Bobby Driscoll: Child Star to Pauper’s Grave

The Family Theater presentation of  A Daddy For Christmas was originally broadcast on December 15, 1948. The program is introduced by Shirley Temple.

The following description from tells the story outline but doesn’t reveal the ending:

70323. Family Theatre. December 15, 1948. Mutual net. “Daddy For Christmas”. Sustaining. Young Stevie asks Santa Claus for a daddy for Christmas! His mom winds up married to Santa, who tries to be a good father…but fails. A tearful story that’s good radio. Shirley Temple (hostess), Pat O’Brien, Bobby Driscoll, Linda Johnson, Jack Lyman (writer). 25:02. Audio condition: Very good to excellent. Complete.

Bobby Driscoll: 1937-1968

This article was originally focused on the radio program but after reading the biography of Bobby Driscoll who was 11 at the time of the radio program and learning how Driscoll struggled in dealing with life in later years it was too important of  a story to go untold.

Driscoll was born on March 3, 1937 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. By six he was being cast in movies because of his ability to memorize lines so well. He appeared on radio, television, on stage, in movies and recorded some albums.

Disney Released Him Because of Acne Condition

The Disney studio released him from a longterm contract when he contacted an extremely bad case of acne and his parents placed him in public school where he was taunted because of him being in the movies.

Driscoll was 17 when he started experimenting with drugs including heroin which he said he used because he could afford it.

Eloped to Mexico in 1956

He and his girlfriend Marilyn Jean Rush were wed in Mexico in 1956 since their parents objected to their being married. After having three children they were divorced in 1960.

In 1961 he was sentenced to prison time in a drug rehabilitation center in Chino, California. He was released in 1962 but couldn’t find work in television or the movies. posted Driscoll’s own words when he couldn’t find work:

When Driscoll left Chino in early 1962, he was unable to find acting work. Embittered by this, he said, “I have found that memories are not very useful. I was carried on a silver platter … and then dumped into the garbage.”[51]

The following paragraph written by me was formatted wrong but couldn’t be corrected but was too important to leave out:

Three years later he would surface in New York City in 1965 and try to revive his acting career but failed. He later disappeared until two boys found his body in an East Village tenement dead from hardening of the arteries which caused him to die of heart failure caused by longterm drug use.


Buried in Pauper’s Grave

Nobody claimed his body so he was buried in a pauper’s grave. His mother was trying to contact him 19 months later so he could see his father before he died. She found out during this search that it was her son that was buried in the pauper’s grave through fingerprint identification.

Driscoll’s life was a classic Hollywood story of how fame can be fleeting. He had gone from winning an Oscar for the best juvenile actor of 1949 to being buried in a pauper’s grave in 1968 at the age of 31.

Met the Fate of Many Child Actors

He experienced what so many child actors have like the being taunted by classmates, not finding roles in later years because of being identified as a child actor, experimenting with drugs because they can afford it and finding that there isn’t a pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow but heartaches and pain.

Stage mothers and fathers need to read stories like this before starting their kids on acting careers and not only be there for them when they are movie stars but when their careers unravel and they struggle to fit in with life outside the entertaninment industry.



Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

2 thoughts on “Bobby Driscoll: Child Star to Pauper’s Grave”

  1. Have you made any attempt to determine if that body in 1968 was really Bobby’s? I know it isn’t. Why?

    I’ve met Bobby under his real name, I’ve been to his small house, and he’s gotten a ride up to visit me. Unfortunately, we live over an hour away from each other.

    His stories of those days are fascinating. No faker could possibly tell the stories he is fond of sharing, though he forgets which stories he’s already told me. He and I sang one of his favorite songs together. He’s on portable oxygen and uses a motorized wheelchair. Even today, people take advantage of him.

    He is writing a book which Disney attorneys have stipulated may not be published until after his (Bobby’s) death. (The contract that Walt and Bobby signed stipulated that neither would reveal the truth until after both of them were gone). Unfortunately, the money that Disney paid him for his silence is gone, so at least your “pauper” statement has a semblance of truth.

    1. I have read that Bobby died 46 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the man you are talking to isn’t Bobby Driscoll. People have had fake funerals before, so anything is possible. If it is Bobby Driscoll it is a shame, that Walt Disney corporation didn’t take care of Bobby financially, since I am sure he generated hundreds of thousands of dollars and maybe millions, by acting in their movies and TV shows. I wish there was a way to verify, that you are talking to the real Bobby Driscoll. Since I don’t know for sure I will take your word for it. Thank you for sharing this with the readers.

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