Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mickey Daniels

You may not recognize his name, but I bet you will recognize this freckle-faced boy from the silent Our Gang shorts!

Mickey Daniels was born Richard Michael Daniels Jr. on October 11, 1914 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He was one of ten children born to Richard Daniels Sr., a coal miner and later actor, and his wife, Hannah.  

Mickey was discovered by a talent scout while appearing in an amateur night show in his hometown around the age of seven. He would eventually be recommended to Hal Roach by cameraman and still photographer, Gene Kornman, father of Mary Kornman, the little leading lady of Our Gang. The two families became good friends and Mary and Mickey became frequent costars as children and later as young adults. Hal Roach was reportedly impressed with the way Mickey could eat pie and hired the young man for his Hal Roach's Rascals comedies. 

Mickey and Mary Kornman

The first Our Gang short was called, well, Our Gang! The 1922 short was not just the debut of the Gang (known as Hal Roach's Rascals) but also marked the debut of Mickey Daniels. The short had been thought lost for years, but half of the film was found in the hands of a private collector and it is available to view on Youtube. Don't blink because you may miss Mickey! He made more of a splash in his next film later that year, My Wild Irish Rose, playing Pauline Starke's brother. 

As a member of Our Gang/Hal Roach's Rascals, Mickey stood out for not just for having a face full of freckles, but also for his impeccable comic timing. He was frequently pitted against little Jack Davis in the shorts fighting for the affections of Mary Kornman. 

"Pshaw! I got money now. I've bought and paid for our home in Hollywood and I got ten thousand dollars worth of bank stock 'n' s'curties. That's enough. I'd rather be a fireman. You can make a good livin' at it, anyway." -- Mickey Daniels, 1925

In 1923, Mickey's representative, Norman L. Sper, sued Richard Daniels for $1380 that he said was due to him in commissions. Sper stated that he was supposed to have exclusive rights in representing Mickey for three years and was to receive 10% of his earnings. However, he claimed that Richard Daniels sought other representation without consulting him. I am not sure what the outcome of this case was. 

'Farina' Hoskins, Jackie Condon, Mickey, and Joe Cobb

In May of 1926, it was announced that Mickey would no longer appear in the Our Gang pictures and would be replaced by another freckled young boy, Jay R. Smith. 

Mickey and Mary Kornman

After his days of playing a scrappy Our Gang rascal, Mickey began appearing on the vaudeville stage and also continued making films, but was demoted to small roles in forgetful pictures. He did appear in a film series with his old gal pal, Mary Kornman, called The Boy Friends in the early 1930s. Mickey also managed to attend a 'normal' high school during this time which is pretty remarkable.

"Mickey Daniels, the big freckle-faced lad, who used to play in his younger days in Our Gang comedies, has been much worried lately over his freckles. They have always been his pride and trademark, and it was even whispered that he knew exactly how many freckles he had." -- Boy's Cinema, November 1931

Mary Kornman and Mickey

Mickey did manage to appear in some big box-office flicks like, It Happened One Night (1934), Magnificent Obsession (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1935), and Pennies from Heaven (1936). Mickey may not have had a starring role, but spotting that face of his wasn't hard. He made his final film appearance in 1941's Miss Polly, starring Zasu Pitts and Slim Summerville. 

After he retired from performing just under the age of thirty, Mickey began working in the construction business as an engineer. The job allowed him to travel all over the world which he enjoyed, but it also reportedly when his drinking got out of control. According to family, Mickey began going by the name 'Mike Daniels' and didn't want to talk about his former film career (some speculated that some unknown event had occurred that made him resent his time as a screen star.) He began drinking more and gambling and his family was quite bothered. He eventually left the construction field and became a taxi driver in the last years of his life. 

Mickey passed away on August 20, 1970 in a run down motel in San Diego, California. The cause of death was determined to be cirrhosis of the liver. 

Sadly, no reports of Mickey's death were run in newspapers or magazines because no one came to claim his remains and authorities assumed he was just another homeless man that frequented the motel he was found dead in. It wasn't until some 20 years later that his family finally found out what happened to their loved one and were able to claim his remains. He is buried in an unmarked grave next to his parents at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California. 

Mickey was reportedly married once and had a daughter, but I can't find any information on their names or even when they were married. From what I have read, however, the cause of their divorce/separation was due to Mickey's alcoholism. 

Richard Daniels appeared in some of his son's pictures and also in Harold Lloyd comedies. Mickey's older brother, Leonard, also worked in the entertainment industry in the transportation department at Hal Roach studios. 

"Mickey Daniels was one of the funniest freckle-faced, red-haired boys you will ever find, believe me. Now, I don't say this because I knew him. In fact, it wasn't until after I left the gang and started studying him in motion picture theaters that I realized just how funny he actually was." -- Ernie 'Sunshine Sammy' Morrison

1 comment:

  1. One of my first film books was on the history of the Little Rascals and that's when I found out the first kids were not the ones I grew up with watching on TV. So sad that he ended up an alcoholic. I believe he is also I. it's a Wonderful Life...he plays the man who helps George and Clarence out of the water and then gets spooked by Clarence's talking.