Jean Darling: New Documentary for Our Gang Silent Film Star

by Brent Reid

Friends of Jean Darling (August 23, 1922 – September 4, 2015) are making a feature length documentary about her nine-decade career as an entertainer

When Jean Darling, actress, singer, author, passed away in September, the world of film lost one of its few surviving stars of the silent era. Many of us also lost a dear friend. We’re planning to make a documentary about Jean’s wonderful life – and you can help.

Jean Darling in wedding dress, c.1940s

Jean Darling, c.1940s

Jean started in showbiz earlier than most, literally before she could walk or talk. A beautiful, precocious child, her career went on to encapsulate the worlds of the stage, screen, radio and publishing. She’s perhaps best remembered by the public for having starred in the Our Gang (later renamed Little Rascals for TV) series of shorts in the 1920s, but there were many, many other career highlights.

Jean Darling (standing) and the rest of Our Gang in a tree

Jean Darling (standing) and the rest of Our Gang

She acted onscreen alongside Laurel and Hardy and originated the role of Carrie Pipperidge in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel (Apr 19, 1945 – May 24, 1947), appearing in 850 consecutive performances. She forged further success hosting her own TV and radio shows, authoring short stories and novels and appeared in her final comedy short, The Butler’s Tale, in 2013.

Jean Darling as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel on Broadway, Apr 19, 1945 – May 24, 1947

Jean Darling in Carousel on Broadway, 1945

However, this is not the place for a lengthy career résumé: there are many online obituaries for that.

Jean Darling, c.1940s

Jean Darling, c.1940s

Perhaps her greatest legacy was the love and light she shone into the lives of all who were fortunate enough to meet her. Jean was an enthusiastic and much-desired guest at film festivals and conventions everywhere. She had a boundless wealth of stories to tell, particularly about her years in Hollywood, and was still actively creating many more. Due to her particularly close and long-lasting friendship with Stan and Ollie, Jean made many friends in various Sons of the Desert (Laurel and Hardy fans) tents around the world.

To know her was to love her. Many, myself included, initially met her through the world of film, but very quickly came to think of her as simply, a warm, generous, quick witted and funny friend, who just happened to be possessed of incredible talents and an equally incredible life story.

Jean Darling and Oliver Hardy, c.1920s

Jean Darling and Oliver Hardy, c.1920s

She was a special guest at Italy’s Pordenone Silent Film Festival for the past decade and at the time of her passing, was busily making plans to attend this year’s event. Naturally, the 2015 festival was dedicated to Jean and there were more than a few tears shed at her absence. The idea to make a documentary in tribute to her began to be discussed and we decided to get the ball rolling.

Jean Darling (right) and the rest of Our Gang in a wheelbarrow

Jean Darling (right) and the rest of Our Gang

To begin with, renowned silent film musician Donald Sosin possesses much high quality footage of Jean, both in performance with him at Pordenone and at her last home in Germany. He has also volunteered to score the documentary. Regular festival attendee and silent film expert Tony Saffrey also has a lot of pro-shot footage from her appearances at Pordenone. Film critic and Chaplin biographer David Robinson, and Variety film critic Jay Weissberg, the past and present directors of the Pordenone festival, have given the project their unequivocal support.

Jean Darling in pyjamas, c.1920s

Jean Darling, c.1920s

This is all still in the early planning stages and we’re inviting you to be a part of it. We’d like news of this project to be shared as widely as possible, so everybody has the opportunity to add their contribution. Whether you have footage, photographs, memorabilia, interest in donating to a possible crowdfunding campaign or, perhaps most importantly, memories of Jean’s life and work, please let us know. Leave a comment below or email:

Brenton Film email address

Help us make it happen!

Read this lovely tribute to Jean by Jay Weissberg, Variety film critic and Pordenone Silent Film Festival Director:

Jean Darling – A Personal Reminiscence by Jay Weissberg

Jean Darling, c.2010s

Jean Darling, c.2010s

Jean Darling, c.1920s, autographed photo

Jean Darling, c.1920s

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23rd December 2015 11:20

It is impossible to forget Jean’s unique e timeless voice when she’s singing “O mio babbino caro”, not having on your on your cheek a tear of happiness. During the latest editions of the festival Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (between 2008 and 2013), she shared and donated something that today is very difficult to see around: a heart. This indescribable feeling absolutely deserves to be remembered, for that we need absolutely to do this documentary.

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