Darryl Hickman, one of Hollywood’s most versatile child actors in the 1940s in films such as the Depression-era saga “The Grapes of Wrath” and the dark thriller “Leave Her to Heaven,” and who later played a supporting role to his younger brother Dwayne on TV’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” died May 22 at age 92.

The death was announced in a family statement, which gave no further details. Hickman, who lived in Montecito, Calif., had been treated for Parkinson’s disease.

With expressive chestnut eyes and slightly pug nose as a boy, Hickman carried a mix of tenderness and grit that made him a favorite of directors and casting agents. About 100 boys tried out to play Winfield Joad, the youngest member of a struggling Dust Bowl family that strikes out for California in the 1940 film version of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” starring Henry Fonda.

Director John Ford said he picked Hickman, then 9, because “he was the only kid that didn’t act like an actor.” Ford, who won the best director Academy Award for the film, had a fearsome reputation on the set but showed special kindness to Hickman and the young actress Shirley Mills, who played his sister. At 4 p.m. tea, Ford saved the best treats for the children, Hickman said. “He would bring Shirley and me the good cookies,” he recalled.

Over the next decade, Hickman worked on more than 40 films featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

In 1941, he played a reform-school urchin in “Men of Boys Town,” with some reviewers saying he was as much as force in the movie as the stars, Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy. During War War II, he was part of morale-boosting movies such as “Joe Smith, American” (1942) with Robert Young and landed a small part as a neighbor boy in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), starring Judy Garland.


In the noir-style classic “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945), Hickman played Danny Harland, the physically challenged younger brother of a writer (played by Cornel Wilde) whose wife (Gene Tierney) becomes increasingly obsessive over their relationship. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Tierney’s character looks on coldly as Danny drowns in a lake.

In 1949 – just as Hickman was about to leave his teens – he starred as the son of an illegal casino operator (Clark Gable) in “Any Number Can Play.” In real life, adulthood became a difficult adjustment for Hickman. He said he missed the special attention of being the kid on the set. He stepped away from acting in the early 1950s and briefly entered a monastery with thoughts of becoming a monk.

He returned to Hollywood, but the roles were fewer and the auditions more demanding. As television grew, Hickman made the transition. He appeared in episodes of shows such as “Perry Mason,” “The Untouchables” and “Gunsmoke.”

Meanwhile, his younger brother Dwayne had taken the family spotlight as the girl-crazy Dobie Gillis in the popular 1959-1963 series on CBS. Hickman was cast in a role he knew best: as the older sibling. He was in three episodes as Dobie’s brother, Davey, a college student who comes back to visit. (Hickman was in his late 20s at the time.)

“Well,” Davey tells Dobie while giving advice on dating in a 1959 episode, “if a guy doesn’t know it all by the time he’s 20, he may as well throw in the towel.”

Intentional or not, the line about youthful smugness reflected Hickman’s difficulties later in life. In an appearance with other former child actors in a discussion panel on Turner Classic Movies in 2006, Hickman told host Robert Osborne about how he was unprepared for life after his youthful acclaim.


“I’ve had 12 psychiatrists and it cost me $85,000 to be able to sit here with some degree of sanity,” he said.

Darryl Gerard Hickman was born on July 28, 1931, in Los Angeles. His mother was a homemaker, and his father sold insurance – which may have given young Darryl his first break in show business.

According to Hickman’s account, the owner of a children’s dance studio, a former Ziegfeld chorus girl named Ethel Meglin, said she would buy an insurance policy from his father only if he enrolled his son for lessons. The classes led to auditions and a studio contract with Paramount, bringing his first film appearance in 1937’s “The Prisoner of Zenda.”

Hickman beat out hundreds of other boys for a role singing and tap dancing in “The Star Maker,” a 1939 musical comedy starring Bing Crosby. The crooner was impressed enough by the boy to recommend him to his brother, Everett Crosby, a well-connected agent who agreed to represent Hickman.

During his flurry of movie roles in the 1940s, Hickman said he became friends with actress Elizabeth Taylor at a Paramount-funded school, sometimes tossing around a football and cleaning out horse stables together. As teens, Taylor agreed to be his date to a pool party, he said.

Hickman served in the Army from 1954 to 1956, then returned to film and TV work until the early 1960s when he shifted to production and screenwriting. On Broadway, he substituted for star Robert Morse in the original production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” playing the striving and conniving J. Pierrepont Finch in 1963.


He was an associate producer of the CBS soap opera “Love of Life” in the early 1970s, and later led the network’s daytime programming until 1977. Some of his final movie roles included playing a TV executive in the drama “Network” (1976) and as a crooked cop in “Sharky’s Machine” (1981), starring Burt Reynolds.

Hickman’s book on acting techniques, “The Unconscious Actor: Out of Control, in Full Command,” was published in 2007. He noted that some of his most important influences were Tracy and director George Cukor, watching them on the set of the drama “Keeper of the Flame” (1942).

Hickman’s marriage to actress Pamela Lincoln ended in divorce. They had two sons. The youngest, Justin Hickman, died by suicide in 1985. His brother Dwayne died in 2022. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

When Hickman looked back on his years growing up in the movie business, he said he could not recapture that high. “A lot of emotion trouble comes not from loathing the life,” he said in a 1984 interview, “but from aching for it.”

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