Senior Portrait: Darryl Hickman

By Zach Rosen   |   February 4, 2021
From decades of working in Hollywood to his recent paintings, Darryl has spent his life pursuing creativity

Creativity comes in many forms, yet is unique to each individual pursuing it. However our own unique creativity cannot be expressed until we explore it. The illustrious career of Darryl Hickman represents a lifelong pursuit of creativity and discovering the unknown. Darryl has been called the “the ultimate Hollywood hyphenate” with an over eighty-year career as an actor, dancer, writer, producer, and director that has spanned film, television, theater, and radio. Darryl was born in Los Angeles and says he “came out ready to sing and dance.” At an early age, his mother encouraged him to believe in himself and that each person is gifted with a divine creativity that is waiting to be discovered, an idea that would shape his lifelong creative pursuits. When Darryl was three, he joined the Meglin Kiddies Studio that taught Shirley Temple and other child performers. Darryl had a knack for dancing and soon found himself learning from Hollywood and industry masters. It was while working on The Star Maker that he met Bing Crosby, who took a liking to him and connected Darryl to his brother, Everett Crosby, who was a well-established agent in Hollywood.  

After eighty years of acting, writing, and teaching, Darryl Hickman’s newest creative endeavor is painting

After doing some more films for Paramount Studios, Darryl found himself at Fox Studios in a “cattle call” with about 500 other children auditioning for the role of Winfield Joad in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. With no real resumé or acting classes to speak of, he was shocked to receive the role playing opposite of Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. After 22 weeks of filming, his mother asked Ford why he picked Darryl. Ford said that it was because he thought that Darryl would be Winfield Joad versus acting like him, an insight that would be the theme of Darryl’s entire career. By the time Darryl was 18, he had been in almost 100 movies alongside some of the Hollywood greats like Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and Judy Garland, among many others. 

By his early twenties, Darryl was working a lot in television and had become friends with Loretta Young. When she started her dramatic anthology series, The Loretta Young Show, he wanted to write something for himself and asked if she would be interested in featuring it. She liked the script and ran it on the show. He ended up writing five more episodes for the series. This began his career as a creative writer in television that expanded to screenplays, musicals, song lyrics, and more over the years. Having been in film acting since he was a child, he wanted to explore something new and became interested in live theater, moving to New York City to pursue Broadway. Although Darryl admits his dancing outshines his singing, he knew how to perform a song. After some brushing up on both before his auditions, he was accepted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, replacing Robert Morse in the starring role for over a year. He notes that this was the first time he received actual acting classes. He eventually directed several plays and as he continued acting and writing, Darryl began to move into directing and producing, working in a variety of directorial and programming roles for CBS and his own independent endeavors over the years. 

Whether it is dancing, acting, or painting, Darryl has discovered that the creative process is about pursuing unconscious intuition, not conscious thoughts and self doubts (painting titled “My Secret Place”)
In painting and Darryl’s other creative endeavors, he seeks to discover what he doesn’t know (painting titled “Wild Abstraction”)

During this time Darryl had also started teaching musical theater at the Herbert Berghof Studio and in 1971, he established his own acting class at the Triangle Theatre in NYC. Darryl immediately took to teaching, finding it to be just a different kind of performance. He realized that he had never really had acting classes so he didn’t have the wisdom and techniques of previous teachers to pull from, but he did have the experience working with the best in the business during the formative Golden Age of Hollywood. What Ford had glimpsed in him all those years ago became his method, teaching students how to be their character and not just act like them. Pulling from his own experiences, he focused on how to quiet conscious thought of what one knows and allow the unconscious mind to tap into the innate creativity that rests in each one of us. He eventually moved back to L.A. to continue teaching his acting workshop, Process, instructing four classes at a time for the next twenty years. It was in his classes that he met his now wife, Lynda. She had been a Rockette and in several commercials but discovered that she preferred to be behind the scenes. She even helped edit and self-publish his book, The Unconscious Actor: Out of Control, In Full Command, that detailed his experiences, process, and approach to acting. 

As detailed in his book, Darryl’s acting process stemmed from his experience of not being a traditionally trained actor

About twenty years ago, after decades of performing, writing, producing, directing, and teaching, Darryl was understandably ready to relax a bit. He had visited Montecito and the area on the weekends and had taken a liking to it. Deciding that he wanted to move there, Lynda left her job as a personal secretary for Hearst Entertainment and they’ve been living in Montecito ever since. Over the years he has not put his creativity to rest. Darryl had painted off and on throughout his life, but it really drew him in when he painted a Christmas gift for Lynda two years ago. Since then he has fallen in love with painting, filling their Montecito home with his artworks. Lynda is his “partner in painting,” providing meaningful input that helps shape the outcome of each piece. 

Darryl will be turning 90 this year in July and he says, “the way I paint is the way I want to live the rest of my life.” Just like with his other creative endeavors, Darryl paints from a place of not knowing, listening, and trusting his inner self and allowing his unconscious mind to color the canvas. From his experience painting to his decades performing and teaching, Darryl feels that creativity is in each and every one of us, waiting to be explored. He says that one of the keys to his career is that he never stopped himself. If there was something he wanted to do, he would just do it without question, and encourages everyone else to do the same. All too often, our self-doubt gets in the way of self-discovery. Darryl would like to see everyone pursue their creative side, letting go of any conscious hesitation and embracing divine intuition. For Darryl, creativity is not a metric of what we know but a path to be discovered in each moment by exploring the unknown in every one of us, clearing each step along the way with the swipe of a brush or stride of a dance.


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