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Remembering Dickie Moore

One of the cutest of all child actors in the 1930s, Dickie Moore worked with Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Paul Muni and other luminaries, but may be best remembered for his one-year stint as a member of Our Gang. He not only survived the “awkward years” of adolescence and young adulthood, but built a new career for himself in the field of public relations. He also wrote one of the most candid and perceptive books about child actors, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (But Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car), published in 1984. It included contributions from such contemporaries as Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan, and Mickey Rooney.

Dick Moore died this week, just days short of his 90th birthday.

When I first interviewed him in 1975, I asked who made the greatest impression on him during his years in Hollywood, he said, “I think in the total experience, I think, about four or five people… Ernst Lubitsch, who was very generous with his time, while they were setting up for Heaven Can Wait. I was 14 then, 15, and we’d just sit around the set talking about his philosophy… He was an incredible man, marvelous, gave me a whole different insight into how somebody who by everyone’s definition is successful can have their own definition of success which is unrelated to the way other people look at it… Gary Cooper opened up the whole outdoors. We still have a farm. I’ve been a falconer, I’m intensely interested in animals, animals of all kinds, and that all started with Cooper on Sergeant York… Bob Mitchum, much later, after the war, in Out of the Past. I’d just been out of the Army hospital after World War Two and he was just a whole breath of life. He was incredible…he was just exactly the kind of guy I needed to meet right then. I think he’s grand, a totally unique and remarkable person who was going to do it his way and not compromise his personal integrity as he saw it and let the chips fall where they may.”

Dickie Moore-Chic Sale

Dickie with Chic Sale in “The Expert” (1931)

In summing up his life and career, I asked if he felt lucky. “Oh yes,” he answered immediately. “Incredibly. I’ve had good friends, I’ve been in the right place at the right time, and I was lucky in the sense that I never really liked acting that much. The big problem, the big floundering for me was to get the hell out of the bag and take the contents with me. It’s a terrible box to be in. You awaken in your early-middle age sometime with a wife, and children, and responsibilities, and you realize that even if you could be successful doing this for a good deal longer, you just may not want to, and what else can you do? Well, I was fortunate. I was always interested in writing.” He went to college, majored in journalism, and worked steadily for decades to follow.

He lucked out again when he met and fell in love with another Hollywood survivor. In 1988 he married Jane Powell and they became a real-life “Dick and Jane,” dividing their time between an apartment in Manhattan and a home in Connecticut. She attended to him full-time during the past few years as his mental and physical health declined.

I feel fortunate to have spent some time with Dick and Jane and felt the glow of their happy life together. And we are all lucky that Dick shared his memories and observations of a notable career that just happened to take place when he was very young.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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