BURBANK, Calif., Oct. 7, 2015 – Former child actor Kevin Corcoran (1949-2015), forever remembered for his pivotal role in one of the Disney Studios’ most heartbreaking films, “Old Yeller” (1957), died Tuesday at his home here of colorectal cancer. He was 66.
A native of Santa Monica, Calif., and a mainstay of the Disney Studios for roughly a decade (1954-1964), Corcoran was better known to children of that generation through his appearances as “Moochie” in various Disney features, some of which were on the original edition of Disney’s popular “Mickey Mouse Club,” aired daily on network TV.
Corcoran’s “Moochie” appeared in various serials on the show, including “Spin and Marty,” but also appeared in popular family films such as “The Shaggy Dog,” “Polyanna” and “The Swiss Family Robinson.”
Whatever the program or the film, “Moochie” was a reliably all-American boy, at least the 1950s pre-Ritalin version, and was well known for his character’s impetuosity, which often led him into memorable predicaments.
Corcoran is perhaps most remembered by film buffs for his role as young Arliss Coates in the famous Disney feature film “Old Yeller,” in which he co-starred with Fess Parker, who himself had recently gained fame as Disney’s legendary “Davy Crockett.” Parker played Arliss’ father Jim in this film, which takes place in post-Civil War Texas. Dorothy McGuire starred as Katie, Arliss’ mom and Jim’s wife.
Arliss and his yellow dog, a Labrador-mastiff mix, are inseparable pals, sticking together through thick and through thin after the onetime stray saves him from a vengeful mother bear. Brother Travis (Tommy Kirk) dislikes Old Yeller, who’s something of a chicken thief, but the dog eventually works its way into the family’s heart.
Defending the family against a rabid wolf, Yeller is bitten, contracts rabies and must be put down by Travis, who must shoot him before he injures and infects the uncomprehending Arliss. This scene proved to be one of the greatest movie tearjerkers of all time, but in some ways was typical of a Disney family film, which, as in the animated features, “Bambi” and “The Little Mermaid,” often touched upon the harsh and tragic moments that come to life.
Corcoran left the acting profession in his teens after his final Disney film, “A Tiger Walks” (1964), to attend college at California State University, Northridge, where he was awarded a degree in theater arts.
He later returned to Disney, working behind the scenes there and at other studios, where he directed and produced many TV and silver screen productions, ranging from “Pete’s Dragon” (1977) to shows like “Quantum Leap” and “Profiler.” He also was co-producer for a series of episodes on the much-admired crooked-cop series “The Shield” and the recently concluded “Sons of Anarchy.”
Corcoran married young in 1972. But, atypically for Hollywood, he and his wife Laura were devoted to another and remained together until Corcoran’s death.