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One-piece orchestra

Here’s a publicity photograph from the January 9 1929 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of three siblings playing a large harmonica.

Junior Durkin (1915-1935) was not quite 14 when this picture was taken. He went on to have a career in movies, twice playing Huckleberry Finn while child star Jackie Coogan was playing Tom Sawyer. He died when a car driven by Coogan’s father was forced off the road; of the five people in the car, Coogan was the only survivor.

At the time of his death, Durkin was living with his agent, Henry Willson; there were rumours that they were lovers. Willson went on to find, represent, and sometimes rename a number of famous male leads, including Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and Rory Calhoun. (Some of his finds were gay, some were not.)

When her younger brother was killed, Grace Durkin (1908-1991) sued Coogan for a reported $500,000, as Coogan’s father allegedly had been drinking at the time of the crash. I couldn’t find out how the suit was settled, but it would possibly have been a futile effort: Coogan’s mother and soon-to-be stepfather had squandered most of Coogan’s earnings. Ms. Durkin appeared in a number of movies in the 1930s before giving up her career to marry actor William Henry. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1949.

Gertrude Durkin (1911-1970) did not appear in any stage or film roles other than Courage, as far as I could find out. She married actor James Ellison in 1937; they remained married until she passed away.

Courage, the play that the Durkin siblings were in, ran for 280 performances from October 1928 to June 1929 at the Ritz Theatre in New York. This theatre was renamed the Walter Kerr Theatre in 1990. Bruce Springsteen performed regularly there in 2017 and 2018.

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