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Tommy Kirk
Born Thomas Lee Kirk
December 10, 1941 (1941-12-10) (age 68)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1955 – 2001

Thomas Lee "Tommy" Kirk (born December 10, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky) is a former American actor, and later a businessman.

Contents

Disney years

Kirk was discovered by talent agents at the age of thirteen in a production of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he appeared in the NBC western anthology series Frontier in the episode entitled "The Devil and Dr. O'Hara".

Hired by Walt Disney Productions, he was cast as a clean-cut teenager in The Hardy Boys serial feature which was aired in the The Mickey Mouse Club television series in 1956 and 1957. Kirk played Joe Hardy opposite Tim Considine as older brother Frank Hardy in two serials: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure (September 21, 1956 - February 1, 1957), based on the book The Tower Treasure, and the original story The Mystery of Ghost Farm (September 13 - December 20, 1957).[1]

Kirk went on to starring roles in a succession of successful Disney feature films, in both dramatic and comedic settings. He played Travis Coates in Old Yeller (1957), an adventure story about a boy and his heroic dog. He then played a dog himself in The Shaggy Dog (1959), a comedy about a boy inventor, Wilby Daniels, who is repeatedly transformed into an Old English Sheep Dog under the influence of a magic ring. He had a more straightforward role as middle son Ernst Robinson in another adventure film, Swiss Family Robinson (1960). Kirk then played the "scrambled egghead" student inventor Merlin Jones in two comedies, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) and The Monkey's Uncle (1965). Other major Disney roles for Tommy Kirk included that of college student Biff Hawk in The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel, Son of Flubber (1963), and as Grumio in the fairy tale fantasy Babes in Toyland.

In several of these films, Kirk played the older brother of child actor Kevin Corcoran, better known as Moochie. Veteran actor Fred MacMurray starred in at least four of Tommy Kirk's films, The Shaggy Dog , The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, and Bon Voyage!. Annette Funicello played Kirk's girlfriend in the two Merlin Jones films and the girl Wilby passes over in The Shaggy Dog. MacMurray once reportedly gave Kirk "the biggest dressing-down of my life" during the filming of Bon Voyage!, one that Kirk says he deserved.[2] But Kirk maintained good relationships with his fellow actors. "Tommy played my brother in a lot of films and put up with a lot of things that I did to him over the years," Corcoran says in a commentary on the DVD release of Old Yeller. "He must be a great person not to hate me." Tim Considine calls Kirk "a monster talent".[2]

In 1963, however, Disney chose not to renew Kirk's contract upon discovering Kirk had been having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy.[3] Walt Disney himself reportedly fired Kirk.[4] Yet in a bow to audience wishes, the studio re-hired him for the Merlin Jones sequel, The Monkey's Uncle.

Kirk describes the situation himself: "Even more than MGM, Disney was the most conservative studio in town.... The studio executives were beginning to suspect my homosexuality. Certain people were growing less and less friendly. In 1963, Disney let me go. But Walt asked me to return for the final Merlin Jones movie, 'The Monkey's Uncle,' because the Jones films had been moneymakers for the studio." [5]

Post-Disney career

Kirk also played in several of the 1960s beach party films and teen movie films, notably in American International Pictures' Pajama Party (taking Frankie Avalon's usual lead role opposite Annette Funicello while Avalon only appears in a cameo), The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (with Deborah Walley), and later in the independent It's a Bikini World (paired again with Walley). He starred in Village of the Giants (1965) and co-starred with Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, and Dwayne Hickman (of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis television series) in the spy-spoof cult film, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. In 1966, Kirk starred in The Unkissed Bride (Mother Goose a Go-Go). He costarred with "Batgirl" Yvonne Craig in AIP's Mars Needs Women, released in 1968. He appeared with Lyle Waggoner in the beach movie/crime comedy Catalina Caper (1967), which along with Village of the Giants were eventually lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Kirk's acting career tapered off during the 1960s, hampered by the transition to adulthood, drug use, and "personal problems."[2] Eventually he left show business, gave up drugs, and succeeded in starting his own carpet-cleaning business in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. He continued to act occasionally, however, including in the R-rated spoof, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. As of 2006, Kirk had more than thirty feature films roles to his credit.

Disney legend

Tommy Kirk was inducted as a Disney Legend in on October 9, 2006, alongside his old co-stars Tim Considine and Kevin Corcoran. His other repeat co-stars, Annette Funicello and Fred MacMurray, had already been inducted (in 1992 and 1987, respectively). Also in 2006, the first of Kirk's Hardy Boys serials was issued on DVD in the fifth "wave" of the Walt Disney Treasures series.[6]

Filmography

Features:

Short Subjects:

  • Down Liberty Road (1956)

References

External links

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