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Jean Darling, the cute blond-haired girl who appeared in dozens of Our Gang silent comedy shorts starting at age 4, has died. She was 93.
Darling, who later originated the role of Carrie Pipperidge in the original cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s famed musical comedy Carousel, died Friday after a short illness in a nursing facility in Roedermark, Germany, her son, Roy, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Born Dorothy Jean LaVake in Santa Monica, Darling was spotted by an assistant of Our Gang producer Hal Roach and made her first appearance as the tyke named Jean in the 1927 silent Bring Home the Turkey. Her character often was the object of the boys’ affections.
Darling left the Our Gang series just as sound was being introduced to the movies.
“The crossover to talkies was just idiocy on the part of the producers,” Darling said in Tony Villecco’s 2001 book Silent Stars Speak: Interviews With Twelve Cinema Pioneers. “Instead of thinking a star could go on and have some voice coaching, they would immediately drop anyone on the first squawk. They went to the stage and brought over stage actors because they would have good voices.”
Darling played the title character as a child in Jane Eyre (1934) and appeared in Babes in Toyland with Laurel & Hardy before headlining a vaudeville act and studying opera.
After making her Broadway debut in Count Me In opposite Jean Arthur in 1942, Darling portrayed Julie Jordan’s pal Carrie in the original cast of 1945’s Carousel, working 850 consecutive performances at one point. Her big number was the song, “(When I Marry) Mister Snow.”
In 1954, Darling married Reuben Bowen, also known as Kajar the Magician, and they moved to Dublin in 1974. She wrote mystery and crime stories for magazines, voiced a character named Aunty Poppy for RTE radio plays in Ireland and moved to Rodgau, Germany, in 2012 to be with her son. She celebrated her birthday just two weeks ago.
Survivors also include her grandsons Robert and Alec.
In 2013, Darling appeared in a silent slapstick short film, The Butler’s Tale, written and directed by Rene Riva.
Updated 8 a.m. on Sept. 7: Added new information from her son.
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