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Week of Films Salutes a Disney Favorite

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kevin Corcoran compares acting to being a baseball player, versatile at different positions. This is an apt analogy for the former child star who in the 1950s and ‘60s was one of Walt Disney’s most valuable players. The Mouseketeers were entertainers and role models, and Tommy Kirk and Kurt Russell were teen faves. But kids in the audience related more to Corcoran, who created a character who was part all-American boy and part hellion. He was the quintessential bratty kid brother or mischievous moppet.

For the first time, the Disney Channel pays tribute to Corcoran with “Six Degrees of Kevin Corcoran,” a one-week festival of his films and vintage “Walt Disney Presents” programs, airing midnights beginning tonight during the “Vault Disney” retro-programming block.

Corcoran began acting when he was 2. He was born into the profession. One sister, Donna (“Angels in the Outfield”), was under contract at MGM, and another, Noreen (“Bachelor Father”), at Universal. He first came to Disney’s attention when he was cast as Moochie, a farm kid, in “The Dairy Story,” a serial broadcast on the original “Mickey Mouse Club.” Disney put Corcoran under exclusive contract.

Unlike other child stars, Corcoran, 50, is untainted by scandal. He has been married to the same woman for 27 years. Not for him the swollen ego or bitterness that have plagued others of his peers who could not adjust when their careers stalled in adulthood. By his own choice, he said, he quit acting in the late ‘60s, “when the film industry got very strange,” and after college made the transition behind the camera. He currently works as an assistant director on the NBC series “Providence.” He has worked as a producer and a director on such series as “Murder, She Wrote.”

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He credits “parental guidance” for his ability to avoid the pitfalls of child stardom. “My folks were very down to earth,” he said. “Some people’s families are in the delicatessen business. My family was in the picture business. It was great to be out earning money, but if my mother [Corcoran’s father died when he was 9] thought that it was adversely affecting me in any way, I was going to sit out.”

Corcoran also credits Walt Disney for being a “caring” father figure. He recalled Disney calling him into his office after one contract negotiation. “I think I was 8,” he said. “He called me up there and said to me, ‘This is between you and me. I want to know if you feel you’re being treated fairly.’ I know darn well if I had said I was unhappy, he would have done something about it.”

And Corcoran was happy. He looks back with warm memories and kind words for his various co-stars, including “Babes in Toyland’s” Ed Wynn, whom he says, “didn’t have a mean bone in his body”; “Old Yeller’s” Fess Parker, “Another great guy, nothing pretentious about him”; Annette Funicello, “Terrific”; and Fred MacMurray, “Even though he was a guy who was considered frugal, he was not a guy who wasn’t anything but a terrific human being.”

Corcoran reflected on the films and programs to be broadcast in the coming week:

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* “Babes in Toyland” (today): “I felt like a fish out of water. I never was a song-and-dance kind of person. I was always utilized as an actor, but Walt liked me, and so he put me in there because he felt I could contribute a little something. But I never felt like I really belonged in that picture. [Co-star] Ann Jillian was perfect for it. She was a singer. That was her forte.”

* “Spin and Marty” (Tuesday): “Great fun. We did it out at the Golden Oak Ranch [in Placerita Canyon]. Each summer we would go out and do this serial because it got to be popular. I remember [once], Edwards Air Force Base nearby was testing some aircraft. One of the aircraft got away and crashed into the side of the hill near the ranch and set the hills on fire. We didn’t have to go to school and we all got to go home.”

* “The Shaggy Dog” (Wednesday): “Tommy Kirk and I had a great relationship. We fought like hell continually. He was a character. I don’t think America really knows how good an actor he was. I don’t know if I can repeat all the practical jokes we played on each other. I remember one sequence--it might have been on ‘Savage Sam'--in which I was supposed to be throwing rocks at him. Tommy and I had been battling [off-screen] about something, so instead of the prop rubber rocks, I started throwing real ones.”

* “Bon Voyage!” (Thursday): “This film was different for Disney, more adult. [Screenwriter] Bill Walsh came from small Midwest upbringing and he liked the idea of a small-town family getting to go to Europe. Walt took a chance. I don’t think it was successful, but there are many interesting things in it. Fred MacMurray could do anything. He liked doing comedy with me, and we did it well, I think.”

* “Swiss Family Robinson” (Friday): “We made it on a little island in the British West Indies. There was a whole menagerie of animals: elephants, tigers and ostriches. They were kept in a compound. You could go in there and pet them.”

Also included in the festival are two of Corcoran’s personal favorites, “Old Yeller” (Saturday) and “Johnny Shiloh” (Saturday-Sunday).

Corcoran said he does not like to watch himself on-screen. But surely he would tune in during a week devoted to him? No, he said. “I’ll probably be working.” When informed that the films would air at midnight, he laughed, “Then I for sure won’t be seeing any of it.”

* “Vault Disney’s” weeklong “Six Degrees of Kevin Corcoran” movie tribute begins tonight at midnight on the Disney Channel with “Babes in Toyland.”

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