Classic Movie Travels: Jean Darling

Classic Movie Travels: Jean Darling

Jean Darling
Jean Darling

Dorothy Jean LeVake was born on August 23, 1922, in Santa Monica, California, to Rollin Darling and Dorothy Hamilton. Her name was changed to Jean Darling at five months old when her mother and father separated. By the next month, she began appearing in films fulfilling baby roles. In 1926, she performed in a screen test for the Our Gang series, working in 46 silent featurettes and five silent featurettes for the series. Her tenure with the series ended in 1929.

As the years went on, Darling worked in other film roles. She attended the Lawlor Professional School for young performers in Los Angeles, California. Darling appeared uncredited in the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy film Babes in Toyland (1934) and as the young Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre (1934). She also maintained a rigorous schedule at the age of 14, performing as many as seven shows a day on radio and the stage in addition to keeping up with her studies.

Our Gang
Our Gang

In 1940, she studied voice and was awarded a scholarship by the New York Municipal Opera Association. After turning down a film role in MGM’s Andy Hardy series, Darling debuted on Broadway as part of the 1942 production of Count Me In. Her stage career thrived when she appeared in the original Broadway production of Carousel in 1945 as Carrie Pipperidge, working in 850 performances of the show.

In the 1950s, she was actively working on radio and television, hosting an NBC New York City television show called A Date with Jean Darling. She also had a show called The Singing Knit-Witch which aired in Hollywood.

Older Jean Darling

On June 14, 1954, she married Reuben Bowen, who worked under the stage name of Kajar the Magician. Darling assisted him with his magic act, singing songs and touring with him internationally. The duo appeared in the May 23, 1955, issue of Look Magazine with Kajar performing a levitation illusion with Darling. She was also photographed visiting the set of the children’s television show Clubhouse Gang, where she is signing autographs for children. She and Bowen had a son named Roy Hamilton-Bowen. She and Bowen ultimately separated in the 1970s.

In 1974, Darling moved to Dublin, Ireland. There, she wrote mystery stories, with over 50 of them published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Whispers. She also took on the persona of “Aunt Poppy,” reading her stories on Irish public radio and television. Additionally, she enjoyed writing radio plays and journalistic writing.

Over the years, Darling gave interviews about her career and time working for Hal Roach and appeared in documentaries on the subject, even attending conventions and film festivals as a special guest. She published her first book of memoirs A Peek at the Past in 1994. Her second memoir, Buttercakes and Banana Oil, was released in 2008. Her final acting role was in The Butler’s Tale (2013), a silent comedy short.

Darling later moved with her son to Rodgau, Germany. She passed away in a Rödermark, Germany, nursing home from a lung ailment on September 4, 2015, at age 93.

Darling was buried at Dudenhofen Friedhof, located in Dudenhofen, Kreis Offenbach, Hessen, Germany. Her epitaph translates to “A star so near and yet so far.”

Today, there are some extant point of interest in relation to Darling’s life.

In 1930, she and her mother resided at 7196 Woodrow Wilson Dr., Los Angeles, California. The home remains.

Jean Darling 7196 Woodrow Wilson Dr., Los Angeles, California
7196 Woodrow Wilson Dr., Los Angeles, California

Her home in Ireland stands at 294 S. Circular Rd., Dublin, Ireland.

Jean Darling 294 S. Circular Rd., Dublin, Ireland
294 S. Circular Rd., Dublin, Ireland

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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