It always seems to catch Baby Boomers by surprise to learn that a child actor they grew up with is gone. You might not recognize his name, but Billy Chapin had one of those faces that looks familiar to anyone who’s seen movies or television shows made in the 1940s and 1950s.
As a kid, Chapin appeared in dozens of shows, including My Friend Flicka, Leave it to Beaver, Topper, Dragnet and The Loretta Young Show. The young thespian also appeared in a number of movies, including Naked Alibi, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Kid from Left Field and the now-critically acclaimed Robert Mitchum film noir classic, The Night of the Hunter.
Child actor Billy Chapin died on December 2, according to Deadline Hollywood. His sister, Lauren Chapin, who was a child actor who starred as Katherine ‘Kitten’ Anderson on Father Knows Best from 1954 through 1960, says her brother died in poverty and didn’t have enough money to pay for his own funeral. Recently, Lauren Chapin reached out to her Facebook friends and followers, imploring fans of her brother to chip in to help cover the costs associated with Billy’s funeral. Services were held at Monroe Christian Church in Los Angeles on December 26, two days before what would have been the former child star’s 73rd birthday.
Born William McClellan Chapin on December 28, 1943, Billy was the middle child in a trio of child actors. The eldest, Michael Chapin, now age 80, started his acting career at age eight. Michael Chapin appeared in the seasonal classic It’s a Wonderful Life as well as a number of westerns before retiring from the biz in 1959. Billy appeared in more than 30 movies and television episodes. His first acting role was as a baby girl in the 1944 Gary Cooper film, Casanova Brown. One of his final appearances was on a 1959 Leave it to Beaver episode entitled “The Grass is Always Greener.”
Of the three talented Chapin siblings, only Lauren enjoyed a successful, long-running career. At least it appeared successful on the outside. In 1981, Lauren Chapin told the Washington Post that after Father Knows Best was cancelled in 1960, she dropped out of high school, entered into a teenage marriage, developed a heroin habit and was divorced by age 21. Lauren noted that the mother of the Chapin kids was a single, alcoholic Hollywood stage mom who was more interested in promoting her children’s celebrity status than they were.
“It’s not all glorious like everybody says. I don’t think any child should be a child star. You’re seven and expected to behave as a 40-year-old. A child needs to be a child. There are only a few short years to be free and young and beautiful.”
The Night of the Hunter
Billy Chapin may be best remembered for his role as a child menaced by Robert Mitchum in the frightening albeit misunderstood 1955 flick, The Night of the Hunter. The only movie ever directed by legendary actor Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter was panned by critics and pretty much ignored at the box office in its time. More than four decades later, respected movie critic, Roger Ebert, lauded the somewhat surrealistic black and white movie as one of the all-time great American films. In addition to young Chapin, the 93-minute movie also starred Robert Mitchum as a dangerously narcissistic preacher with the words ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his fingers and Shelley Winters as the woman who is deceived and ultimately killed by him.
As of this writing, former child star Billy Chapin’s funeral costs have not been covered. TheInquisitr readers who’d like to chip in to help pay for the late actor’s final expenses are invited to do so at the Chapin family crowdfund.
[Feature image via United Artists]