THE BIG GORGE.
By Bill Baxter, DTM.
One fateful day in New York City, 1968; two kids stumbled upon the body of a dead transient in an abandoned apartment building. The body, which was saturated with alcohol and illegal drugs, was taken from this run-down building and thrown into a pauper's grave somewhere on Hart Island, as an "Unidentified John Doe." No one knew who the John Doe was until one year later in 1969, when the fingerprints were checked. The identity of the deceased transient was Disney's Child Star of the 1940's and Early 1950's, Bobby Driscoll.
Young Bobby Driscoll is remembered as having starred as Johnny in Disney's "Song of the South," and as Jim Hawkins in Disney's "Treasure Island." He also starred with Burl Ives in Disney's Classic, "So Dear to My Heart," and made an appearance with Roy Rogers in the "Pecos Bill Segment" of the Disney Classic, "Melody Time." His biggest role as a Teenager was doing the voice of "Peter Pan." How could someone who had such a lot going for him as a child star, meet with such a horrible and tragic end in the Slums of New York City?
One of the biggest mistakes that child stars can make is to take their stardom for granted. Many Child Stars do not remain stars once they cross over into their adult years. Very few child stars have made it across "The Big Gorge," between child stardom and adult stardom where they still remain big stars as adults. Even Shirley Temple, the greatest child star there ever was, did not make it across that "Big Gorge." However, as her childhood ended, she knew that her stardom had also ended, and accepted it. From there she chose another path for her life, and is now a woman in her 70's, and very happy. It was pretty much the same story with Margaret O'Brien. Even though she did land a few roles as an adult, she was never a big adult star, but she adjusted. This unfortunately was not the case with Bobby Driscoll. His stardom had ended after he did the Voice of Peter Pan in the Disney Classic, and Disney dropped his contract. He was not ready to deal with this, or accept this. As he reached his adult years, he tried to break into Broadway Stage Productions in New York, as an adult performer, but was unable to find work. Unable to cope, he began to self-destruct by means of alcohol and drugs. Poverty soon followed, along with several police arrests. As he became more and more of a hopeless alcoholic and heroin addict, eventually he was struck down with Hepatitis, followed by a heart attack, which claimed the life of the Young Oscar Winning Star of the 1940's in that abandoned New York Tenement in 1968. He was only 31 years old. This was one of Hollywood's biggest tragedies, not to mention, one of its worst injustices ever done to a young star. The biggest mistake Hollywood People who work with a childhood star can make, is to assume that the child will adjust to the loss of stardom as he/she approaches adulthood, the same way Shirley Temple and Margaret O'Brien did.
So that something like this never happens again, it is important for the people who work with these childhood stars, to help them understand that stardom, particularly childhood stardom doesn't last; and, prepare them in such a way that when they do reach that Big Gorge, they will have prepared a path, the right path--one that will help them adjust, get on with their lives, and live up to their full potentials by other means, and live happy and content lives, being content with the happy memories of being childhood stars, and not doing as Bobby Driscoll and so many other child stars have done--FALL HEAD-LONG INTO THE BIG GORGE!
SPECIAL NOTE: This was also an Award Winning Speech given at a Club 873-F Meeting at one time. The words of the speech were slightly different from this editorial, but the concepts, ideas, and events were all intact.