Celebrating Gone With the Wind’s 75th anniversary in 2014, film buffs know only two original cast members survive. The first and foremost, of course, is Olivia de Havilland, now 98 years old and living in Paris. She played the beloved Melanie, the sweet one. She’s outlived the film’s stars Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as well as the rest of the formidable cast that included Ann Rutherford, Evelyn Keyes, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, and Leslie Howard.
But there is another of the cast members still alive today at the age of 82. He’s actor Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes, the very young son of Ashley Wilkes and his wife Melanie. As Melanie lies dying, Howard was worried Mickey might not be up to the emotional scene and be able to cry on cue. Director Victor Fleming told Howard not to worry. As they began the scene, Fleming asked Mickey how he would feel if his own little puppy died. That did it, and as Mickey came onto the set, the flow of tears began and he completed the scene with acting veteran Howard in one take. Sometimes kid actors aren’t so bad!
Theodore Michael Kuhn was born September 12, 1932 in Waukegan, Illinois, the same town in which radio/television/film comedian Jack Benny was born. It was the depth of the Depression and jobs were hard to find. Mickey and his family pulled up roots and moved out to California where his father found work in Los Angeles. By coincidence, Mickey inadvertently became a money maker when 20th Century Fox discovered him at age two and cast him with current box office favorites Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell (who later established the fame Racquet Club in Palm Springs for celebrities) in the film Change of Heart.
He took a few years off to attend school and returned to the studios in 1937 at age five to appear in Paramount’s A Doctor’s Diary with Sidney Blackmer and Helen Burgess.
Mickey hit paydirt in 1939 when he appeared in six pictures, including GWTW and Juarez with Bette Davis and Paul Muni. He had the luck to appear in many prestigious pictures during his career. Between 1940 and 1945, he made four more pictures in between his school studies. His 1941 entry was One Foot in Heaven starring Fredric March and Martha Scott, which received an Academy Award nomination as Best Picture. In 1945 he again was cast in one of the all-time great hits, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (20th Century Fox) as directed by Elia Kazan and photographed by the great Leon Shamroy. The film starred James Dunn as an alcoholic father to a large family and Mickey was part of the family unit. Both Dunn and moppet star Peggy Ann Garner took home Oscars. Garner got a Special Award as outstanding child actress. Other film greats in the movie were Dorothy McGuire and Joan Blondell.
At age 13, Mickey played ‘Junior” in the Dick Tracy RKO film, also made in 1945. His co-stars were the beautiful Anne Jeffreys (later a hit in the Topper series) and Jane Greer. The year 1946 saw Mickey entering the Paramount lot to act with the formidable Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, and Judith Anderson in the taut melodrama The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers. This film continues to have many showings on television.
Three Little Girls in Blue (1946), a musical made at 20th Century Fox with June Haver, dancer Vera-Ellen, and singer Vivian Blaine had Mickey playing a farmboy. Magic Town (1947) starring James Stewart and Jane Wyman brought Mickey right up to his next big film.
Director Howard Hawks was filming his iconic Western Red River (1948) with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift (age 28). Mickey was now 16 and the correct age to play the boy in the film, and Hawks gave him the job. Others co-starring in Red River were Joanne Dru, Coleen Gray, and Walter Brennan (the only actor to ever win three Best Supporting Actor Oscars during his career).
Mickey did some assorted pictures before he was cast in Broken Arrow in 1950 as a character named Bob Slade. It was a star vehicle for James Stewart and newcomer Jeff Chandler as well as a showcase for 20th Century Fox starlet Debra Paget to show off her assets. Chandler received an Oscar nomination for his role.
Ironically, in 1951 Mickey was cast opposite Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire as a sailor. He is the only male actor to have appeared with Leigh in both of her Oscar-winning films, a mere dozen years apart. Mickey was a strapping 19 years old at the time of the reunion.
During this same period, Mickey’s interests also turned to the stage. With film roles few and far between, he felt that perhaps the theatre was for him. He performed at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse as well as many theatres in the Hollywood area. Not seeming to get anywhere in show business he joined the Navy in 1951 and served four years. When he got out of the Navy he got into television acting and did several shows for Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as making the films The Savage Wilderness (1955, Columbia) with Victor Mature, Guy Madison and Anne Bancroft, and Away All Boats at Universal in 1956 with Jeff Chandler, George Nader and Julie Adams.
His personal life picked up around this time and he met and married his wife, and the couple had two children. Wanting to improve his lot in life, he attended Cal State Northridge and LA Valley College which led him to hold an assortment of jobs.
More or less giving up show business, Mickey joined American Airlines in an executive position and was assigned administrative manager at Boston airport. He retired from American in 1995. He now spends his time as a guest at various film festivals where he tells tales of what it was like to be part of the most famous film of all time, Gone With the Wind.