An Interview with Darby Hinton.
Actor Darby Hinton is known to millions worldwide for his role on The Daniel Boone Show, a popular action-adventure series on NBC, which aired from 1964 to 1970.
When Hinton was six years old, his mother dropped him off at 20th-Century Fox to audition for The Sound of Music while she parked the car. The young boy made the serendipitous mistake of standing in the audition line for Daniel Boone and bowled over the casting department. He was quickly signed for the role of Israel Boone, the young son of Daniel Boone, played by Fess Parker.
Hinton was steadily employed for the next six years, and his acting career continues. Even at a young age, he knew his skills had to be nurtured if he wanted to remain in the industry. The California native has dedicated his life to the profession. In addition to television, he has worked in several other mediums including film, plays and a soap opera. Hinton is also an advocate for child actors, lending his time and experience to A Minor Consideration and Looking Ahead – both non-profits created to provide guidance and support for young performers, past, present, and future.
We spoke to Hinton about his career, his body of work, and his photo book in advance of his appearance at the inaugural TV West Fest, which takes place March 16-19 in Tucson, Arizona.
Q: You got into acting at a very young age, but you don’t strike me as someone who was either forced into it or was haunted by your past?
A: I don’t think I was haunted but you’re right, I didn’t have much say when I was placed into the field at six months of age. I did have a stage mom, if that means that it was somebody who was taking care of me on the set and everything else that goes with a child actor’s career. But she was also levelheaded about it thanks to her network of friends. Charlton Heston was my godfatherand Jane Russell was my sister's godmother. Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, and my dad were the three amigos. Tragically, all three all died within the course of a year. So, it was kind of, “This isthe family business” and it was a job. And when it was time to sign the new contracts for Daniel Boone, she would ask, “Is this something you want to do?” I’d reply, “Yes, of course.” Then she’d say, “As soon as you start thinking you're something special and better than the other kids, I'm yanking you off the series.” “Oh, mom, come on.” So, it was good because there was a level of normalcy to it. I was blessed. Fess Parker was a great guy. He was the one who ran the set and set the tone and atmosphere. He kept things calm. He was like a dad. He was very cool. It’s interesting because at his wake, I gave a eulogy. Before that, actor Ron Ely of Tarzan fame spoke. He said he would visit our set because there was no yelling, screaming or tantrums. He said, “I didn’t know how it was a working set!”
Q: You had some substantial credits by the age of five and before Daniel Boone. Do you recall any specific experiences?
A: A couple. Heroes Island was the first movie I did when I was about three. I recently watched it,and it triggered a memory where I was caught under a net on the beach. And in the Brothers Grim, I remember we were shooting in artificial snow and the director told me, “Now, don't look up at the snow machine. So, of course, I looked up at the snow machines and was then sent to the nurse to get plastic wafers taken out of my eye. Then, of course, there was my appearance on Mr. Ed. I loved watching Mr. Ed, and then I was on the show. They wanted me to kick Wilbur and I said, “I don't wanna kick Wilbur … I like Wilbur!” They told me not to worry. While I was in makeup, they brought in the metal shin plate to show me when I kicked Wilbur, how this would protect his shin and there’s no way I could hurt him. During rehearsals, knowing Wilbur was wearing his shin guard, I hauled off and kicked him in the shin has hard as I could. Remember, back then all kids had wooden soled shoes. There were no soft sneakers or anything, so the blow was painful to poor Wilbur, who began jumping up and down and cursing. The director started cursing at the prop master because unfortunately, he hadn’t put the shin guard on Wilbur for rehearsal! After that, they wanted me to kick him again for the actual take. I didn’t do as good a job the second time!
Q: And speaking of Daniel Boone, the story of your audition almost sounds too good to be true – you went to audition for The Sound of Music and stood in the wrong line for Daniel Boone and landed the part. True or not true?
A: It’s true and once again, this is where I embrace the guidance. I think my dad, who was killed in a plane crash when I was a year old, still had a good hand in things. Think about it: me going to the wrong casting office and then the first episode of The Daniel Boone Show aired on my mom's birthday. And I was blessed with Fess as a dad for six years. I got to see “Pa” more than his own kids did. It was a wonderful and blessed thing that happened. My mom thought I was going out for The Sound of Music. But in the end, the littlest Von Trapp child wasn’t the part of a boy – it was a girl. It turned out to be Kym Korath, who was wonderful in the part.
Q: As you previously stated, Fess Parker became a father figure to you. Can you tell me about your relationship with him?
A: It was great, and it lasted all the way up to the very end of his life. The morning he passed was his wife Marcy’s birthday. I woke up and said, “It’s Marcy’s birthday. I gotta drive up to Santa Barbara to go celebrate it with her and Fess.” My wife asked, “Were you invited?” I said, “No, but I just have this feeling. I gotta go up and wish her happy birthday and see how she is.” And my wife's like, “Okay, if you feel that strongly, go!” So, where the 101 Freeway hits the ocean is when I got a call from Ashley, Fess and Marcy’s daughter. She said, “Darby, I didn’t want you to hear it on the radio or somewhere else, but Fess just passed away.” I said, “I was heading up there anyway, is it okay?” She said, “Yes, come on up. It’s family only.” So, we were always close. I still love his kids like my brother and sister.
Q: He ended up being quite the entrepreneur, didn’t he? I’m always amazed when I see an actor make that transformation from artist to businessman.
A: One time we decided to go off-roading in his Hummer in Santa Barbara County. After a while, Fess drove me up to a fence in the middle of nowhere and we surveyed the landscaped. Then he asked, “Well, what do you think Darby? What do you think of this land?” I said, “It looks great to me.” He said, “Good! I just bought it.” I asked him, “What part of it?” He said, “All of it right up to those mountains.” And before that, Fess bought his vineyard in Los Olivios, he called me up one day and asked, “Are you friends with Michael?” I said, “Michael who?” He said, “Michael Jackson.” As it turned out, his vineyard backed up to Neverland and when Fess first bought it, he was walking his property line to check it all out. Michael Jackson’s security guards drove up in agolf cart and demanded, “Who are you?!” Fess didn’t have any identification on him and I guess the guards weren’t big Boone fans. I know Michael was!
Q: The Daniel Boone Show was highly popular, drawing 30 million viewers in its fourth season. Those are astounding numbers. Can you give me a story that encapsulates the popularity of the show?
A: It was but remember there were only three major networks at that time, so there was basically a one in three chance people who were watching television that night might be watching you. I think when it really hit me is when I appeared on a show called Kids Eye View of Washington with Art Linkletter, Maureen McCormick, Clint Howard, and a little kid named HP Barnum II. We got to tour the White House and then interviewed President Nixon. On the way out, Nixon shook everyone’s hand and when he got to me, he said, “Darby, you tell Fess that I love his show. I think you guys are doing a great job.” I went, “Oh my God … The President of the United States watches us.” I couldn't wait to get back and tell Fess.
Q: After the show ended, you took some acting jobs to try and shake up our image as the All-American boy and then moved to Switzerland to finish high school. Did you miss acting or did you want a normal life at that time?
A: Well, that's why I went to Switzerland. I thought that would be a normal life. I thought, “I'll finally get up in the Swiss Alps and go to a school and nobody will know who I am. I can just be me and not be prejudged.” But unfortunately, after 20 hours of planes, trains, and automobiles and getting to the school, I got a big surprise. I got to the gate, went to the back of the taxi, opened it up, got out my trunk and before I put it on the ground, this girl walking by from the school looked at me, pointed and started singing, “Daniel Boone was a man…” That’s when I had to finally accept my fate. There are a lot of child actors and adult actors too, that gets an image that everybody knows, and they start resenting that image. Fortunately, I never have. I’ve had to accept that Israel is a part of me and people all over the world knew/know me as that. I remember traveling through Mexico and these little kids would see me on the street and recognized me. They’d run up to me and started talking to me in Spanish, I didn't speak any Spanish. So, I couldn’t talk to them or even understand what they were saying to me. Then they’d get mad at me because they thought I was snubbing them because on their TVs, they’d watch me speaking Spanish. In Japan they had a little girl dubbing my voice, which didn’t go over so well with me (laughs).
Q: You seemed transition back into acting when you finished your studies. What do you attribute to that? Great acting teachers?
A: Well, that and I had Greyden Clark, who was a great producer and director, in my corner. He employed me in a lot of his projects. And yes, I also had a lot of great acting coaches. Joan Darling, is a wonderful lady whom I still love to this day. I have a movie coming up and I've called and talked to her about it. Back in the day she was substituting for Milton Katseles, another great acting coach, but also known as the “Mad Greek.” Joan came in when he was directing on Broadway and took over the class. She said at one point, “You know, if the police knew how much fun we can have as actors, they'd have us arrested.” Mm-hmm. And I went, “Yes! That’s who I wanna study with. That’s who I want to learn from.” Acting has its trying times, but I love it and still love it. I try to have fun in everything I do because I think that's one of the joys of being here.
Q: Speaking of fun, Malibu Express (1985) practically brought the Playboy mansion to the movie set. What was that experience like for you?
A: That was a very fun movie to do, especially right after my honeymoon (laughs). As a matter of fact, when I went in and auditioned for the part, Andy Sidaris, the producer/director, asked me, “Now, you're not married or anything, are you?” I had a wedding date coming up, but I wasn’t married. So, I said, “No, no, not married. He said, “Good, because there are going to be a lot of beautiful women on this project, and I just don't want any problems. So good, good, good.” Then the start date for the movie got pushed back. I think Andy was probably trying to get moneytogether, but the film got pushed back until I had my wedding. The he next day, we went toAspen for our honeymoon, so I wasn’t reading any trade papers. A day or two after we got there, I received phone call from Andy. He said, “Okay, Darby, we’re getting ready to go. So, uh, you’re not still married or unmarried or anything?” I asked, “Why…?” It seems Andy was staring at a Hollywood Reporter story from George Christie, who had written a big article on the weddingand around 200 people showed up. So, I said, “Yeah, Andy, I’m married now.” But it didn't cut down on the fun. I gotta tell you. That film was a blast!
Q: I’m sure it was fun to play a movie stud!
A: I got to act opposite Sybil Danning and about seven Playboy playmates, including the“Playmate of the Year.” When I got back, Andy opened the latest issue of Playboy and went right to the centerfold. He said, “Okay, here’s your next leading lady.” I have to say in my own defense that I did not know it was going be quite as revealing as it was. We’d shoot a scene, and when we finished Andy said, “Let’s do it again, but now I need one for the foreign market.” That’s when the ladies would take off their tops. Andy held the premiere at the Director’s Guild of America, which was a big deal. I came in the limo with my wife and friends and when I walked in, I was the big man, waving at everybody, “Hey, how ya doing?” And then Andy screened it…it was ALL theEuropean version. Women were just taking their tops off in the movie for no reason and I literally crawled out of the place before the end credits rolled. Once outside, I jumped into the limo and screamed at the driver, “Open that bottle of champagne!” He said, “Don’t you want to wait for your friends?” I said, “Nope!” and I took a big swig. I was really surprised that the movie was as revealing as it was. But it has become a cult classic.
Q: You also worked on the soap opera, Days of Our Lives. What was that experience like as an actor? Was that a good learning or training experience for you?
A: Well, no, because I’d done all the other types of acting before. So, I didn’t need to be prepared. This was after Malibu Express when my wife was pregnant with our first boy, and I thought, “Oh my God. He's gonna want a Porsche. He’s gonna want this; he’s gonna want that. I must get steady work.” I had never done a three-camera shoot or the soaps before. But David Hasselhoff was a great friend, and I took him over to Hawaii for his first time. We would walk into places and every girl from eight to eighty would be, “Oh, Snapper Foster!” and they'd be all over him, but the guys didn't have a clue who he was. I thought that was great. So, I told my agent to look for steady work and that’s when Days came along. But for me, soaps were the closest to work that acting has ever been. You’ve got to learn a ton of dialogue every night and then do it again the next day. Fore a movie, you can get six months to a year. Back in my day with a television series, you had to get it done in a week. With soaps you had a day to shoot the whole show. So, the pace was incredible.
Q: When you had your daughter (after four sons), you decided to do only roles that allowed you to stay at home. Why did you make that decision?
A: I don’t know if I made that decision as much as I wasn't pursuing things. In this town, you have to be out there hustling and moving. Hollywood can leave you quickly behind. I have five kids and I remember being in Romania and calling my son on his birthday. That just got to me. I wanted to see him. I didn't want to be the absent dad. And then with my little girly! So, once again, it turned out great. I was asked to do this play – an experimental play called The Manor at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. The place has 52 rooms, and the audience follows the actors around the house. I thought it was intriguing, so I did it. The Manor was going to have maybe three or fourruns. Before this, I had no desire to be in a play because my background was in movies and television – you do it and it’s over with and you move onto the next thing. So, the cosmic joke is that we started it and ran for eighteen years and ended when COVID-19 shut everything down. It was a great experience.
Q: You seem quite adaptable when it comes to your profession?
A: You must be adaptable in this business, right? You must go with the flow and play the hand you're dealt. I can throw out all the old cliches out there. However, water is the most adaptableliquid there is and yet it can eat away at rock. I'm a firm believer in heaven and hell being right here on the planet. I think you can make heaven for yourself, and I think you can make hell for yourself. We can all see those people that are living that way; the spiritual people that are well connected who do the right thing and contribute and try to make the world a better place. They seem happier and they’re more joyful. You see people that cheat, steal, rob and are out for themselves, and I think they're creating their own hell. So, I like to create the good and have fun. Yeah.
Q: You’ve been involved with A Minor Consideration for many years. Why is this important to you?
A: Paul Petersen, the Patron Saint of Child Actors, started A Minor Consideration years ago. He contacted me during very downtime in my life when things weren't going that great. This was during an actor’s strike and at the time I was really struggling to support my young family. See, my mother was a wonderful mom but a lousy businesswoman. When I stopped doing the series, she thought, “Oh, that’s it. He doesn’t have to pay taxes now because he is not earning money. The IRS didn’t agree with that, and they just assumed I kept making the same amount of money that I had made the year before when I was working on the series. Unbeknown to me, that went on for several years. When I was 18 and working on a movie, I got called in by the producer. He said, “Darby, come here. I was just visited by the taxman, and I’m not allowed to pay you.” That’s when I found out that the IRS came by and seized everything with my name on it. My mom hadn’t responded to them, so they just took it all and left a note saying, “We know you don’t owe this much money so contact us to settle.” I know this for a fact because I found their note after my mom passed. My mom didn’t like lawyers or doctors and ignored most authority. Unfortunately, she ignored the IRS until the statute of limitations ran out and there was no settlement. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from Paul, who said, “Darby, this is Paul Petersen. You don’t know me, but I think I’ve found some money for you. I was shocked then he said that he had to go but could he call me the following day? I hung up the phone, looked at my wife and said, “What does this guy want? What’s the scam behind all this?” Paul called me the next day and said, “Come meet me and a judge downtown at the courthouse. I went, “Okay…” And I go down there. The bailiff said, “Mr. Hinton, please come with me” and he takes me right into the judge’s chambers and there was Paul and the judge. The judge asked me where I was parked. I told him, “I'm across the street in that public parking spot.” He then called in an armed guard, and I thought, “Okay, now this is getting interesting.” Then they took me downstairs to the vault and there was all my Jackie Coogan money that had been put aside from the series and had been earning some wonderful interest all during the seventies and eighties. So that was nice little treat. And the thing was, Paul went in there and found it for the actors because the city by law had to stay neutral. So that’s how I got involved with A Minor Consideration. That act endeared me to Paul.
Q: So that gesture of goodwill made you want to give back?
A: Absolutely yes, and to help. I had so many friends growing up that didn't make it who aren’t here and went to the dark side. I started seeing stuff like that and thought, “Let’s see what we can do that’s positive.” Acting can be fun, it’s a great business but there are pratfalls. That’s where Looking Ahead started. Paul helped me start Looking Ahead with the immense help of Actor’s Fund from the very first meeting.
Q: And in a nutshell, what is this organization about?
A: It’s an environment we’ve created for child actors. When I was growing up, if there was another kid actor you might run into on an interview junket, the belief was he was out for your job. He was my competition. So, there was no connection with the other kids in the business. And if you went back to regular school, you couldn't connect with those kids because they really didn't get it, either. You’re very isolated. So, what we’ve done is to a community where they do everything from bowling, paintballing, to going out to the Actors Motion Picture Fund and talking to elderly actors and building benches and doing positive things. I’m really pleased with it and where it’s gone, including counseling for the parents – teaching them what to expect and what's best for their kids.
Q: You also wrote a book called Growing Up Israel: My Life in Pictures. What can you tell us about it and why you did it?
A: Having boxes and boxes of my mom's pictures that rats would get into or there'd be a leak and they were being destroyed. My mom always had at least one camera around her neck, if not two. And she never threw pictures away, even if they weren't good pictures. But it’s also the questions that people have asked me the most over the years and I even went online to my Darlings and Dudes group and asked, “Okay, tell me what the top questions are you have for me?” Then I took those and then tried to answer them in a book. Being dyslexic and not really liking to read a lot of text myself, I used all my mom’s pictures because I do believe a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s my life in pictures.
Q: Let’s talk about some projects you have going on today.
A: I just came back from Hawaii where I did Magnum P.I., and it was more than 40 years after I did the original one in 1981. I’m also going back to Virginia and Vermont to film that’s kind of an homage to my buddy, Johnny Crawford. It’s a great little Western story that we’re going to tell. Fun things. Like I said, I keep looking ahead.
Q: What do you enjoy about doing film and Western festivals and what are you looking forward to regarding TV West Fest?
A: I must be honest – for the longest time I was never into the “Where Are They Now?” festivals and why would I want to do them? I finally attendd one and I immediately hooked up with fellow actor Dan Haggerty (The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams) and we became instant brothers. He was the older brother that I always wanted. We had so much fun together and making fans happy. We really had a great time. It’s nice to meet fans and have people come up and tell you how much you mean to them. I also like seeing and meeting the younger generations that are watching the show. I hear things like, “This was such a family thing that we could all watch together. Why don’t they do more of them?” It’s very heartwarming to hear all that. Also at the festivals, you have dinner with all these other actors, and it takes you back. I never had a school reunion because I never stayed in a regular school long enough to really do that. But these other actors I’ve run across like Mitch Vogel, whom I haven't seen in forever, it’ll be fun to catch up with him. Bo Svenson also did a Daniel Boone episode and if you go to my website, there's a veryfunny interview he did where he said, “Yes, I had a kissing scene with Israel.” I mean, he’s a character. I can't wait to spend more time with him. All these people have become friends.