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Lee Aaker

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Lee Aaker
Lee Aaker, Rin Tin Tin and Paul Birch (1956)
Born
Lee William Aaker

(1943-09-25)September 25, 1943
DiedApril 1, 2021(2021-04-01) (aged 77)
Arizona, U.S.
Occupation
  • Actor
  • producer
  • carpenter
  • ski instructor
Years active1951–1963 (actor)
Spouse(s)
Sharon Ann Hamilton
(m. 1969; div. 1971)
Lee Aaker with Rin Tin Tin, James Brown, and Rand Brooks, 1956
Lee Aaker with Rin Tin Tin, James Brown, and Rand Brooks, 1956

Lee William Aaker (September 25, 1943 – April 1, 2021)[1] was an American child actor, producer, carpenter, and ski instructor known for his appearance as Rusty of "B-Company" in the 1950s television program The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. He was the final surviving cast member of the series. In 1952, Lee Aker appeared in “Desperate Search” with Howard Keel and Keenan Wynn.

Early years

Aaker's mother, Mrs. Myles Wilbour,[2] was the owner of a dancing school in Los Angeles.[3] (Another source says that she "ran a children's theatre academy" and that when Aaker was 4, she had him "singing and dancing at local clubs.")[4]

Film

On television as a young child, he started appearing uncredited at the age of 8 in films such as The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and High Noon (1952).[1] He quickly moved to featured status by the end of that year.

He showed talent as the kidnapped Indian "Red Chief" in a segment of the film O. Henry's Full House (1952) and another kidnap victim as the son of scientist Gene Barry in The Atomic City (1952).

In 1953, he co-starred in the John Wayne western classic Hondo (1953) as the curious blond son of homesteader Geraldine Page.[1]

He also appeared in other film styles such as the film noir thriller Jeopardy (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck, the horse opera drama Arena (1953) with Gig Young, and the comedies Mister Scoutmaster (1953) with Clifton Webb and Ricochet Romance (1954) with Marjorie Main.

Television

In 1953-54, Aaker was among the many child actors who auditioned for the role of "Jeff Miller" on the original 1954 Lassie series, which later aired as Jeff's Collie. That role went to Tommy Rettig. Two weeks later, Aaker won the role of "Rusty" on The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, co-starring James Brown (1920–1992) as Lieutenant Ripley "Rip" Masters.[1] Aaker and Rettig were friends, and both shows were popular with audiences. The two actors and the two star dogs appeared together in a photograph used on the cover of the July 2, 1955 issue of TV Guide.[3]:236

Later years

Aaker told a newspaper reporter that when he reached the age of 21, he was paid a $10,000 lump sum (equivalent to $83,400 in 2020) by the studio that produced Rin Tin Tin "and he spent the rest of the '60s traveling around the world 'as sort of a flower child.'"[5] Unable to find work as an adult actor, Aaker got involved as a producer and later worked as a carpenter.[1]

Personal life

In the late 1960s, Aaker was married to Sharon Ann Hamilton for two years.[4] He resided in Mammoth Lakes, California, for many years and was the first adaptive sports instructor for Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra at Mammoth Mountain.[1] According to Paul Petersen, an advocate for former child actors, Aaker experienced poverty towards the end of his life, and also struggled with substance abuse. Petersen said Aaker died near Mesa, Arizona, on April 1, 2021, and was listed as an "indigent decedent". Petersen was arranging Aaker's burial.[6]

Recognition

In 2005, Aaker won the Golden Boot Award[7] as Kids of the West.

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
1951 Benjy Benjy
1952 The Greatest Show on Earth Boy Uncredited
1952 Something to Live For Alternate Boy Uncredited
1952 My Son John Boy Scenes deleted
1952 No Room for the Groom Donovan
1952 High Noon Boy Uncredited
1952 The Atomic City Tommy Addison
1952 O. Henry's Full House J. B. Dorset aka Red Chief (The Ransom of Red Chief)
1952 Desperate Search Don Heldon
1952 Hans Christian Andersen Little Boy Uncredited
1953 Jeopardy Bobby Stilwin
1953 Take Me to Town Corney Hall
1953 Arena Teddy Hutchins
1953 Mister Scoutmaster Arthur
1953 A Lion Is in the Streets Johnny Briscoe Uncredited
1953 Hondo Johnny Lowe
1954 Ride Clear of Diablo Boy Uncredited
1954 The Raid Larry's Friend Uncredited
1954 Her Twelve Men Michael Elliott Uncredited
1954 Ricochet Romance Timmy Williams
1954 Destry Eli Skinner
1954 Black Tuesday Little Boy Uncredited
1957 The Challenge of Rin Tin Tin Rusty
1963 Bye Bye Birdie Student leader

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1952 Your Jeweler's Showcase Episode: "Teacher of the Year"
1953 Fireside Theatre Sandy Episode: "The Boy Down the Road"
1953–1954 The Ford Television Theatre Tony Evans / Joey 3 episodes
1953–1955 Letter to Loretta Jimmy Preston / Myron 2 episodes
1954 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Episode: "Pearl-Handled Guns"
1954 General Electric Theater Tim Kelly Episode: "Wild Luke's Boy"
1954–1959 The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin Rusty 164 episodes
1955 The Adventures of Spin and Marty on Walt Disney Presents Russell
1955 The Lone Ranger Tommy Righter Episode: "The School Story"
1955 Screen Directors Playhouse Cowhide Episode: "The Brush Roper"
1956–1957 The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (two Christmas episodes, with Rin Tin Tin)
1957 Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers Govinda Episode: "The Glass Necklace"
1959 The Millionaire Tommy Spencer Episode: "Millionaire Henry Banning"
1959 Rescue 8 Billy Episode: "Runaway"
1959–1961 The Donna Reed Show Walter the Wizard / Kenny 2 episodes
1959–1962 Disneyland Willy / Chuck Taylor 4 episodes
1960 Make Room For Daddy Charles Crane Episode: "Rusty Meets Little Lord Fauntleroy"
1963 The Lucy Show Cadet Blake Episode: "Lucy and the Military Academy"

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f Goldrup, Tom & Goldrup, Jim (2002) Growing Up on the Set: Interviews with 39 Former Child Actors of Classic Film and Television, McFarland & Co Inc, ISBN 978-0-7864-1254-9, p. 5-12
  2. ^ "'Corporal Rusty' Battles Indians On Television and Books With Tutor". The Times. Indiana, Hammond. International News Service. October 28, 1956. p. 85. Retrieved November 26, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  3. ^ a b Orlean, Susan (2011). Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Simon and Schuster. p. 191. ISBN 9781439190159. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b Garver, Kathy; Ascher, Fred (15 April 2016). X Child Stars: Where Are They Now?. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 32–33. ISBN 9781630761141. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  5. ^ "Rin Tin Tin's friend is now a carpenter". Southern Illinoisan. Illinois, Carbondale. November 15, 1976. p. 18. Retrieved November 30, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  6. ^ Barnes, Mike (April 13, 2021). "Lee Aaker, Child Actor on 'The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,' Dies at 77". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 14, 2021.
  7. ^ "The Golden Boot Awards". The Old Corral. Retrieved 30 November 2016.

Further reading

  • Goldrup, Tom and Jim. Growing Up on the Set: Interviews with 39 Former Child Actors of Classic Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002, p. 5-12.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 241.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, p. 1.
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