Hickman's Challenge with Leave Her to Heaven

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Darryl Hickman was by no means a newbie actor when he was cast as the disabled character "Danny" in Leave Her to Heaven.

The child actor began his career early at age six, and by the time Heaven rolled along, he had already worked with director John Ford, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, and Shirley Temple.

However, it was director John Stahl’s intial cold demeanor and his lack of assistance that made this film noir especially challenging.

Leave Her to Heaven – what an experience it was at the time,” Hickman remembered. “It represents a rite of passage for me from child actor to beginning of being an adult actor and understanding that I was not going to be taken care of by directors or even the stars that I worked with. I had to assume the responsibility as a mature actor and take care of myself.”

Below Darryl Hickman shares additional memories from the set.

1. On his role.

“I was very athletic, and it was difficult to pretend that I was crippled. I felt compassion for the character. If you’re an actor impersonating a hurt child, and you’re a child yourself, it’s difficult. That was another reason this was a hard role for me to play."

2. On the costumes.

“They paid close attention to what Ms. Tierney wore, but they did that for every major film actress. The actors got very little attention in those days. The female star got all the attention of the designer, as far as clothes were concerned. They kept bringing outfits on the set and making them and trying them on in her dressing room. Cornel wears the same thing in every scene almost. But what can you do with a man’s outfit? It’s a tie and a suit. But ladies can get all gussied up and look gorgeous. And she is gorgeous.”

3. On Tierney and Wilde's relationship.

“Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney did not get along very well. She was very cold to him and put him down. She was patronizing. This was a big step in his career, and she was already a big star. He was learning, and she could have been more gracious to him.”

4. On the director.

"I could not please John Stahl, and he kept apologizing to Gene Tierney for my inadequacies and why we had to keep doing it over again. I was so upset, and I remember going up to my mother in tears, saying, ‘Mom, pack the bags. They’re going to fire me. I cannot please this man.’”

5. On his big moment.

“That water was so cold that the double they brought from Los Angeles wouldn’t swim in the lake for me. So I ended up doing the swimming. I ended up having pneumonia. It was terrible. Just terrible. I had to do a lot of different angles and go down [deep into the water] so they couldn’t see me.”

6. On Zanuck's response to his final scene.

“Stahl got a telegram from Darryl Zanuck tonight: ‘Drowning scene best piece of film I’ve seen in years. Congratulations.’ Here’s what happened after that: [Stahl] treated me great for the rest of the movie, and he started to treat Cornel Wilde badly. Apparently, he needed a scape goat to pick on.”

7. On Tierney.

“As I watch Gene Tierney, I think she felt inadequate. I watch her try to sell this, and knowing what I now know, I think she’s struggling. This demanded a lot of her, and I’m not sure she felt up to it. I know she didn’t get any help from John Stahl.”

8. On Crain.

“Jeanne Crain was not someone that I knew very well because I don’t think I ever shot a scene with her. She seemed very open and generous and a pleasant human being. A bit shy, I think. But she wasn’t in any way self-involved. She seemed very much a people person.”

9. On Chill Wills.

“Chill Wills was very special because he was more of a character, than he was an actor. He was fun to be around, and he never took himself that seriously.”

10. On Price.

“I remember watching Vincent Price shoot a scene with Tierney. I later worked with him several times after that, and he's a very fine actor. He is so easy and so smooth.”

11. On WIlde.

“Cornel Wilde was one of the finest gentlemen I ever worked with. First rate guy. He was a very fine athlete, and he and I would play catch with a football. We used to play at lunchtime. It was really fun.”