October 24, 2021

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Tommy Kirk, Younger Star of ‘Outdated Yeller,’ Is Useless at 79

Tommy Kirk, Young Star of ‘Old Yeller,’ Is Dead at 79

Tommy Kirk, who was a busy star within the Disney universe as a baby and younger man, showing in “Outdated Yeller,” “The Shaggy Canine,” “Swiss Household Robinson” and different films within the late Fifties and early ’60s, however whose profession was derailed when his homosexuality turned too extensively recognized and when medicine and alcohol bought the higher of him, died on Tuesday at his dwelling in Las Vegas. He was 79.

The Walt Disney Firm introduced his demise in an announcement, which didn’t give a trigger.

Mr. Kirk bought into present enterprise accidentally. An older brother was auditioning for “Ah, Wilderness!” on the Pasadena Playhouse in California and took Tommy, then 12, alongside; the brother didn’t get forged, however Tommy did (although not within the half his brother auditioned for).

“An agent got here backstage and launched himself and gave me his card and mentioned, ‘Would you’ve your people name me?’” Mr. Kirk recalled in an interview with the movie journal Scarlet Avenue in 1993. “My mother and pop did, and I ended up signed with a Beverly Hills company.”

He began getting tv roles virtually instantly, lots of them on the dwell one-hour dramas that had been ubiquitous in TV’s early days. Then he was forged as Joe, the youthful of the 2 crime-solving Hardy brothers (Tim Considine performed the opposite, Frank), in two “Hardy Boys” serial adventures broadcast on “The Mickey Mouse Membership” starting in 1956.

The subsequent 12 months Disney signed him to a seven-year contract and forged him because the boy, Travis, who befriends the canine title character within the basic household film “Outdated Yeller,” famed for its no-nonsense ending, by which Travis has to shoot his beloved pet as a result of the canine was uncovered to rabies.

“I actually cried,” Mr. Kirk mentioned of his work in that scene. “You’ll be able to’t pretend it; you’ve gotta cry. You’ll be able to’t simply make a face.”

The Library of Congress added “Outdated Yeller” to the Nationwide Movie Registry in 2019.

Beverly Washburn, who performed a neighbor lady within the movie and is now its final surviving forged member, recalled Mr. Kirk as “a superb youngster actor.”

“He was so gifted, and he was cute,” she mentioned in a cellphone interview. They turned lifelong mates.

The emotional ending to “Outdated Yeller” shocked many a younger viewer, however, she mentioned, Mr. Kirk had a specific view in regards to the film.

“Tommy’s philosophy on it was, it’s about love and loss,” she mentioned. “Life throws us some curves typically. Not every thing is a white picket fence.”

That was definitely the case for Mr. Kirk. He appeared in quite a few different Disney movies over the subsequent seven years, lots of them foolish, profitable comedies like “The Shaggy Canine” (1959), by which his character become a sheepdog, and “The Absent Minded Professor” (1961) and “Son of Flubber” (1963), which each starred Fred MacMurray as a person who invents a rubbery substance with improbable properties.

Mr. Kirk was additionally in “Swiss Household Robinson” (1960), the “Outdated Yeller” sequel “Savage Sam” (1963) and some different Disney efforts, however by the tip of his contract he was making an attempt the studio’s endurance. One incident, he mentioned, triggered the corporate to not renew his contract.

“I used to be caught having intercourse with a boy at a public pool in Burbank,” he mentioned, as quoted in a Liz Smith column in 1992. “We had been each younger, and the boy’s mom went to Walt.”

By then he was consuming closely and utilizing medicine.

“I used to be excessive on a regular basis,” he instructed Scarlet Avenue. “It was a horrible interval in my life. So I can perceive the studio letting me go.”

It was a interval when being recognized as homosexual was significantly damaging to a profession, and a 1964 marijuana arrest — Mr. Kirk was one in all 9 individuals charged when the police raided a Hollywood social gathering — didn’t assist his marketability.

He made just a few extra films over the subsequent decade, however that they had titles like “The Ghost within the Invisible Bikini” (1966) and “Blood of Ghastly Horror” (1967). There was additionally “It’s Alive” (1969), which, in a 1990 interview with The Lexington Herald-Chief of Kentucky, Mr. Kirk described as “a monster film so low-cost that the monster wore a scuba swimsuit and had Ping-Pong balls for eyes.”

By the mid-Nineteen Seventies he had given up performing. He give up medicine and located energy in Christianity, which he mentioned helped him with “purging myself of resentment and bitterness.” He based a carpet and fabric cleansing enterprise. He made just a few extra films within the Nineties and early 2000s, however for essentially the most half he restricted his present enterprise actions to autograph conventions.

In 2006 the Disney Firm named him a Disney Legend, an honor recognizing extraordinary contributions to the corporate.

“I don’t blame Disney for firing me,” he instructed Scarlet Avenue. “I used to be on medicine, and I used to be playing around in methods completely incompatible with a family-oriented studio. I’ve accepted it. I’ve accepted the truth that my profession was ruined by my habits and nobody and nothing else.”

Mr. Kirk was born on Dec. 10, 1941, in Louisville, Ky. His mother and father moved the household to California in 1944 in order that his father may work in an airplane manufacturing unit through the World Conflict II growth years.

Regardless of his troubles whereas underneath contract to Disney, Mr. Kirk had a fond reminiscence of Walt Disney himself that he typically associated. Nonetheless a baby actor, he bumped into him at a Beverly Hills resort.

“He was with Hedda Hopper, the legendary columnist,” Mr. Kirk instructed The Orlando Sentinel in 1991. “He put his arm round me, and he mentioned ‘That is my good-luck piece right here’ to Hedda Hopper. I by no means forgot that.”

Data on his survivors was not instantly obtainable.

Ms. Washburn, his “Outdated Yeller” co-star, who lived close to him in Las Vegas, would see him typically. He would all the time deliver a field of sweets when he got here to dinner, she mentioned. And so they labored autograph conventions collectively. She remembered that at any time when somebody in uniform — police, army or different — would come as much as purchase an autograph, Mr. Kirk would refuse their cash.

“He’d all the time say, ‘They’re our heroes, and I’ll all the time give them a free image,’” she mentioned.

Ms. Washburn recalled one look with Mr. Kirk by which she talked about that the 2 had been mates, and a perplexed lady within the crowd piped up.

“He’s the one who shot Outdated Yeller,” the lady mentioned. “How are you going to nonetheless be mates with him?”

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