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Grapes of Wrath, Leave Her to Heaven Actor Was 92

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Darryl Hickman, who appeared in such films as The Grapes of Wrath and Leave Her to Heaven as a youngster before becoming a CBS executive in charge of daytime drama and an actor once more, has died. He was 92.

Hickman, who lived in Montecito, died Wednesday, his family announced.  

He was the older brother (by three years) of the late Dwayne Hickman, who starred on the 1959-63 CBS comedy The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Darryl appeared with his brother in Captain Eddie (1945) — he played famed fighter pilot Eddie RickeNBAcker as a boy — and on three first-season episodes of Dobie as older brother Davey, who came home from college.

In 1951, after appearances in more than 40 movies, Hickman — who had been a contract player at Paramount and MGM — became disillusioned with the Business and entered a monastery, though he was back in show Business before long.

Hickman had made his first movie appearance in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and had one line of dialogue in If I Were King (1938) before he sang and tap-danced in The Star Maker (1939), starring Bing Crosby.

Bing’s brother, Everett Crosby, became his agent and got Hickman an interview with director John Ford, who was casting the part of Winfield, the youngest member of the Joad family, in an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl classic The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

About 100 kids were brought in to try for the role. Asked why he gave Hickman the job, Ford replied, “He was the only kid that didn’t act like an actor.” Hickman said he had a great time during production “riding around on the top of that truck on Route 66 with Shirley Mills” (she played his sister, Ruthie).

In the Technicolor film noir classic Leave Her to Heaven (1945), directed by John M. Stahl, Hickman stood out as the disabled younger brother of Cornel Wilde who drowns in a lake as the callous Gene Tierney looks on.

Hickman also played younger versions of Ira Gershwin (Robert Alda) and Van Heflin’s Sam Masterson in Rhapsody in Blue (1945) and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), respectively; was a mentally slow child in the wartime melodrama The Human Comedy (1943); and starred as the son of a gambling-house owner (Clark Gable) in Any Number Can Play (1949).

He had a year-plus stint on Broadway, taking over for Robert Morse as J. Pierrepont Finch in the original production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which ran from 1961-65.

Hickman also appeared in Paddy Chayefsky’s acclaimed Network (1976) as a West Coast TV executive and in the Burt Reynolds-starrer Sharky’s Machine (1981) as a cop who turns bad.

Darryl Gerard Hickman was born in Los Angeles on July 28, 1931, the son of an insurance salesman. He was discovered by one of his father’s clients, Ethel Meglin, a former Ziegfeld girl who presided over Meglin’s Kiddies, a troupe of young performers.

After The Grapes of Wrath, Hickman appeared with Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney in Men of Boys Town (1941) and in the Our Gang comedy Going to Press (1942). In Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), his character, the scalawag Johnny Tevis, says: “Tootie, if you don’t hit Mr. Braukoff in the face with flour and say, ‘I hate you,’ the Banshee will haunt you forever!”

Hickman graduated from Cathedral High School in Los Angeles in 1948, dated Elizabeth Taylor, appeared in A Kiss for Corliss (1949) — he had also acted on the radio show — and, after his short stay in a monastery, enrolled at Loyola University.

He made his living during the 1950s primarily by guest-starring on TV shows including The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Perry Mason, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, General Electric TheaterStudio One in Hollywood and Tales of Wells Fargo.

Hickman wrote for NBC’s The Loretta Young Show in 1961 and also starred that year as a Union solder on a short-lived series for the network, The Americans.

In the 1970s in New York, Hickman worked as a producer on the CBS soap opera Love of Life (then starring a young Christopher Reeve as bad boy Ben Harper) and spent about five years in charge of the network’s daytime programming.

He came back to Los Angeles in 1977 to produce A Year at the Top, a sitcom from Norman Lear‘s TAT Communications that starred Paul Shaffer. He also taught acting, did voice work on Jonny Quest and other cartoons and appeared on Baywatch and The Nanny.

In 2006, Hickman appeared on Turner Classic Movies, where, along with other former child actors Margaret O’Brien (his Meet Me in St. Louis co-star), Dickie Moore and Jane Withers, he was interviewed by the late Robert Osborne. “I’ve had 12 psychiatrists and it cost me $85,000 to be able to sit here with some degree of sanity,” he said.

Hickman’s book about acting, The Unconscious Actor: Out of Control, In Full CoMMAnd, was published in 2007. He said he was greatly iNFLuenced by Tracy and director George Cukor after working with them in Keeper of the Flame (1942).

Hickman married actress Pamela Lincoln in 1960, whom he had met on the set of the Vincent Price horror film The Tingler (1959). A few years after they divorced, their youngest son, Justin, died by suicide in 1985.

Dwayne Hickman died in January 2021 of complications from Parkinson’s disease at age 87.

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.

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