever smaller. The last of the major stars, “Baby Peggy” (Diana Serra Cary) is still active as a writer and film historian, but Wikipedia lists only 10 other former silent film actors known to be living. All had been child actors back then, of course–some debuted just at the tail end of the era, and others are only known for bit parts. Two of them, Mary Carlisle and Shep Houghton, have passed their 100th birthdays. (Intriguingly, there’s also a list of 7 actors whose whereabouts are unknown.)
With that in mind, however, let’s rejoice that stars like Jean and Dickie have had their childhoods preserved so charmingly in the available Our Gang shorts and have shared some of their thoughts and experiences from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Thankfully, they will continue to live as long as we preserve–and share–their films.