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

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

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

Mr. Kirk received into present enterprise accidentally. An older brother was auditioning for a component in Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” at 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 stated, ‘Would you could have 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, many 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 traditional household film “Previous Yeller,” famed for its no-nonsense ending, during which Travis has to shoot his beloved pet as a result of the canine was uncovered to rabies.

“I actually cried,” Mr. Kirk stated of his work in that scene. “You possibly can’t pretend it; you’ve gotta cry. You possibly can’t simply make a face.”

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

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

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

The emotional ending to “Previous Yeller” shocked many a younger viewer, however, she stated, Mr. Kirk had a selected view concerning the film.

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

That was actually the case for Mr. Kirk. He appeared in a quantity of different Disney movies over the subsequent seven years, many of them foolish, profitable comedies like “The Shaggy Canine” (1959), during which his character became 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 “Previous Yeller” sequel “Savage Sam” (1963) and some different Disney efforts, however by the tip of his contract he was attempting the studio’s persistence. One incident, he stated, prompted the corporate to not renew his contract.

“I used to be caught having intercourse with a boy at a public pool in Burbank,” he stated, 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 informed 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 of 9 folks charged when the police raided a Hollywood social gathering — didn’t assist his marketability.

He made a number of 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 appearing. He give up medicine and located energy in Christianity, which he stated helped him with “purging myself of resentment and bitterness.” He based a carpet and fabric cleansing enterprise. He made a number of extra films within the Nineteen 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 informed 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 conduct and nobody and nothing else.”

Mr. Kirk was born on Dec. 10, 1941, in Louisville, Ky. His dad and mom moved the household to California in 1944 in order that his father might work in an airplane manufacturing facility through the World Battle II growth years.

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

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

Info on his survivors was not instantly out there.

Ms. Washburn, his “Previous Yeller” co-star, who lived close to him in Las Vegas, would see him usually. He would at all times carry a field of goodies when he got here to dinner, she stated. They usually labored autograph conventions collectively. She remembered that every time somebody in uniform — police, navy or different — would come as much as purchase an autograph, Mr. Kirk would refuse their cash.

“He’d at all times say, ‘They’re our heroes, and I’ll at all times give them a free image,’” she stated.

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

“He’s the one who shot Previous Yeller,” the woman stated. “How are you going to nonetheless be mates with him?”

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