Motion Picture Daily, 1935
Frank Johnson, Jr.
December 22, 1917
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||December 25, 1976 (aged 59)|
|Resting place||Ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean|
|Other names||Frankie Darrow|
|Voice of Romeo "Lampwick" in Disney's Pinocchio (1940) |
Eddie Smith in Wild Boys of the Road (1933)
|Spouse(s)||Aloha Wray (divorced)|
(m. 1943; div. 1951)
|Parent(s)||The Flying Johnsons|
Frankie Darro (born Frank Johnson, Jr.; December 22, 1917 – December 25, 1976) was an American actor and later in his career a stuntman. He began his career as a child actor in silent films, progressed to lead roles and co-starring roles in adventure, western, dramatic, and comedy films, and later became a character actor and voice-over artist. He is perhaps best known for his role as Lampwick, the unlucky boy who turns into a donkey in Walt Disney's second animated feature, Pinocchio (1940). In early credits, his last name was spelled Darrow.
Frankie Darro was born on Saturday, December 22, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois, as Frank Johnson, Jr. His parents, Frank Johnson, Sr. and his wife Ada, were known as The Flying Johnsons, a flying circus act with the Sells Floto Circus; it was a profession that his father attempted to train him in, and he cured Frankie's fear of heights by having him walk on a length of wire, gradually raising the height of it until his son had mastered the trick.
In 1922, while the circus was in California, his parents divorced, and their circus act ended along with their marriage. The growing film industry, however, found a use for a small child who could do his own stunts, and the young Johnson, renamed "Frankie Darro," appeared in his first film at the age of six.
As a child actor, he appeared in many silent adventure, western, and serial pictures of the 1920s. His visual appeal and his obvious comfort before the cameras kept him steadily employed. Darro remained popular in serials as the star or co-star; he appeared in the serial The Phantom Empire, opposite the new cowboy star Gene Autry.
Darro was featured in Mervyn LeRoy's Three on a Match in 1932 and was the principal character in the James Cagney feature The Mayor of Hell (1933). His most important role during the 1930s was as the lead in Wild Boys of the Road, director William Wellman's indictment of teens vagabonding across America during the Depression. From then on, Frankie Darro was usually cast as pint-sized tough guys, although he also played wholesome leads in mysteries and comedies.
Darro's name grew in stature, but he himself didn't: he stood only five feet, three inches, limiting his potential as a leading man. His wiry, athletic frame and relatively short stature often typecast him as jockeys; Darro played crooked riders in Charlie Chan at the Race Track and A Day at the Races. In 1938 Darro joined Monogram Pictures to star in a series of action melodramas. Darro's flair for comedy gradually increased the laugh content in these films, and by 1940 Mantan Moreland was hired to play his sidekick. The Frankie Darro series was so successful that Monogram used it as a haven for performers whose own series had been discontinued: Jackie Moran, Marcia Mae Jones, and Keye Luke joined Darro and Moreland in 1940, and Gale Storm was added in 1941.
Darro served in the US Navy Hospital Corps during World War II, wherein he contracted malaria. Upon his return to civilian life, Monogram welcomed him back and cast the perennially youthful Darro in its The Teen Agers campus comedies. When that series ended, the studio gave Darro four featured roles in its popular Bowery Boys comedies. Darro's last assignment for Monogram, in 1950, was doubling for Leo Gorcey in Blues Busters.
Darro's recurring malaria symptoms caused him to increase his alcohol intake for pain management, and this affected his career. As film and TV roles became fewer, Darro opened his own tavern, naming it "Try Later" after the answer he most often received when he asked Central Casting for work. His new occupation proved unwise, however, given his heavy drinking. By the mid-1950s, he had become too risky for producers to hire steadily.
No longer starring in films, Darro accepted smaller roles and did stunt work for other actors in various films. Frankie Darro is probably best known to modern audiences for two films in which he isn't even seen: Walt Disney's Pinocchio (1940, as the voice of Lampwick) and Forbidden Planet (1956, as one of the actor/operators inside the now iconic 7-foot-tall "Robby the Robot").
Darro did continue to play small parts well into the 1960s, mostly on television: The Red Skelton Show, Bat Masterson, Have Gun—Will Travel, The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Addams Family, and Batman (episodes 9 and 10); he also did voice-over work for various projects.
While visiting an ex-wife and his step-daughter Christy in Huntington Beach, California, Darro died of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1976, three days after his 59th birthday. His remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.
- Judgment of the Storm (1924) as Heath Twin (first role)
- Half-A-Dollar-Bill (1924) as Half-A-Dollar-Bill
- The Signal Tower (1924) as Sonny Taylor
- Racing for Life (1924) as Jimmy Danton
- Roaring Rails (1924) as Little Bill
- So Big (1924) as Dirk DeJong (child)
- Women and Gold (1925) as Dan Barclay Jr.
- The Fearless Lover (1925) as Frankie
- Her Husband's Secret (1925) as Young Elliot Owen
- Confessions of a Queen (1925) as Prince Zara
- Fighting the Flames (1925) as Mickey
- Let's Go, Gallagher (1925) as Little Joey
- Wandering Footsteps (1925) as Billy
- The Wyoming Wildcat (1925) as Barnie Finn
- The People vs. Nancy Preston (1925) as Bubsy
- The Phantom Express (1925) as 'Daddles' Lane - Nora's Brother
- The Midnight Flyer (1925) as Young Davey
- The Cowboy Musketeer (1925) as Billy Gordon
- Mike (1926) as Boy
- Born to Battle (1926) as Birdie
- The Thrill Hunter (1926) as Boy Prince
- Memory Lane (1926) as Urchin
- The Arizona Streak (1926) as Mike
- Kiki (1926) as Pierre
- Wild to Go (1926) as Frankie Blake
- The Masquerade Bandit (1926) as Tim Marble
- Hearts and Spangles (1926) as Bobby
- The Cowboy Cop (1926) as Frankie
- The Carnival Girl (1926) as Her Brother
- Tom and His Pals (1926) as Frankie Smith
- Out of the West (1926) as Frankie O'Connor
- Red Hot Hoofs (1926) as Frankie Buckley
- Flesh and the Devil (1926) as Boy Who Dances with Hertha (uncredited)
- Her Father Said No (1927) as Matt Doe
- Enemies of Society (1927) as Sandy Barry
- Long Pants (1927) as Young Harry Shelby (uncredited)
- Cyclone of the Range (1927) as Frankie Butler
- Tom's Gang (1927) as Spuds
- Lightning Lariats (1927) as King Alexis
- Judgment of the Hills (1927) as Tad Dennison
- The Flying U Ranch (1927) as Chip Jr
- The Desert Pirate (1927) as Jimmy Rand
- Little Mickey Grogan (1927) as Mickey Grogan
- The Texas Tornado (1928) as Buddy Martin
- When the Law Rides (1928) as Frankie Ross
- Phantom of the Range (1928) as Spuds O'Brien
- Terror Mountain (1928) as Buddy Roberts
- The Circus Kid (1928) as Buddy
- The Avenging Rider (1928) as Frankie Sheridan
- Tyrant of Red Gulch (1928) as 'Tip'
- Trail of the Horse Thieves (1929) as Buddy
- Gun Law (1929) as Buster Brown
- Idaho Red (1929) as Tadpole
- The Rainbow Man (1929) as Billy Ryan
- The Pride of Pawnee (1929) as Jerry Wilson
- Blaze o'Glory (1929) as Jean Williams
- The Public Enemy (1931) as the young Matt Doyle (uncredited)
- The Vanishing Legion (1931, Serial) as Jimmie Williams
- The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931) as Larry Claudet - as a Boy (uncredited)
- The Lightning Warrior (1931, Serial) as Jimmy Carter
- The Mad Genius (1931) as the young Fedor Ivanoff
- Way Back Home (1931) as Robbie
- The Cheyenne Cyclone (1931) as 'Orphan' McGuire
- Amateur Daddy (1932) as Pete Smith
- Three on a Match (1932) as Bobby
- The Devil Horse (1932, Serial) as Frankie Graham - The Wild Boy
- The Mayor of Hell (1933) as James 'Jimmy' Smith
- Laughing at Life (1933) as Chango
- Tugboat Annie (1933) as Alec, as a Child
- Wild Boys of the Road (1933) as Edward 'Eddie' Smith
- The Wolf Dog (1933, Serial) as Frank Courtney
- The Big Race (1934) as Knobby
- No Greater Glory (1934) as Feri Ats
- The Merry Frinks (1934) as Norman Frink
- Burn 'Em Up Barnes (1934, Serial) as Bobbie Riley
- Broadway Bill (1934) as Ted Williams
- Little Men (1934) as Dan
- Red Hot Tires (1935) as Johnny
- The Phantom Empire (1935, Serial) as Frankie Baxter
- The Unwelcome Stranger (1935) as Charlie Anderson
- Stranded (1935) as James 'Jimmy' Rivers
- Men of Action (1935) as Johnny Morgan
- Valley of Wanted Men (1935) as Slivers Sanderson
- Three Kids and a Queen (1935) as Blackie
- The Payoff (1935) as Jimmy Moore
- Black Gold (1936) as Clifford 'Fishtail' O'Reilly
- The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) as Spike Salisbury (uncredited)
- Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936) as 'Tip' Collins, Jockey
- Born to Fight (1936) as 'Babyface' Madison
- Racing Blood (1936) as Frankie Reynolds
- Mind Your Own Business (1936) as Bob
- The Devil Diamond (1937) as Lee aka Kid Harris
- Headline Crasher (1937) as James 'Jimmy' Forbush Tallant, Jr.
- Tough to Handle (1937) as Mike Sanford
- A Day at the Races (1937) as Morgan's jockey (uncredited)
- Anything for a Thrill (1937) as Dan Mallory
- Saratoga (1937) as Dixie Gordon
- Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) as 'Dink' Reid
- Young Dynamite (1937) as Freddie Shields
- Reformatory (1938) as Louie Miller
- The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1938, Serial) as Jerry, aka Little Brave Heart
- Juvenile Court (1938) as Stubby
- Wanted by the Police (1938) as Danny Murphy
- Tough Kid (1938) as 'Skipper' Murphy
- Boys' Reformatory (1939) as Tommy Ryan
- Irish Luck (1939) (1st film with Mantan Moreland) as Buzzy O'Brien
- Chasing Trouble (1940) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie "Cupid" O'Brien
- Pinocchio (1940) as Lampwick (voice, uncredited)
- On the Spot (1940) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie Kelly
- Laughing at Danger (1940) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie Kelly
- Up in the Air (1940) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie Ryan
- You're Out of Luck (1941) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie O'Reilly
- The Gang's All Here (1941) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie O'Malley
- Let's Go Collegiate (1941) (with Mantan Moreland) as Frankie Monahan
- Tuxedo Junction (1941) as Jack 'Sock' Anderson
- Junior G-Men of the Air (1942, Serial) as Jack (last before joining the US Navy)
- Take It or Leave It (1944) as Radio Listener
- Junior Prom (1946) as Roy Donne (first after World War II and first of the TeenAgers series)
- Freddie Steps Out (1946) as Roy Donne
- Chick Carter, Detective (1946, Serial) as Thug (uncredited)
- High School Hero (1946) as Roy Donne
- Sarge Goes to College (1947) as Roy Donne
- That's My Man (1947) as Jockey
- Smart Politics (1948) as Roy Donne
- Angels' Alley (1948) as Jimmy
- Heart of Virginia (1948) as Jimmy Easter
- The Babe Ruth Story (1948) as Newsboy (uncredited)
- Trouble Makers (1948) as Ben Feathers
- Fighting Fools (1949) as Johnny Higgins (last leading role)
- Hold That Baby! (1949) as Bananas Stewart
- Sons of New Mexico (1949) as Gig Jackson
- Riding High (1950) as Jockey Williams
- The Next Voice You Hear... (1950) as Newsboy (uncredited)
- A Life of Her Own (1950) as Bellboy (uncredited)
- Wyoming Mail (1950) as Rufe
- The Red Skelton Show (1951, TV Series) as the Little Old Lady
- Pride of Maryland (1951) as Steve Loomis
- Across the Wide Missouri (1951) as Cadet (uncredited)
- Westward the Women (1951) as Jean's Awaiting Groom (uncredited)
- The Sellout (1952) as Little Jake (uncredited)
- Pat and Mike (1952) as Caddy (uncredited)
- Siren of Bagdad (1953) as Man in Camp after Raid (uncredited)
- Racing Blood (1954) as Ben, a Jockey
- The Lawless Rider (1954) as Jim Bascom
- Living It Up (1954) as Bellboy Captain (uncredited)
- Forbidden Planet (1956) as Robby the Robot (uncredited)
- The Ten Commandments (1956) as Slave (uncredited)
- The Perfect Furlough (1958) as Soldier in Hospital in Cast (uncredited)
- Operation Petticoat (1959) as Pharmacists Mate 3rd Class Dooley, USN
- The Untouchables (1960, TV Series) as News Vendor
- The Carpetbaggers (1964) as Bellhop (uncredited)
- The Disorderly Orderly (1964) as Board Member (uncredited)
- Batman (1966, TV Series) as Newsman
- Fugitive Lovers (1975) as Lester, the town drunk (Darro's final film role)
- Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the silent era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 174. ISBN 9781557835512. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
- Frankie Darro biography at (re)Search my Trash, retrieved 28 May 2007
- Weaver, Tom Robert Dix Interview Earth Vs. The Sci-Fi Filmmakers: 20 Interviews, p. 72, McFarland, July 30, 2005.
- Gloske, John. Tough Kid: The Life and Films of Frankie Darro, Lulu, 2008, ISBN 978-0557003815.
- Twomey, Alfred E. and Arthur F. McClure. The Versatiles: A Study of Supporting Character Actors and Actresses in the American Motion Picture, 1930-1955", South Brunswick, New York, 1969.
- Katchmer, George A. A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses, McFarland, 2002, pp. 85-86.
- Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 87-88.
- Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 50-51.
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