Scotty Beckett was one of the cutest, most successful child actors of the 1930s and 1940s. He began his career as a child actor in the Our Gang shorts and later costarred on Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. However, his descent into a life of alcoholism, drugs, and crime remains one of the most tragic of Hollywood stories. What was Scotty Beckett’s cause of death and how did he end up in such a downward spiral?
Early Life and Career
Scott Hastings Beckett was born on October 4, 1929, in Oakland, California. He got his start in show business at age three when a casting director heard him singing by chance at a hospital where his father was recovering from an illness. He auditioned and landed a part in Gallant Lady (1933), alongside Dickie Moore. The same year, his father died.
In 1934, he joined Our Gang, in which Moore had appeared from 1932 to 1933. He played George “Spanky” McFarland’s best friend and partner in mischief. His trademark look was a crooked baseball cap and an oversized sweater exposing one shoulder. He left the series for features in 1936 and returned briefly as Alfalfa’s cousin, Wilbur, in Cousin Wilbur and Dog Daze (1939).
After his Our Gang tenure ended, Beckett won increasingly prominent roles in major Hollywood films, usually playing the star’s son or the hero as a boy. Among his major credits are Dante’s Inferno with Spencer Tracy, Anthony Adverse with Fredric March, The Charge of the Light Brigade with Errol Flynn, Conquest with Greta Garbo, Marie Antoinette with Norma Shearer; Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, in which he played Jon Hall’s character as a child, and Kings Row, in which he played Robert Cummings’s character as a child.
He also appeared as one of the unborn children in Shirley Temple’s The Blue Bird (1940) and had a central role in the wartime propaganda film The Boy from Stalingrad (1943). He attended Los Angeles High School and took time off from filming to try his luck on the stage.
Later Roles and Personal Problems
Adolescence did not hamper his career, as he won important roles as that of young Al Jolson in The Jolson Story (1946), with his singing voice provided by Rudy Wissler, and Junior in the radio show The Life of Riley. His performance as Jolson was described as “touching, enchanting, and to all indications, accurate” according to Wikipedia.
In 1947, he appeared alongside former Our Gang member Dickie Moore and Marilyn Monroe in Dangerous Years. He enrolled at USC but dropped out when he began receiving more offers from MGM, beginning with Cynthia (1947) with Elizabeth Taylor, A Date with Judy (1948), again with Taylor and Jane Powell (the future Mrs. Dickie Moore), Battleground (1949) with Van Johnson, Nancy Goes to Rio (1950), again with Powell, and The Happy Years (1950) with fellow child stars Dean Stockwell and Darryl Hickman.
However, his personal life was not so happy. He married three times and had one son. His first marriage to Beverly Baker lasted only a year and ended in divorce in 1950. His second marriage to Sunny Vickers lasted six years and ended in divorce in 1957. His third marriage to Margaret Sabo lasted until his death.
He also developed a problem with alcohol and drugs that led to several arrests and convictions for drunk driving, possession of narcotics, forgery, assault, and robbery. He attempted suicide after a bout of binge drinking in 1962. He was fired from Rocky Jones, Space Ranger for showing up drunk on the set. He spent time in jail and rehab but could not overcome his addiction.
On May 10, 1968, Beckett was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment at the age of 38. The official cause of death was listed as overdose of barbiturates according to IMDb. However, some sources claim that he committed suicide or that he was murdered by drug dealers.
His body was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery. His grave marker reads: “Our Beloved Scotty”. He left behind a son, Scott Hastings Beckett Jr., who was nine years old at the time.
Scotty Beckett’s cause of death was a tragic end to a promising career that started with such innocence and charm. He was one of the brightest stars of his generation but could not cope with the pressures and temptations of fame. His story serves as a cautionary tale for child actors and their parents.