Oscar Profile #617: Darryl Hickman

Born July 28, 1931 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California, Darryl Hickman was the older son of Milton and Katherine Hickman. His father was an insurance salesman and mother a housewife. Hickman’s younger actor brother Dwayne was born in 1934. As of 1940 the family was living with their maternal grandfather, Louis Henry Ostertag, a US Navy seaman on Commodore Dewey’s flagship, the cruiser USS Olympia. He was awarded the Dewey Medal for his role in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898.

Hickman was discovered by a dance-school director where he later performed, leading to a contract with Paramount. His first role was as Ronald Colman’s son in 1937’s The Prisoner of Zenda. He next played a child in Colman’s 1938 film, If I Were King. His first outstanding role was as Winfield Joad, the youngest son in the impoverished family in 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath. Later that year he appeared in Shirley Temple’s last film at 20th Century-Fox, Young People.

One of the most recognizable and prolific child actors of the 1940s, Hickman had standout roles as a juvenile delinquent in 1941’s Men of Boys Town and as a slow child in 1943’s The Human Comedy. Following uncredited roles in 1944’s And Now Tomorrow and Meet Me in St. Louis, he played Eddie Rickenbacker as a child in 1945’s Captain Eddie in which Fred MacMurray played the titled character as an adult. His real-life brother, Dwayne Hickman made his film debut in the film as his screen brother.

Later in 1945, Hickman played Ira Gershwin as a boy in Rhapsody in Blue, and then supported teenage Shirley Temple in Kiss and Tell. At year’s end, he had his career-high childhood role as Cornel Wilde’s crippled brother in Leave Her to Heaven. His most memorable role of 1946 was as Van Heflin’s character as a boy in the classic film noir, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

In 1948, Hickman starred opposite Pat O’Brien in Fighting Father Dunne. In 1949, he played Shirley Temple’s boyfriend in A Kiss for Corliss. In 1950, he co-starred with Dean Stockwell in the nostalgic comedy, The Happy Years in which brother Dwayne once again played his screen brother.

in September 1951, the twenty-year-old actor who had grown disenchanted with Hollywood and the studio system in its inability to protect child actors, entered a monastery intent on becoming a priest. Within a year, however, he left having realized he wasn’t cut out for the priesthood.

Returning to acting, Hickman appeared in guest roles on many TV series including is brother’s Dobie Gillis. His films as a young adult included Island in the Sky, Tea and Sympathy, and The Tingler. In later years he became a writer, producer, and acting coach. His last major film was 1976’s Network in which he had a small role.

Hickman’s book about acting techniques, The Unconscious Actor: Out of Control, in Full Command was published in April 2007.

Darryl Hickman is still going strong at 91.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940), directed by John Ford

Hickman is the last surviving cast member of Ford’s classic film of John Steinbeck’s novel about the Great Depression. Nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Actor (Henry Fonda), Screenplay, Film Editing, and Sound, it won two for Ford’s direction and Best Supporting Actress (Jane Darwell). Hickman’s role in the film was as Winfield Joad, the youngest son in the impoverished family in which Fonda played his older brother and Darwell his mother. Other cast members include John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Doris Bowden, Russell Simpson, John Qualen, Eddie Quillen, and Zeffie Tillbury.

THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), directed by Clarence Brown

Nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Mickey Rooney), and Cinematography, it won for Best Original Story for William Saroyan. Hickman, who all but stole Men of Boys Town from two years earlier, had a smaller role in this one but his slow child still manages to stand out in a cast that included not just Rooney, but Van Johnson, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Fay Bainter, Ray Collins, Donna Reed, Butch Jenkins, Dorothy Morris, John Craven, Mary Nash, Henry O’Neill, Katherine Alexander, Alan Baxter, Barry Nelson, Clem Bevans, and Adeline De Walt Reynolds.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945), directed by John M. Stahl

Nominated for four Oscars including Best Actress (Gene Tierney), Art Direction, and Sound, it won for Best Cinematography (Leon Shamroy). Tierney plays a ruthless femme fatale who dumps fiancé Vincent Price for naïve novelist Cornel Wilde who she marries on a whim. Jeanne Crain is her forlorn sister and Hickman is Wilde’s crippled brother left in her care. The scene on the lake between Tierney and Hickman is the film’s most unforgettable. In another year he might have received a special juvenile for his performance but not in a year dominated by Peggy Ann Garner who won that award for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946), directed by Lewis Milestone

Nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Story by John Patrick, Hickman excels in the film’s opening sequence in which he plays the boy who grows up to be Van Heflin in this much-admired film noir. His co-stars in the scene, Janis Wilson, and Mickey Kuhn, grow up to be Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas. The three young actors even stand out against Judith Anderson in her most evil role since her Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca on the night that Hickman runs away. The plot revolves around whether or not Hickman/Heflin witnessed Wilson/Stanwyck’s murder of Anderson on that fateful night.

TEA AND SYMPATHY (1956), directed by Vincente Minnelli

Hickman had one of his best young adult roles as John Kerr’s roommate in the screen version of Robert Anderson’s Broadway play for which Kerr received a Tony as Best Featured Actor as the sensitive student. Deborah Kerr as his den mother and Leif Ericson as her husband also reprised their Broadway roles with Hickman taking over the role played by Dick York. Deborah Kerr was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance and finished as runner-up to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia at the NYFC awards for both this and The King and I. Bergman had played Kerr’s role in the Paris stage version.

DARRYL HICKMAN AND OSCAR

  • No nominations, no wins.

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