Obituary: Dickie Moore
Child star who acted opposite Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple but tired of his 'cute' label as he grew up
Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30
Dickie Moore, who has died aged 89, was a child star of the 1930s and 1940s, appearing in a large number of Hollywood films and gave a 14-year-old Shirley Temple her first screen kiss.
With his striking combination of fair hair, dark, intense eyes and angelic, dimpled features, Moore, who made his screen debut aged just 11 months, featured as the "baby" of many famous names, including Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932) and Ann Harding in Peter Ibbetson (1935).
A member of the Our Gang cast in 1932-33, he then played the title role in the 1933 film adaptation of Oliver Twist, produced on a shoe-string by the Monogram studios, a picture which was notable for being the first ever sound version of the story, but which was otherwise panned by the critics. He was 16 when he played the rich high-school kid who bestows a kiss on a somewhat startled Shirley Temple in Miss Annie Rooney (1942). That film, too, received a critical pasting.
John Richard Moore was born in Los Angeles on September 12, 1925 and got his first break the following year when the casting director at Fox Pictures arrived at the family home to pick up a colleague whose car had broken down, noticed the baby of the family playing in his cot and claimed to have detected a likeness to the actor John Barrymore.
He made his screen debut as a baby in The Beloved Rogue (1926) followed by a similar role in Object: Alimony (1928) with Hugh Allan and Lois Wilson. But his earliest film memories were of making Passion Flower (1930), with Kay Francis, and Lummox (1930) with Dorothy Janis. He enjoyed working with Dorothy Janis, whom he described as "sweet to me" but "just not tough enough for the movies".
He learnt some harsh lessons about Hollywood during the filming of Cecil B DeMille's The Squaw Man (1931), in which he was cast as the child of a former British Army officer (Warner Baxter) and a beautiful Indian squaw (Lupe Velez). "DeMille was a bully and a bastard," Moore recalled. "[He] was completely insensitive to other people and their feelings and even hit me. I was a five-year old kid and he hit me! He really was a piece of work ."
"I realised aged six," he recalled later "that I had to be horrible just to make it down the line to collect my lunch in the studio commissary [canteen] each day."
Dickie Moore's other early credits included Son of the Gods (1930) with Constance Bennett; Let Us Be Gay (1931) with Norma Shearer; Seed (1931) co-starring Bette Davis; So Big! (1932) with Mae Madison and Barbara Stanwyck; Million Dollar Legs (1932) with Jack Oakie and Susan Fleming; Deception (1932) with Thelma Todd, and The Life of Emile Zola (1937). In 1940 he was partnered with Shirley Temple for Blue Bird - 20th Century Fox's answer to The Wizard of Oz. He found his female co-star "fun and unpretentious", though the same could not be said of her mother whom he regarded as "pushy and then some".
By this time, however, Dickie Moore had reached a self-conscious adolescence and had become weary of just being "cute". He objected to his role in Heaven Can Wait (1943) in which he played a pampered teenager kept in short trousers by parents who are determined to shield him from the outside world. He lost the innocent charm that had made him such a star as a child and as a result his later film career was disappointing. "I knew what was wanted of me and I knew how to do it, but simply had little interest in the films or the characters," he recalled.
After a stint in the US Army during the Second World War, reporting on Pacific operations for Stars and Stripes, Dickie Moore acted in, co-directed and co-produced a two-reel documentary called The Boy and the Eagle, about a disabled young man who nurses a wounded eagle back to health, which was nominated for an Oscar in 1949.
As an adult he worked as an actor and director on radio and television and on Broadway and off-Broadway productions, but gave up Hollywood after taking a small role as a soldier in Member of the Wedding (1952). In 1956 he appeared in a Broadway production of Shaw's Saint Joan, with Siobhan McKenna in the title role.
Dickie Moore went on to produce and direct United Service Organisation-sponsored overseas tours and lectured at the University of California, Los Angeles.
During the 1970s he began writing for television and formed his own PR company in New York.
Moore published several books on acting, including Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car), published in 1984, an insider's account of life as a child star. During the 1980s he re-established contact with old Hollywood friends when Edith Fellows formed a club for former child stars called The Survivors. In 1988 he married the actress Jane Powell and moved with her to Connecticut before returning to New York. He was happy to be known simply as her husband. She survives him.
Dickie Moore died on September 10, two days before his 90th birthday.