Lee Aaker, the former child actor who starred in O. Henry’s Full House (1952), has died aged 77, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The anthology film, based on the beloved author’s most famous short stories, consisted of five segments, headed up by ‘The Cop and the Anthem,’ in which Marilyn played a streetwalker accosted by a tramp (Charles Laughton.)
Lee was eight years old when he appeared in the film’s penultimate segment, ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’, directed by Howard Hawks. He played D.B. Dorset, kidnapped by two small-time criminals (Fred Allen and Oscar Levant), who hope to extract a hefty ransom from his well-to-do father. However, their plan goes awry as the mischievous boy, who calls himself ‘Red Chief,’ soon wears them down with his constant pranks.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Mike Barnes claims Aaker was billed above Marilyn. This is not the case, although his role was more substantial than hers. Born in 1943, he was best-known as the orphan Rusty in TV’s The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.
Like many child actors, Lee struggled to make the transition to adult roles. He left films by the age of 20 and worked as a carpenter for many years, but would battle drug and alcohol problems throughout his life. He later taught skiing to underprivileged children and people with disabilities.
On April 1st, 2021, Lee Aaker passed away near Mesa, Arizona, after suffering a stroke. Paul Petersen, the former Donna Reed Show star who serves as an advocate for former child actors, said Aaker died alone and destitute.