Jean Darling, the former child actress who starred in a number of the Our Gang comedy shorts produced during by Hal Roach during the early years of Hollywood, died September 4, at her home in Rodgau, Germany. She had turned 93 just two weeks ago.
Born Dorothy Jean LeVake on August 23, 1922, Darling was five years old when she aced a screen test and joined the predominantly child cast of the Our Gang comedy shorts. A majority of her time on the series was when they were still being produced as silent short subject. Of the 52 total Our Gang films she made, only six were talkies. In the films she often featured as the pretty girl who would cause all manner of disruption with the boys. Despite a prolific output with the group, since only the sound-era films were included in later television syndication packages, she is probably not as well remembered as other notable members of the troupe over time such as Jackie Cooper, Farina Hoskins, Stymie Beard, Spanky McFarland, Darla Hood, Alfalfa Switzer and Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas.
After her Our Gang tenure ended in 1929, Darling appeared in a few more films including an uncredited role in Laurel & Hardy’s Babes In Toyland and the 1934 version of Jane Eyre as the young Jane. She reportedly turned down a role in MGM’s Andy Hardy series in favor of heading east to try her luck on Broadway. In 1945, she landed the role of Carrie Pipperidge in the original Broadway production of Carousel and appeared in 850 performances of the show. In the 1950s, she hosted two of her own television series – A Date With Jean Darling for NBC in New York and The Singing Knit-Witch, for KHJ-TV in Hollywood. She later turned her hand to writing, publishing a number of mystery short stories.
With Darling’s passing, the only survivors from the silent era the Our Gang films are Dorothy Morrison, Mildred Kornman and Lassie Lou Ahearn.