Dickie Moore: Child star who made more than 100 films, played Marlene Dietrich's son and gave Shirley Temple her first screen kiss

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The Independent Online

Before he was Dick Moore, public relations executive for arts groups and trade unions, he was known to millions of cinema audiences as Dickie Moore, blond-haired, big-brown-eyed child actor in more than 100 films.

His debut came when he was 11 months, when he portrayed John Barrymore's character as an infant in the 1927 silent film The Beloved Rogue. He was later Marlene Dietrich's son in Blonde Venus (1932), played the title role in Oliver Twist (1933) and appeared in a series of "Our Gang" shorts. He grew up before the cameras, planting the first screen kiss on Shirley Temple, in Miss Annie Rooney (1942). He recalled being "traumatised" by the experience.

For a time Moore was one of Hollywood's most prolific young actors, playing a child cured of rabies by Paul Muni in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) and the son of the persecuted French military officer Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola (1937). He made 19 films in 1932 alone and received thousands of fan letters. Signing them became so habitual that the young star once said that when he was eight he accidentally signed his mother's birthday card, "from your friend, Dickie Moore."

Film critics found him appealing, but over time he failed to develop the range – and the consistent star billing – that made enduring household names of former child stars such as Temple, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, Natalie Wood or Roddy McDowall. Nevertheless, he shared the screen with some of the biggest names of his era, including WC Fields (Million Dollar Legs, 1932), Barbara Stanwyck (So Big!, 1932) and Spencer Tracy (Man's Castle, 1933). His favourite role, he said, was as the younger brother of First World War hero Alvin York in Sergeant York (1941), starring Gary Cooper.

Moore's film career waned in adolescence, but he avoided some of the hardships suffered by many of his peers: the fortunes squandered by avaricious parents and guardians, the descent into alcoholism or drug abuse or other wayward behaviour, the lack of even a high school education to forge the path to new opportunities.

Moore once described his parents as "very penurious people from poor hard-scrabble stock" who rewarded him with a dime after he completed each film. They tried to give him an ordinary childhood, without the usual Hollywood indulgences. He went to public school, not a cloistered classroom on a studio lot.

He served in the Army during the Second World War and became a correspondent in the Pacific for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. That enabled him to use the GI Bill to attend college classes.

"I had learned how to do something – I could edit a magazine, work on a newspaper," he said in 1984. "I wouldn't have known if I hadn't gone to college. Those who had the most trouble were those who didn't have money saved for them and those who were never encouraged to do anything else."

Born in Los Angeles in 1925, he entered the film industry through a family friend who worked as a secretary for a studio executive. After the war he found his status in Hollywood had changed. Where he had once had carte blanche at a studio, he now had to wait at the front gates for a chaperone. Where directors had once clamoured for him, he was now forced to audition. He underwent psychoanalysis.

There were intermittent screen roles. He was the young deaf mute friend of Robert Mitchum in one of the finest film noir dramas, Out of the Past (1947), while his final role was as a soldier in The Member of the Wedding (1952), based on Carson McCullers's book and play.

Moore also narrated, co-produced and co-directed an Oscar-nominated short film, Boy and the Eagle (1949). He did some stage acting then became public relations director for the Actors' Equity Association, the stage actors' union, and edited its magazine. He started his own firm in 1966.

He wrote a book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car (1984), for which he interviewed dozens of former child actors. "All of us shared common lives and times, huge responsibilities and salaries that shrivelled fathers' egos," he wrote.

Amid his research, he fell in love with the former child actress and film musical star Jane Powell. They married in 1988; his earlier marriages, to Patricia Dempsey and Eleanor Fitzpatrick, had both ended in divorce.

Moore once said that when he saw his old films or photos, he felt little connection to that part of himself. He also expressed no interest in the child actors of the present. "I'm impatient," he said. "I don't empathise with them at all, they're just too cute and adorable for words. Doesn't it make you sick to your stomach?" µ ADAM BERNSTEIN

John Richard Moore, actor and businessman: born Los Angeles 12 September 1925; married 1948 Pat Dempsey (divorced 1954), 1959 Eleanor Fitzpatrick (marriage dissolved), 1988 Jane Powell; died Fairfield County, Connecticut 7 September 2015.

© The Washington Post

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