1935 - 1937
1917 - 1930 | 1931 - 1932 | 1933 - 1934 | 1935 - 1937
1938 - 1942 | 1943 - 1949 | 1950 - 1976
Frankieís most notable part in serial history came in 1935 when he played Frankie Baxter in the memorable and bizarre science-fiction / western The Phantom Empire (photo, right) with Gene Autry and trick rider Betsy Ross King. According to many reports, this was Gene Autryís first serial (if not film) and Frankie was helpful in getting Gene through his first acting job.
Also in 1935, Frankie played a jockey again in The Pay Off, and made appearances in Red Hot Tires and Valley of Wanted Men. Frankie also had a good part in Three Kids and a Queen, performing alongside William Benedict (who would later be better known as Whitey in The Bowery Boys movies).
1936 began yet another phase in Frankieís career. Moving somewhat past the "kid" stage, Frankie was now delving into enthusiastic teenage parts (he was nineteen at this point). He continued to portray jockeys (this would become more and more frequent, which subsequently lead many film fans to remember him only as the perennial jockey, an unfairly limited label) in such films as Charlie Chan at the Racetrack and The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. But in films such as Black Gold and Born to Fight (the latter with Kane Richmond, who would co-star with Frankie in a total of six films for Conn Pictures), Frankie began a series of B-pictures in which he was the lead actor. His characters were energetic, enthusiastic, irrepressible kids and the resulting pictures were a charming mix of comedy and action.
This genre of film continued into 1937 with films such as Anything for a Thrill, Headline Crasher, Tough to Handle, Devil Diamond and Young Dynamite (photo, left). As low-budget as these movies are, thereís an unmistakable charm about them. Again certain characteristics began to come out that were common to many of these movies. Frankie is often forced to fight the bad guys and one way in which he starts a fight is to run across a room and lunge at his opponent, knocking him to the ground where Frankie begins pummeling him. The other way in which Frankie sometimes takes on a villain is to pounce on him from a stair railing, a mantel place, or some other high up place. Another common trait in Frankie's fight scenes involved him throwing something at his opponents. In the early days (as a kid in the serials) it was usually a rock, which somehow always managed to knock the gun from the bad guy's hand. In later films, he threw everything from chairs to empty film reels. Frankie continued to do his own stunts in many of these pictures.
Another staple of these and earlier movies was Frankie's disinterest in romance on the screen. While a few pictures featured him in love (Three Kids and a Queen in particular), the boy enthusiasm flicks were strictly no girls, no way! His rough and tumble characters were more than anxious to get the photo, stop the crook, win the race, get the older sister a job singing at the nightclub, even set her up with the right man . . . but girls? Ew!!! This element was part of his character's hilarious charm, so typical of boys going through the "girls are yucky" phase. Even when his character was interested in girls, his flirting was always comical, and more often than not he would end up empty handed, sometimes with the girl going for the "leading man" instead.
Of course Frankie continued to play jockeys as well. In 1937 he was seen riding in The Marx Brothers movie A Day at the Races (photo, below right), in the Clark Gable film Saratoga, and in the Mickey Rooney / Judy Garland film Thoroughbredís Donít Cry. This was the only film appearance Darro made with Rooney, who attended Lawlorís Professional School along with Frankie.
Regarding his portrayal of so many jockeys, Frankie joked in Richard Lamparskiís fourth series of Whatever Became Of . . . ? by saying "I should have been paid by the mile." (Although Frankie starred in so many films, his top salary was only $1,750 a week). His association in so many peoplesí minds with race tracks led to him being kidded about blowing all his money at the racetrack, but Frankie imparted to Lamparski that while he enjoyed riding, racing never interested him, and he could easily count the times heíd been to a racetrack, except to shoot a scene. (Another report indicates that Frankie, at least when younger, preferred all night poker parties). Itís understandable that Frankieís interest in riding didnít extend to the race track, since itís likely he learned most of his horsemanship skills from being around cowboys (both real and the Hollywood kind) and their attitude toward riding would have been far removed from that of jockeys.
In the movies Frankie often played a "bad" jockey (meaning he was underhanded, not a bad rider, although he did manage to fall off the horse in an unusual amount of films!) But in a film entitled Racing Blood (photo, left) Frankie got to play a nice jockey. It was another "boy enthusiasm" flick in which Frankie, who is studying to be a doctor, adopts a lame young horse and nurses it back to health, finally getting it into good enough shape to race. Of course thereís the standard plot in which his older brother, also a jockey, runs afoul of crooks and is injured on the racetrack, leaving Frankie to triumph in the final race. This was pretty typical of the movies Frankie was making at the time, but these movies were a staple to movie audiences in the 30's and 40's and still hold up as being great fun to B-movie lovers today.