Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trent Bernard Junior Durkin

After someone dies, I think that you have a moral duty to show them and their memory respect. I stumbled across the story of Junior Durkin in researching Jackie Coogan. History has recorded four things/events about him.
Unfortunately, two of these are less desirable stories that have become integral to his biography, the third is his distinguished resume, the fourth is the story of the horrible wreck which killed him.

"Junior" Durkin 
July 2, 1915 - May 4, 1935

Who was Junior Durkin? 

Trent "Junior" Durkin from a photo essay in a Hollywood Celebrity Magazine, he had a great Irish smile.

 Trent "Junior" Durkin 

When Trent came to Hollywood in 1930 he was 15, within 5 years he made 13 films and some of these were starring roles too; most impressive is the fact that Trent was not under contract to any studio at the time; he had to go out and audition and win each and every role he got, making him one of the busiest and most successful actors in Hollywood.

Trent's most famous roles:

Tom Sawyer(1930) w/Jackie Coogan, playing Huck Finn
Huck Finn(1931) w/Jackie Coogan, playing Huck Finn
Hell's House (1933) w/Bette Davis, Pat O'Brien

Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis in studio publicity, with no mention of their young co-stars, in a film about boys in  a Juvenile Prison 

Pat O'Brien, Bette Davis 
Junior Durkin and Junior Coughlin are finally listed in the credits after several favorable reviews came in, but it was Junior who was hailed in the press as the breakout star, Trent "Junior" Durkin finally gets top billing, because he earned it.

One reviewer said of his performance in Hell's House, "this gawky lad with an expressive face...dominates the screen whenever he is present." In fact, Junior Durkin was ignored in the initial publicity posters, which featured only his co-stars, Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis. Then Trent and his co-star Junior Coughlin got billing, finally after very favorable reviews, Trent got top billing.  Film historian Leslie 
Halliwell in his book "Who's Who in Movies" describes Junior as one of the five great child stars in Hollywood's infancy, pre-1940 films; the others Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan and Junior Coughlin. Famed Hollywood Director Cecile B. DeMille personally cast Trent as the central character "Steve Smith" in his film, "This Day and Age," but a scheduling conflict prevented Trent from taking the role.

Trent "Junior" Durkin and his best friend Jackie Coogan filming Tom Sawyer in 1930.

Trent is the perfect Huckleberry Finn
The National Council of Teachers handbook to the Movies describes Junior's portrayal of Huckleberry Finn as "remarkably convincing". 

It really is an amazing performance, one that  Mark Twain, himself, would have been proud of, made even more impressive once you consider that he was a Broadway actor, since he was 5, a New Yorker. Trent was a city kid not a country kid discovered by a talent scout at mass auditions in local schools in rural areas, like Claude Jarman in the Yearling (1944) or Brad Renfro in The Client (1994) who were both discovered in Tennessee.

After watching Hell's House and his portrayal as Huck Finn, he seems, at least to me, a lot like Henry Fonda in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath." In Hell's House he portrays an orphan who befriends a bootlegger living at a relative's boarding house. Eventually Junior becomes framed for bootlegging himself, Junior gets sent to juvenile prison, where he befriends another kid, played by Junior Coughlin. Coughlin becomes the target of abuse and bullying, but far worse, he is sick and the warden refuses to get him medical help. Durkin breaks down and cries as his friend starts to slip away.  A very powerful and moving moment in a very good performance. Junior breaks out of jail to get a doctor, enlisting the help of a reporter. By the time help arrives Coughlin is dead and Trent's tears appear to come from his heart. 

Bette Davis, Bootlegger Pat O'Brien and Junior Durkin at the beginning of the film.


Junior Durkin holding and comforting fellow juvenile inmate Junior Coughlin in his arms after he becomes deathly ill. 

A quiet, gentle boy and man who brought much more depth and character to the roles he portrayed than anyone would have thought possible. Once the film Hell's House was released, it was the two Irish juvenile leads, Junior Durkin and Junior Coughlin, that everyone noticed.  Coughlin would later appear in the Andy Hardy series with Mickey Rooney, the series that Trent Durkin was set to appear in when he died.

Junior Coughlin would appear in over 100 films from 1920 until 1974, ne of the longest careers in the history of Hollywood. There is little doubt Trent's career would have been every bit as successful. Pictured here is Junior Coughlin in The Beverly Hillbillies: Admiral Jed Clampett (1965) Frank "Junior" Coughlin spent 23 years in the US Navy starting as a Naval Aviator in WWII retiring as a Navy Commander after service in Vietnam. 

Trent Bernard "Junior" Durkin on Broadway 

The New York Times: Courage star Janet Beecher's brilliant performance as Mrs. Colebrook earned her 10 curtain calls and thunderous applause, then qualifies its praise by saying that "Junior Durkin" almost stole the show by his performance...Junior played "Growing Pains" at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1933 in Los Angeles, which became a huge success, leading directly to a limited engagement on Broadway for the cast. 

By the end of 1933, Junior was beginning to get top billing, leading Broadway Producer Arthur Lubin recognized the young star bringing Junior and the play "Growing Pains" back to Broadway for a limited run.

#6 Growing Pains_Ambassador Theater 219 W. 49th Street, (November 23, 1933 - December 06, 1933) Performer: Junior Durkin playing George McIntyre
#5 Courage_Ritz Theatre, now called the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th Street (Oct 08, 1928 - Jun 22, 1929) Performer: Junior Durkin playing Bill 
#4 H.M.S. Pinafore_Century Theatre, 932 Seventh Avenue (Apr 06, 1926 - May 10, 1926)
Performer: Master Durkin playing Tommy Tucker 
#3 The Lady_Empire Theater (December 04, 1923 - February 10, 1924)
Performer: Junior Durkin playing A Little Boy
#2 Poppy_The Apollo Theatre_Starring WC Fields (September 3, 1923 - June 2, 1924)
Performer: Junior Durkin playing a Little Boy
#1 Some Night_Harris Theatre (September 23 - October 5, 1918) 
Performer: Junior Durkin playing Cupid at age 2 1/2

The Harris Theatre where Junior Durkin's  Career Began at the age of two, the theater is now a paint store. 

Trent Bernard "Junior" Durkin's Complete Filmography:

Little Men (1935) ..........................Franz
Chasing Yesterday (1935) .................Henri
Big-Hearted Herbert (1934) .............Junior Kainess
Ready for Love (1934) ....................Joey Burke
Man Hunt (1933) ...........................Junior
Hell's House* (1932) .......................Jimmy Mason
Huckleberry Finn (1931) ..................Huckleberry Finn
Conquering Horde, The (1931)...........Junior
Tom Sawyer (1930) .........................Huckleberry Finn
Santa Fe Trail, The (1930) ................Old Timer
Recaptured Love (1930) ...................Henry Parr
Fame (1930) ................................Junior
Law Rides West, The (1930)..............Junior
*also known as "Juvenile Court" and "Children of the Big House"

The Ritz Theatre(now called the Walter Kerr Theatre)

Growing up on the stage, Trent, Grace and Gertrude would run to visit and eat lunch with their mother at the Shubert Theatre.

Trent was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 2, 1915. His father, Bernard, had become a hotel owner after a career on the stage. He had separated from his wife while Junior and his sisters were quite young. Trent had two sisters, Gertrude Durkin Ellison(1910- 1970, married to Western Actor James Ellison 1937-1970) and Grace Durkin Henry(July 17, 1914- November 26, 1991) All three kids began acting on the stage before the age of 5. There mother was "Molly" Florence Edwards Durkin(1893-1932), who worked as a secretary at the Shubert Theatre Chain's Headquarters at 225 West 44th Street in New York City.
Apparently Trent, Gertrude and Grace's Dad, was an actor with traveling companies; their mother was an actress on Broadway before she settled down after the children were born and became a secretary at the Shubert Theatre. Florence died in 1932, after a long debilitating fight against cancer(apparently being separated from their father because of his career in a traveling company. The hotel apparently lost in the Great Depression). For at least part of the time during her illness, Grace, Gertrude and "Junior" lived at St. Mary's Convent(Orphanage/School) in New York.
By 1930 with their Mom dying, Trent, Grace and Gertrude were on their own.

From what little information I can find, it seems that the kids were in touch with their father when Trent was killed, Gertrude, Grace and Dad sued Jackie Coogan's insurance company for negligence in Trent's death. The accusation was that Jack Coogan had been drinking(no indication of whether it was beer or something else) and was driving about 70 MPH on the winding roads east of San Diego, near Pine Valley, California, near where the Coogan Ranch was located.

Grace Durkin sued Jackie Coogan's Corporation on behalf of her family over the death of her deeply loved brother. The argument was that as an employee of the company and having drunk hard booze to excess, he put everyone's life at risk. 

Grace Durkin (July 17, 1908 - November 26, 1991) and her husband William Henry (November 10, 1914 – August 10, 1982) and Gertrude Durkin (January 18, 1911 - May 9, 1970) with her husband James Ellison (May 4, 1910 - December 23, 1993).

If you look at the picture of the terrain around the Coogan Ranch, you will realize how really treacherous the roads were, especially at night. It is hard to tell exactly what happened but the prime factor has to be Jack's speed and the terrain.
"They were traveling west on the highway, when an automobile which JACKIE said he thought he could identify approached from the opposite direction, on the center line of the highway, and swerved over."
"The other machine forced the COOGAN car from the highway. It swerved into an eight-foot ditch." Dr. Westphal's statement of a conversation he had with Jackie right after the accident. 

Trent's family, Grace, Gertrude and Dad, Bernard Durkin (1870 - 1940),  sued Jackie  because the car was his (an early present for Jackie's 21st birthday from his Dad) and his Dad was technically an employee of Jackie's Production Company.  By then Louis B. Mayer had squeezed Jack out of any real role at MGM as a Producer at the Studio(Jackie wasn't a cute kid any more, 
so he had nothing to lose). 

As the only survivor, Jackie's testimony carried a lot of weight with the Judge and the case was dismissed.

When Trent's body was found, he was face down in the creek at the bottom of an embankment. His skull had been crushed.  He and Jackie had been riding in the cars rumble seat. Jackie had either crouched down and or been forced down by the force of the accident, in panic he grabbed the footrest, which probably saved his life and certainly protected him from a more serious injuries, he only suffered broken ribs, Trent had been thrown out of the car as it rolled over and over going down the embankment. Trent's death was probably immediate. Jackie's father was still alive when Jackie reached him, somehow Jackie was able to drag his father back up to the road, but he died shortly thereafter in his son's arms. Jackie also brought the other passengers up to the road. When he found Trent, he could tell that he was already dead.

Florence G.E. Durkin
L'Homme Dieu
1893 MKINS 1932
To Know Her Was To Love Her

From their mother's grave marker, Trent and his sisters re-interred her body in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. She is buried two rows above Trent and about 10 graves to the left of his.
With the passage of time it becomes harder to find out any information about Trent's early years. The Shubert Theatre has no record of his Mom working there(but you have to remember that 84 years ago), but for some reason, they did tell me that she was called Molly by her friends.  The translations from French roughly means what man proposes, God disposes, or our fates are not in our hands, they are in God's hands.
When their mother became too ill to take care of Gertrude, Grace and Junior, they were placed under the guardianship of Marian Gering, a Broadway and, later, a Hollywood Producer, who was a close friend of their mother. The kids spent much more time on the stage, than being kids or a family. Though that may be true, even years later, they were still ferociously loyal to each other. I've seen Grace's family scrapbook in which she kept every press clipping about her brother. She loved him, that's obvious.
Unfortunately, Marian allowed 16-year-old Trent "Junior" to go to Los Angeles and live with his Hollywood Agent, Henry Willson. Henry worked for Zeppo Marx's Talent Agency. Marian allowed Henry Willson to act as Junior's Guardian (in locus parentis: acting as guardian to protect a child while serving as a temporary parent) while he was in California. It didn't turn out to have been the best decision she could have made for her ward. Henry Willson's scandalous reputation for promoting young male actors, for a price, for better or worse, started with Trent "Junior" Durkin.


Trent Bernard "Junior" Durkin and Bette Davis in Hell's House, a boy's normal reaction to being hugged and embraced by a beautiful woman is used to humiliate and embarrass him in the  ultimate act of child cruelty.

The second story is worse. Trent was invited to a party at Bette Davis's house during the filming of "Hell's House".  Trent and Bette starred in this story about boys in reform school. While watching rushes, Howard Higgin, the Director, discovered an embarrassing shot of Trent's natural reaction to being held, comforted and embraced by the beautiful Bette Davis. Every boy has been there and what happened to Trent was perfectly normal. It was Higgin's actions which were abnormal. Higgin had the scene cut from the rushes and developed so he could show and share it with his friends at parties. He brought it with him to the party at Bette's house and everyone broke out laughing when it was shown, except 16-year-old Trent, who was so humiliated that he ran out of the house crying.
Later the film made its way to the stag movie circuit. Just a embarrassing and humiliating moment in the life of a teenage boy, which should have been ignored and forgotten.

That story was told by Humphrey Bogart, who was at the party. Bogie said that he was so angry by the way Trent was treated that he would never allow anything like that to occur in his presence again. And according to the book, Bogey said that if he ever ran across a young person while acting, he would be sure to treat them with respect, compassion and understanding. And that's what happened in 1944 when 44 year old, Bogie, met 20 year old "Baby"(Lauren Bacall/Betty Perske) while filming Howard Hawks "To Have and Have Not".

The Pasadena Playhouse founded in 1917 is a historic performing arts venue located 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena, California. The 686-seat auditorium produces a variety of cultural and artistic events, professional shows, and community engagements each year. Wikipedia
But I end this post with one little story which tells you a lot about him. While appearing at The Pasadena Playhouse in 1934 in a production of "Growing Pains" produced by Arthur Lubin, Trent did a favor for his fellow cast members. The Pasadena Playhouse had a reputation for being a stop for actors on the way up or on the way down. Few of his fellow cast members had cars, so Trent volunteered to pick up five of his castmates/friends, who lived in Hollywood, Pasadena and LA and take them to the theatre and drop them off home everyday.
I think that any of us would give a friend a lift, but how many of us would go all over Los Angeles to pick up five people and give them a lift everyday? A really nice guy and a Damn Good Friend would.  It was the Great Depression and this one act of kindness was profoundly meaningful and defined Trent's character. 
That isn't something anyone would repeat, but it certainly something his friends would remember when a few months later he was killed in a traffic accident.

Trent was scheduled to star in a Production of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness" when he got back from his vacation with the Coogans. He had also just signed a 7 year contract with RKO Studios. Trent Bernard "Junior" Durkin had everything going for him, except time.

RKO was founded by Joe Kennedy(President Kennedy's father, merging Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) theater chains and Joseph P. Kennedy's Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) in 1928). Later it was purchased by Lucy and Desi Arnaz and turned into Desilu Studios(Desilu created I Love Lucy, Star Trek and Mission Impossible).

Cottonwood Creek, Pine Valley California

Pine Valley, CA John Coogan Sr. Other Killed, May 1935

Jackie Coogan hurt; auto plunges in ravine---kills father and three others.
(By The United Press)
San Diego, May 4. -- Four men were killed and JACKIE COOGAN, 20 year old former boy film star, was injured tonight when an automobile in which COOGAN and his party were returning from a hunting trip into Mexico plunged off the road at high speed into a creek bed on the El Centro Highway, fifty miles east of here.
The dead were:
JOHN L. COOGAN, SR., father of the former boy actor.
JUNIOR DURKIN, 19 year old motion picture actor.
CHARLES JONES, foreman of the COOGAN Ranch, near here.
ROBERT HORNER, 25, Hollywood film writer.
JACKIE COOGAN was reported not seriously injured.
The San Diego County coroner at Pine Valley, where the dead and injured were brought, said the automobile left the road on a curve, plunged over a bank, and rolled over four times before it came to a stop in the bottom of the creek.
JACKIE COOGAN, bruised and shocked at the death of his father, said the automobile left the road in attempting to dodge another machine. COOGAN, SR., was driving.
Jumped Out.
"I crouched down in the seat as the car turned end over end twice," Young COOGAN said. "Then I straightened up and jumped out. I saw the automobile turn over two or three more times."
JACKIE said he seized the foot rest in the rumble seat and held on, riding with the car end over end.
DURKIN, who had been in pictures since early childhood, was riding with him in the rumble seat.
Their friendship started when DURKIN played the title role in Huckleberry Finn, and JACKIE took the part of Tom Sawyer in the same film. The partnership was seated in death when DURKIN lost his grip and was hurtled from the rumble seat to fall dead in the rocky creek bed.
Father Dies Later.
JACKIE'S father died shortly after the car smashed into the rocks. JACKIE, dazed and bruised, and his fater were the only survivors of the accident when passersby first arrived.
The elder COOGAN died of his injuries with his famous son by his side. The younger COOGAN was brought to the Pine Valley store, where he received treatment, but was found not to be seriously injured.
Postmaster JAMES RUSSELL of Pine Valley called in a nearby priest to comfort JACKIE.
JACKIE'S mother, and PATRICIA ELLIS, pretty young actress who has ofter been seen with the young actor, chartered a special airplane to fly to San Diego. They planned to proceed by car to Pine Valley.
Has Chest Injury.
DR. H. G. WESTPHAL, Glendale physician who flew to the scene with JACKIE'S mother and MISS ELLIS, reported that JACKIE suffered a chest injury, including two injured ribs, possibly broken, cuts and bruises. An ambulance was dispatched to Pine Valley to bring him to San Diego.
"They were traveling west on the highway," DR. WESTPHAL said JACKIE told him, "when an automobile which JACKIE said he thought he could identify approached from the opposite direction, on the center line of the highway, and swerved over."
"The other machine forced the COOGAN car from the highway. It swerved into an eight-foot ditch."
"JACKIE and JUNIOR DURKIN were in the rumble seat. JACKIE saw the other car swerve toward them. COOGAN, SR., lost control. When the car left the road it cut five heavy posts, turned over five times and crashed into the rocks."
"All but JACKIE were thrown out as the car landed in the creek bed."
"Young COOGAN picked himself up and went first to the unconscious form of his father. He dragged his father up to the roadside, then brought all the rest up.
Flags Motorist.
"JACKIE flagged down M. E. MAGEE of El Centro, a passing motorist. MAGEE had to drive thirty miles to the nearest physician. Before that doctor arrived, all the critically injured except JACKIE'S father were dead."
"MR. COOGAN died in his son's arms a moment after the physician arrived."
Deputy Coroner DAVE GERSHEN of San Diego County said the COOGAN automobile was traveling at a high rate of speed, "seventy miles an hour, at least."
He said that it skidded 100 feet on the pavement, 125 feet after it struck the fence and then hurtled into the creek bed.
Planned Weekend Party.
JACKIE COOGAN had planned to have a number of Hollywood friends as weekend guests at his ranch.
Among others who had planned to go were PATRICIA ELLIS, TOBY WING, with whom JACKIE'S name has been associated romantically, both film actresses, and WILLIAM JANNEY, juvenile film actor.
JACKIE went down alone Thursday and was followed Friday by DURKIN, HORNER, DURKIN'S two sisters, GRACE and GERTRUDE, and PAULA STONE, daughter of FRED STONE.
The Fresno Bee Republican California 1935-05-05

 Terrain around the Coogan Ranch in the Cleveland National Forest. Note the twisting, treacherous road and the stream to the right of the picture.

Jackie Coogan's Roadster after the wreck, Jackie and Trent were in the Rumble/Jump Seat to the back.

Jackie and his Dad at the Coogan Ranch near San Diego

A couple of stories about Jack Coogan:
Former child star Dickie Moore relates the true story of what it was like to be a child star in Hollywood based on his own experiences and via contributions from Jackie Coogan, Natalie Wood, Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and other famous child stars. Coogan tells the story of how during the filming of Old Clothes, in order to get Joan to cry during a big scene in the film, his father and producer of the film, Jack Coogan, had detectives follow her for two weeks and learn everything about her. The scene in question called for her to enter alone and come down the stairs and start to cry. Coogan ordered everyone off the set and then told Joan everything he'd found out about her. Horrified, she began to cry.
Jack was a producer at MGM and had a reputation as a lady's man via the casting couch. Joan had an incredibly tough childhood working in a laundry with her mother, barely surviving. Several sources report that she surrendered to Jack for the sake of her career, but swore that she would never allow that to happen again, once she made it.

Sometimes, in business, it is the people you consider your friends, that you should suspect the most. Jack Coogan, Lillian Coogan and their Business Manager Arthur Bernstein.

One good story about Jack Coogan, he loved his sons, Jackie and Robert with all his heart. He took them and their friends camping with his friends. He spent a great deal of time with them, never palming them off on servants. It didn't matter whether they were stars or not. Jack created trust funds FOR THEM from their earnings, a $4,000,000 Trust Fund for Jackie. After Jack was killed in the car accident, Jackie's mom married their family lawyer and accountant Arthur Bernstein. Together they raided Jackie's trust fund. When Jackie turned 21, he found out that they had stolen almost every cent, there was only $30,000 left. Jackie had to sue to get that. His mom and Bernstein argued that none of the money a kid earns is his, it all belonged to her. 

Jackie and his brother Robert, with Mom. Jackie said he would have gotten every cent of his $4,000,000 Trust Fund, if his Dad hadn't died in that car wreck. I believe him.

Trent lies buried on the "Sunrise Slope" at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. I doubt that very many people visit his grave. More should, because few have ever shown more promise, in any field, than young Trent did.

The saddest thing of all, if Trent is remembered today at all, it is in a small passage in some scandalous story or book about Henry Willson, or, quite possibly, merely as a footnote in that story.

He was much more than that. If you were to judge by the people who knew him, he was a good guy and a great friend. Not to mention an extraordinary actor. That seems to be a more appropriate way to remember him and certainly the way he deserves to be remembered.


Trent "Junior" Durkin's Find-a-Grave page

Some people did.

Ida Lupino at her very close friends Gertrude Durkin and William Henry's Wedding November 14, 1936.

Close friend, Anglo-American Actress, Screenwriter and Director, Ida Lupino attended Trent's funeral and chose to be buried a short distance away. She was a very close friend of Trent and his sisters, Grace and Gertrude. Ida would tell friends for years afterwards, that the day Junior died was one of the saddest days of her life and his death was a loss from which she and their friends never totally recovered. A couple of sources indicated that she avoided talking about Trent, if possible, because she would break down and cry if she did.

"Today, few people remember Durkin. One person who remembers him well is the now 94-year-old Diana Serra Cary. Once world famous as the child star Baby Peggy, Cary referred to Durkin's funeral as "the saddest event I have ever been a part of in my life."
In an interview with SFGN, Cary revealed a few surprising facts about Durkin. Shortly before he died, he was on the verge of major film stardom. In 1934, when she was 16 years old, Cary appeared with Durkin in the play “Growing Pains” at the legendary Pasadena Playhouse. The play became the basis for the Andy Hardy film series, which ultimately starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
"If things had worked out differently for Trent, he would very likely have ended up as one of MGM's biggest stars," Cary recalled. "Having starred as the lead in the original play, Trent would have had first crack at the part of Andy in the films which later made a huge popular star of Mickey Rooney."   SFGN Staff | David-Elijah Nahmod

Trent Durkin shortly before his death.

Trent's nephew, Durk Ellison created this page: Though he has since passed away, he was researching Trent and his family on several genealogy websites, leaving a footprint on the web. He moved to Finland after military service at the suggestion of one of his college professors.

When Trent, Grace and Gertrude arrived in Hollywood in 1930 they formed an expatriates social group of former New Yorker Broadway Performers called the Puppets. Among its members were Junior's childhood friends Ben Alexander, who went from Broadway child star to Joe Friday's partner in Dragnet, and  Anita Louise, before she became friends with Flicka. Anita Louise became the head of the group. Their first party in Los Angeles was in honor of Junior, Grace and Gertrude at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. 

A story written by Henry Willson for Variety did an expose about the group for in Movie Magazine and included this snippet:

JUNIOR DURKIN swears this is
true, so don't blame me. The script
of Junior's picture called for him to
fall off a horse and lie in the sand
(supposedly injured) until someone
comes to his rescue. It was about the
fourteenth time the scene had been
shot this particular day, and Junior
was just about as black as he was
blue, when he suddenly felt a tickling
sensation in his right ear. An ant, no
less! The entire company stopped
work while the director tried, in vain,
to catch the dizzy ant with the corner
of his handkerchief. But no soap — or
rather, no ant. One of the extras,
struck by a bright idea — (sure, "ex-
tras" have ideas) — tore over to a
nearby cafe (they were on location),
secured a bowl of sugar, and while
Junior lay on the ground, the director
sprinkled little grains of sugar around
the edge of the actor's ear. This was
too much. The insect's sweet-tooth got
the better of her.

One of his last roles shows Trent "Junior" Durkin had grown into a handsome leading man with everything going for him, except time.

Junior Durkin leaves success on Broadway and heads to Hollywood. Waiting on him is Henry Willson, Rich Kid, Hollywood Agent and a man who volunteers to be "Guardian" to 15-year-old Junior Durkin

Zeppo Marx Talent Agency 8732 Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles, California. Henry Willson  (July 31, 1911 – November 2, 1978) moved from NY to Los Angeles and went to work for this talent Agency, after a short stint with Variety Magazine.

The Marx Brothers without make-up and in street clothes.

To be fair, when he was first hired, Zeppo, on the left, or his brother Gummo, Vice President of the Agency, 2nd from right, had no idea about Willson's relationship with 15-year-old Junior Durkin. 

Henry Willson, Agent and Trent "Junior" Durkin guardian with former child star Shirley Temple

The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons portrayed Henry Willson in the Netflix series Hollywood. Willson and Hollywood Reporter Publisher Henry Wilkerson were eating lunch at a drug store when they noticed high school student Lana Turner in 1937.  Henry introduced himself to Judy Turner at the Drug Store Soda Fountain. Willson offered to represent her, then christened her "Lana Turner" and got her cast in a series of small roles, finally introducing her to Mervyn LeRoy at Warner Brothers. She went on to star in The Postman Always Rings Twice and became a star. Which led in 1943 to David O. Selznick hiring Willson to head the talent division of his newly formed Vanguard Pictures. 
Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane achieved her own claim to fame when she stabbed to death mom's boyfriend, Mafia soldier Johnny Stomponato, who was beating her mom. She was sent to Juvenile Hall until a coroner's jury declared the death justifiable homicide.

Willson would see his career crash in the 1960's when his secret life was revealed. By the time he died of cirrhosis of the liver from alcoholism in 1978, his house was on the verge of repossession and he was selling his furniture and possessions to pay the bills. 

Henry Willson's father Horace was very wealthy, serving as a Vice President of Columbia Phonograph Company. Horace bought Henry a luxurious home in LA and connections from his Dad gave him a career on Broadway and later Hollywood. Willson was born into a prominent show business family in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. His father, Horace, was the vice-president of the Columbia Phonograph Company and advanced to the presidency in 1922. Willson came in close contact with many Broadway theatre, opera, and vaudeville performers. Will Rogers, Fanny Brice, and Fred Stone numbered among the family's friends, after they moved to Forest Hills, an upscale neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens.
Concerned about his son's interest in tap dance and suspecting he might be gay, the elder Willson enrolled Henry in the Asheville School in North Carolina, where he hoped the school's many team sports and rugged weekend activities, such as rock climbing and backpacking, would have a positive, masculine influence on the boy. Henry later attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, spending weekends in Manhattan, where he wrote weekly gossip columns for Variety.

Dixie and Bing Crosby. Henry Willson's friendship with Dixie began when they shared a cruise from New York to Los Angeles through the Panama Canal, they quickly became friends. She gave him the connections he needed for a successful career in Hollywood, Henry and Dixie both drank a lot, Dixie later became an alcoholic and died of Ovarian Cancer November 1, 1952. Years later Henry Willson would be a charity case at the actors home, dying of  liver failure brought on by his alcoholism. He was buried in a grave without a marker, having blown through his Dad's and his money years before. Someone heard he had an unmarked grave and bought him this grave marker. 

Hollywood Years
In 1933, Willson traveled to Hollywood by steamship via the Panama Canal. On board he cultivated a friendship with Bing Crosby's wife, Dixie Lee, who introduced him to the Hollywood elite and secured him a job with Photoplay, where his first article was about the newborn Gary Crosby. He began writing for The Hollywood Reporter and the New Movie Magazine, became a junior agent at the Joyce & Polimer Agency, moved into a Beverly Hills home purchased by his father, and became a regular at Sunset Strip gay bars, where he wooed young men for both professional and personal reasons. One of his first clients was Junior Durkin, whose career was cut short when he died in an automobile accident on May 4, 1935. Wikipedia

Rock Hudson and Junior Durkin 
15-year-old Broadway childstar  Trent "Junior" Durkin moved to California after his Mom died. His guardian Broadway Agent Marian Gering, a friend of his Mom's, allowed the boy to live with his Hollywood Agent Henry Wilson, who worked for Zeppo Marx and had taken an interest in the boy. Zeppo was one of the Marx Brothers, who quit the comedy team and formed his own Talent Agency. Eventually, Henry Willson seduced the boy. Junior Durkin would be the first of many young boys and men, including Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Chad Everett, Robert Wagner, Nick Adams, Guy Madison, Troy Donahue, Mike Connors, Rory Calhoun, John Saxon, Clint Walker and Doug McClure, who owed their careers to Henry Willson. But the price was very high, especially for a 15-year-old boy named Trent "Junior" Durkin.  Jack Warner, Henry Willson and Rock Hudson and their wives. Rock would become Henry's  biggest success many years after "Junior's" death.

When Rock "Roy Scherer" Hudson was about to be outed as gay by a scandal magazine, Henry helped the studios come up with a strategy, offering a bribe to the magazine and, as a substitute, a story about star Rory Calhoun, revealing his criminal history.  The studios promised well funded lawsuits if they published Rock's story. There is a persistent story that he had connections to mobster Mickey Cohen and used his muscle to threaten reporters who got too close to the truth. The carrot and stick worked. Rock was safe and Rory was paying for it. People who knew the truth never forgave Henry for betraying Rory. At the same time Willson also engineered Rock's "marriage" to his secretary Phyllis Gates. The sham marriage lasted from 1955 to 1958.  

During the 1970's Rock appeared in the incredibly popular  detective series "McMillan and Wife" with Susan Saint James, which appeared on the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie Trilogy with Pater Falk as Lt. Columbo of the LAPD and Dennis Weaver as McCloud, a Taos New Mexico Detective on temporary assignment with NYPD. With McMillan and Wife it was the mystery and the marriage which made the show interesting. While Columbo depended on the villain, the stories with Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp and Patrick McGoohan were masterpieces of writing and acting. 

You knew you were the suspect and in real trouble, if Lt. Columbo started to leave an interview or conversation, then turned around and said, just one question. A sure sign you were done for.

While McCloud was 100% Dennis Weaver, with much of the show veering from serious police work to light comedy. 


John H said...

Great post, very informative.

Unknown said...

I spend many an hour studying what I can find on Internet Sites involving Movie Stars, usually little known stars, and without the information included here on "Junior Durkin" I would have had an unfulfilled search on a person who deserved more! My thanks...

David Elijah Nahmod said...

what a sad story. a waste of a great talent and a young life. I found two of his films, Hell House & Tom Sawyer, complete at You Tube--I'll be watching them and visiting his grave the next time I'm in LA.

Scott Vermillion said...

I discovered Trent "Junior" Durkin's story in a book I am reading about Henry Willson. What a sad story to hear about such a fine young actor dying just as his career was taking off. Thank you for your informative post!

Unknown said...

What a wonderful tribute!

Unknown said...

Oh my gosh! I haven't even read all of this yet as this is my great uncle I never knew his name! I'm crying. I am his only American family besides my dad and Gertrude's son Dirk (named I imagjne after Junior-m) and my cousins who live in Finland.
Oh please call me and tell me how you found all this! I am so so so blessed but cannot read this right now as I literally am too choked up!

Thank you, wow.

Unknown said...

What is the name of this book? Thank you!

Zu said...

What a nice tribute story to a young man lost too soon

Muirmaiden said...

Sad story of a promising life cut short! What might have been.

Some state that Junior and Henry Willson were lovers and that they met at a gay bar when Junior was 18, but I think your information is correct. I am in no position to say what Junior's sexual orientation was, but I think he was naive and taken advantage of by Willson, who apparently had an eye for underage boys.

Whenever I watch "Tom Sawyer" and "Hell's House" I think of what a star he might have become. I know the tragedy affected Jackie Coogan for the rest of his life.

Janeykins said...

what a wonderful, exceptional young man. his loyalty to his sisters and his friends, never forgetting the ones behind him as he got lead roles and worked steadily. i read a lot but i've never heard of this before, poor jackie coogan. thanks so much for putting all the pieces together. at least when he died he knew he had helped a lot of people and was ready to have even more success. at least he got that much.

Libby12 said...

Fine young and handsome man.that he was. I only felt a bit hurt and uneasy with the line they throw around likes it okay.
People of that day.and this day as well uses as well.. It goes like this...catch a ?n? by his toes. to upset spirits out there is not cool. And touching hearts wonder and ask why so young...less than three years! Young people are taught this word.
Even today what this n doing in my class? He should be in chains. Don't trouble the spirits again. Or three years will come again white boy.

Anonymous said...

@Libby12 How dare you post such garbage on this man's memorial page. Shame on you! Go somewhere else!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this story about a promising young man. I just watched him the other day in "Hell's House" with Bette Davis and Pat O'Brien. Not one of their best efforts, and early i their careers, but that's what brought me here to this site out of curiosity. It's heartbreaking that he was killed so tragically, along with the others. He was a kind young soul. And what a lowlife the director, Mr Higgin, must have been, to use that clip of his aroused response to Bette Davis to humiliate him! No wonder he never got anywhere as a director.
And yes, @Libby12, as the previous poster noted, you are in need of serious mental health intervention, and take your problems somewhere else - not to a tribute page.