“Old Yeller” actor “Shaggy Dog” was 79 – The Hollywood Reporter


Tommy Kirk, whose career as a prominent young man in Disney films like Old town crier, The shaggy dog and Flubber’s son ended, he said, after the studio found out he was gay, passed away. He was 79 years old.

Kirk lived alone in Las Vegas and was found dead on Tuesday, actor Paul Petersen reported on Facebook.

Kirk first made his mark when he played the role of Detective Joe Hardy in a pair of Hardy Boys television series, “The Mystery of Applegate’s Treasure” and “The Mystery of the Ghost Farm”, offshoots of ABC’s The Mickey Mouse Club aired in 1956-57.

He also played the second son, Ernst, in Swiss family Robinson (1960) – James MacArthur and Kevin Corcoran were his brothers and John Mills and Dorothy McGuire his parents – and played college mastermind Merlin Jones opposite Annette Funicello in two other Disney films.

Kirk brought movie audiences many tears as he played the campaign kid Travis Coates alongside a heroic Labrador Retriever in Old Yeller (1957), then transformed himself into a dog – a sheepdog named Chiffonn – into The shaggy dog (1959), the first of four films he made with Fred MacMurray.

After playing Biff Hawk, the son of MacMurray’s chemistry professor, in The absent professor (1961) and more Flubber’s son (1963), Kirk had unexpected success with The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), which was made for television before Disney decided to place it in theaters instead.

While filming the film, Kirk, then 21, started seeing a 15-year-old boy he had met in a swimming pool. Disney executives learned of the relationship through the boy’s mother, and Kirk was fired, although he returned for another film, the Merlin Jones sequel. The monkey’s uncle (1965).

“When I was about 17 or 18, I finally admitted to myself that [he was gay and] wasn’t going to change, “he told Kevin Minton in an interview for a 1993 article titled” Sex, Lies, and Disney Tape: Walt’s Fallen Star “for Filmfax magazine. “I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had a sure feeling it was going to ruin my Disney career and maybe my entire acting career.”

He added, “Disney was a family film studio and I was supposed to be their leading young man. After they found out that I was involved with someone, it was the end of Disney.

The circumstances of his departure were not made public and Kirk landed at American International Pictures, where he played a Martian during a meeting with Funicello in Sleepover (1964).

However, his career has never been the same after starring in several bad movies, starting with Giants Village (1965) and The ghost in an invisible bikini (1966). Like many former child actors in Hollywood, Kirk also struggled with drug addiction.

Tommy Kirk in the 1957 movie “Old Yeller”
Walt Disney Pictures / Photofest

One of four sons, Thomas Harvey Kirk was born on December 10, 1941 in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his family moved to Downey, California when he was a baby, and his father, Louis, went to work in the aircraft industry as a mechanic. Her mother, Doris, was a stenographer.

In 1954 Kirk accompanied his older brother Joe to an audition for Eugene O’Neill Ah, the desert at the Pasadena Playhouse and ended up with a role (while Joe didn’t) opposite Will Rogers Jr. and Bobby Driscoll.

It was signed by an agent who saw it in there, and Kirk appeared in The peacemaker (1956) and on television in Lux Video Theater, The Loretta Young Show, Gun smoke and over 30 episodes of Matinee Theater before getting his first contract with Disney.

In 1956, the studio sent him along with Mouseketeer Judy Harriet to Democratic and Republican national conventions for special news broadcasts.

Kirk was earning $ 1,000 a week, but quickly went through “a rough patch,” he noted in 1962. “I was thin and lanky and looked messy. That’s when the studio told me they didn’t have any future plans for me, so I was ditched.

“I thought the whole world was falling apart. But soon after, the studio called me and offered me a role in Swiss family Robinson. I got a brand new contract and have been working ever since.

Marijuana arrest cost him work in 1965 films Katie Elder’s sons and How to stuff a wild bikini, and he told Minton that he “had almost died of an overdose several times.”

Kirk has also appeared in such dismal projects as It’s a bikini world (1967), Catalina capers (1967), Dreadful horror blood (1967), Mars needs women (1968), The 60 foot central folds attack (1995) and Billy frankenstein (1998).

However, he said he got his life back on track and ran a San Fernando Valley-based carpet and upholstery cleaning company for years.

On the occasion of being appointed Disney legend in 2006, Kirk recalled bumping into Walt Disney at a Beverly Hills hotel when the studio director was a gossip columnist:. I never forgot that. It’s the best compliment he has ever given me.

On Facebook, Petersen – the Donna Reed Show star who started the support group A Minor Consideration to lend a hand to former child actors like himself – noted that Kirk was “alienated from what’s left of his blood family.”

“Please know that Tommy Kirk loved you, his fans,” he added. “You picked it up when an industry let it down in 1965. It wasn’t bitter. His church comforted him. May God have mercy on his soul.


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