1950 - 1976
1917 - 1930 | 1931 - 1932 | 1933 - 1934 | 1935 - 1937
1938 - 1942 | 1943 - 1949 | 1950 - 1976
Frankieís movie roles from this point on were more sporadic and briefer, eventually culminating in mere walk-ons. This may have been in part to his alcoholic bouts (he apparently had many periods of drying out and falling off the wagon again). But throughout his personal problems he never lost his acting skills, and even his briefest appearances were notable as a result. For example, his role in Westward the Women (photo, right) in 1951 is very brief, yet heís priceless as the "little" husband-to-be, fleeing in fright from the gigantic, imposing woman he believes has been chosen as his wife. That same year he made a brief but eerie appearance in the film Across the Wide Missouri, playing a cadet who is shockingly killed in the fort's lookout tower after shouting "Merry Christmas!" (In real life Frankie died on Christmas Day).
In 1952's classic film, Pat and Mike, Frankie only has a tiny role as a caddy but he plays it for all heís worth, mimicking and mocking the overbearing woman heís caddying for. Even as late as 1958, Frankie made a notable cameo in The Perfect Furlough as the man in a cast who gets lifted right up out of his bed by the rigging attached to his leg when the men get excited about hearing one of them will win a date with a beautiful starlet. Even better was his small role in Operation Petticoat in 1959, in which he plays Pharmacist Mate Dooley and not only examines Cary Grantís posterior (after an unfortunate curling iron incident; see photo to the left) but performs a flawless head banging routine when jumping up out of a bunk suddenly. Undoubtedly, Frankie's stint in the Navy's Hospital Corps came in handy when playing this part! Unfortunately these roles were very few and far between, and by 1956 he was appearing briefly as a slave in The Ten Commandments and walking in and out of scenes as a bellhop in The Carpetbaggers in 1964.
One film role which must be mentioned is Frankieís work inside Robby the Robot on Forbidden Planet in 1956. Frankie was one of two actors who acted inside the large mechanical costume. Itís not clear how Frankie was chosen to do this work, since he was not known for being a stuntman (although he could clearly do stunts), but it is reported that he did not continue the work because he didnít have the strength to manipulate the extremely heavy costume.
When film work was not to be found, many actors inevitably turned to television work, and Frankie did find his fair share of jobs in this new medium. While many of these roles would be bit parts as well, he did get starring roles in episodes of Public Defender (photo, right) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where he turned in fine performances. It was not unusual to see Frankie playing a newsboy or delivery man in classic series such as Batman, Mr. Ed and The Addams Family.
Frankieís most notable television work was a recurring part on The Red Skelton Show, in which he sometimes came on dressed as a little old lady and would proceed to take the most amazing pratfalls, much to the shock and delight of the audience. Red, himself a recovering alcoholic, gave Frankie a chance but warned him that if he ever came to work drunk, even just once, he would be fired. Apparently Frankie did come to work drunk and he was consequently fired.
Information about Frankie's personal life has been confusing at best, but we have some exclusive information which may shed light on his complicated marital background and personal ventures. In 1939, Frankie was married to actress Aloha Wray (photo, left), who was also born in 1917. According to one article, the two had met in an acting class eight years previously. She apparently filmed scenes for the movie Irish Luck but her parts were deleted from the final film. It's not clear how long they were married but the union did end in divorce some time before 1943. Richard Lamparskiís Fourth Series of Whatever Became Of . . . ? reported that Aloha Wray eventually committed suicide. However it occurred, her date of death is listed as April 28, 1968.
Frankie's second marriage was to Betty Marie Morrow on March 16, 1943. According to one article their wedding took place at the Long Beach Naval Hospital right before Frankie was shipped overseas. Their daughter, Darlene Ada Darro, was born on January 25, 1946 (her name was suggested to the couple by none other than Mantan Moreland . . . Frankie and Betty were originally going to call her Daphne. Her middle name, Ada, was the name of Frankie's mother; see photo below, right, and further below, left.) The marriage would only last five years, ending in a bitter divorce. In various newspaper clippings (provided by Wade Ballard), it's revealed that Frankie was sued for divorce by Betty in July 1951. Paraphrasing, the article states "His second wife Betty Marie, 30, alleged Frankie was cruel to her. In Superior Court she asked for custody of their daughter, Darlene, 5, and reasonable support. Darro, 33, was formerly married to Aloha Wray, an actress." Another article further stated Betty Marie was divorcing Frankie because he "drank too much", and she was seeking $1 a month alimony and $75 a month for child support. This second article also states the couple separated January 23, 1951.
A third article goes even further, stating that Betty Marie claimed when Frankie got drunk he would hit her. Quoting from the article, " . . . when her attorney, Luther F. Opelt, asked her if it hurt when her husband hit her, she thought a moment and replied: "Not bad. It never left any marks." She testified, however, that Darro gambled and never "knew how to handle money when he had it." She said he bought her a washing machine, a toaster, a sewing machine and watch - but they were all taken back within six months, because she said, he failed to make even the down-payments on them."
A later article goes on to explain what happened after the preceding articles: "Frankie Darro, 36, one-time juvenile screen actor, was arrested by Hollywood detectives yesterday on a nonsupport warrant obtained by his former wife, Betty Cranborne (Editor's note: Betty remarried a man named Don Cranborne in 1951). Darro is charged by his ex-wife with failure to pay $75 a month for support of their child, Darlene, 8. Bail was set at $500. The Couple was divorced in 1951, after eight years of marriage (Editor's Note: it was actually only five years). Friends of Darro said yesterday the former child star has not been getting enough film and TV parts recently to support himself. He worked as a movie stuntman until he injured his shoulder in a fall a year ago, they said."
Frankie was actually quoted in another article about this arrest: "She says I owe her $1570" said Darro, "But I keep telling her she can't get blood out of a rock" The actor said that film work had been "very spotty" in recent years, although he occasionally plays a television role. "My wife told me she was going to have to put me in jail and I told her to go ahead," he said. The warrant was signed by Mrs. Betty Cranborne, 34, who divorced Darro in 1951. At the trial she testified the actor 'doesn't know how to handle money.' After a short time behind bars Darro was released on $500 bail posted by a friend."
Oddly enough, even with his off and on drinking problems, Frankie operated a bar on Santa Monica Blvd. for a time. The establishment was called the "Try Later". One article from the L.A. Daily News dated August 16, 1951 (provided by Wade Ballard) states: "The latest motion picture profile to go into the bistro business is actor Frankie Darro, who has opened up what he calls, without mincing words, 'a bar' on Santa Monica boulevard. This cocktail lounge is dubbed 'Try Later' and caters to 'the kids from pictures'. Darro explains the 'Try Later' as follows: "You know when you call Central Casting, they tell you only two things on the phone: 'No work' or 'Try later'." He adds: "This is my first venture into this business. I've always wanted to have a bar. I've spent so much money on the other side of bars that I thought I'd get behind one and get even." Darro, who is 33 years old, has been in pictures for 28 years. He just completed a couple of movies at Metro and says he isn't giving up his acting career. Associated with him in the enterprise is Lee Carroll, an ex-Hollywood agent. The "Try Later" features something called a Sunday Morning Club where hungry actors can get ham and eggs, potatoes, toast, coffee and a drink for one dollar. "But that's only if you're a member of the club," says Darro, "To be a member you've got to have a card and pay a dime. That's to keep out the riffraff."
One interesting sidenote to this venture was the fact that Frankie's business partner, Lee Carroll, was married at the time to Dorathy Carroll (her maiden name was Stedham; see photo, right . . . and yes, it was Dorathy with an 'a'). Dorathy sued Lee for divorce in 1952, citing neglect and infidelity on the part of her husband as grounds and winning $300 a month in alimony for herself and her daughter, Christy (oddly enough Christy was short for Christopher, not Christine!) Dorathy would become Frankie's third wife. Over the years Darlene would visit her father but often found herself playing second to Christy, who was now Frankie's stepdaughter. Despite the upheaval caused by her parents' divorce, Darlene still has great affection for her father.
In March 1970, Frankie participated in a USO tour of U.S. bases in Southeast Asia. Photos of the tour show Frankie looking well and posing with various groups of servicemen (see photo, left). In Richard Lamparskiís Fourth Series of Whatever Became Of . . . ? the author states that when Frankie left for the tour his apartment was full of patriotic posters, but he tore them all down upon his return; he was so disillusioned by what he had seen he could no longer support such "a dirty, filthy war."
Late in his life, Frankie was living in a very run
down apartment building (or hotel, depending on the source) located across from
the Lawlor Professional School which he had attended as a child. One story even
claims that he was living in the same building where his mother lived when she
used to watch him come and go from the school. Other reports say the
apartment was located above the space where the Try Later bar used to operate.
On Christmas Day in 1976, while visiting his stepdaughter Christy's home with Dorathy in Huntington Beach, California, Frankie Darro died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 59 years old.
This is his obituary as printed in Variety (thanks again to Wade):
Frankie Darro, 59, onetime child
actor who bridged the gap into adult roles, died suddenly Dec. 25 of a heart
attack while visiting friends in Huntington Beach, Calif. His wife,
Dorothy (sic) was with him at the time.
Darro, best known in recent years as the Old Lady on the Red Skelton show, launched his long career at the age of four and a half and for years was one of the best known boy actors, specializing in hard-boiled characters. As a juvenile, he was with FBO in many westerns.
Among his best-known films were "The Rainbow Man", "The Mayor of Hell", "Three Kids And A Queen", "Juvenile Court". In the Navy during World War II, he returned to acting when mustered out of the service and was active until several years ago."
Many thanks to Darlene Darro for providing priceless information for this biography! Darlene loves hearing from her father's fans, so if you would like to write to her just send your e-mail to Linda Kay and she will make sure Darlene receives it!