By Fred Muenz
Born in Oakland, California in September, 1929, Scott Hastings Beckett moved to Los Angeles when he was just three years old. Shortly after the family arrived in L.A., his father became seriously ill and was hospitalized. While visiting, young Scotty would entertain his father by singing to him. So impressed were the nurses, that they would carry him from room to room so he could entertain other patients. During one of his visits, he was noticed by a Hollywood casting director who told his parents that the boy had movie potential. His mother took him to an audition and Scotty won a small role in GALLANT LADY (1933). His father died the following year and five-year-old Scotty, who became on of the Our Gang kids, was now the family’s major bread winner. Director Hal Roach noticed that Scotty resembled child star Jackie Coogan, so he dressed him in an oversized cap and turtleneck sweater, similar to Coogan’s outfit in THE KID (1921). After appearing in fifteen Our Gang shorts as “Spanky” McFarland’s sidekick over the next two years, Scotty was reassigned and soon emerged as one of the top child stars in Hollywood. Over the remaining 1930’s and into the early 1940’s, he appeared in a succession of major films with some of the most popular stars of the time.
After years of being schooled by tutors on the set, Scotty entered high school in 1943. At that same time, he was playing Chester A. Riley’s son, Junior, in the radio sitcom The Life of Riley, and still appearing in major movies. After his high school graduation, he enrolled in college, but soon dropped out when he couldn’t balance his studies and film roles. Just when Scotty Beckett seemed to be on top of the world, things began to crumble. He became part of the young Hollywood wild set and his partying, drinking and reckless behavior began to take priority over his acting career. In 1948, he was arrested for drunk driving after crashing into another car when leaving a fraternity party. He tried to run from the police booking office and refused to empty his pockets. In 1949, he eloped with his first wife, but she left him after five months, claiming jealousy and abuse. This was the beginning of the conservative 1950’s. The following year, the studio, fearing bad publicity, forced him to marry his already pregnant second wife. The notoriety of his divorce and forced second marriage made him a Hollywood outcast. Between 1951 and 1954, he managed to find small roles in only two minor films. Desperate, in early 1954, he landed a role as the sidekick in the TV sci-fi series, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. To make matters worse, most of his Hollywood pals were becoming real movie stars at the same time.
A month after landing his TV role, a hotel in Hollywood was robbed and the desk clerk pistol whipped. The police found Scotty Beckett passed out drunk in the hotel basement, armed with a gun and knife. Since the police didn’t find the loot from the robbery and the desk clerk couldn’t positively identify him, Scotty was only charged with possessing illegal weapons. After posting bail, Scotty fled to Mexico with his wife and young son, where they lived under assumed names. After running out of money, he began writing checks drawn on a non-existent bank. When finally tracked down by Mexican police, he started shooting at them and attempted to flee. After serving four months in a Mexican jail, he returned to Los Angeles, where he was sentenced to three-years’ probation for jumping bail on the weapons charge. A month later, he was arrested again, this time for writing a bogus check. Still trying to make a comeback in films, he was arrested again for trying to cross from Mexico back to the U.S. with illegal drugs. Any dreams of restoring his acting career were now over. When he lost custody of his son in his second divorce, he attempted suicide. He recovered but could not stay out of trouble. In April, 1959, he was arrested again for drunk driving. The following August, he was driving drunk again when he crashed his car into a tree and was severely injured. He could walk only with crutches and would spend most of the rest of his life in a wheelchair. In September, 1963, he was arrested again, this time for assault with a deadly weapon, when he attempted to stab a neighbor. Three days later he slashed his wrists in a second suicide attempt. After his recovery, he managed to stay out of trouble for the next few years. Finally, in May, 1968, he was severely beaten in a drug deal gone wrong and made his third suicide attempt. This time he was successful. From a life of great promise to a tragic end, Scotty Beckett was just 38 years old.
ANOTHER SILVER SCREEN MEMORY NEXT WEEK.