A former child actor once touted by Paramount Pictures as the "male Shirley Temple" and had a later career as a jazz muscisian and songwriter, David Holt is best remembered for supporting roles such as the bratty Sidney Sawyer in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1938).
Born in Jacksonville, Fla., on Aug. 14, 1927, Holt was a 5-year-old dance school student in 1933 when an audition was arranged for him with humorist Will Rogers. Rogers told Holt and his mother that if they were ever in Hollywood to look him up and he would get the boy in pictures. But when Holt's father quit his job with the Ford Motor Co. and the family drove west to Hollywood, Rogers refused to see them. Arrivign at the height of Depression, Holt's father was unable to find work and the family was forced for a time to eat in soup kitchens. Fortunately, 6-year-old David quickly landed a part of sorts--clad in a chimpanzee costumeas a body double for Cheetah in "Tarzan the Fearless," starring Buster Crabbe.
Holt and his mother made the rounds of casting calls in the same car with the mothers of two other fledgling young performers: Shirley Temple and Jane Withers. Temple famously struck it big at Fox Studios, and for a time it looked as if Holt would follow suit. His first important role--as a boy whose mother dies in "You Belong To Me," a 1934 Paramount tear-jerker--prompted executives to sign him to a long-term contract. On loan to MGM, Holt landed what would have been a star-making role, the title role in "David Copperfield" (1935), sharing scenes for two weeks with W.C. Fields who played Micawber until British child actor Freddie Bartholomew became available and Holt was replaced because producer David O. Selznick was worried audiences would reject Holt's Americanism. Instead of becoming a superstar, Holt would instead become a frequently employed child actor.
Holt's role as Sidney Sawyer in Selznick's production of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (1938) haunted him for years: kids wanted to fight the boy who had played the annoying Sidney but they quickly discovered that Holt was as good a pugilist as he was an actor. He would also appear in "The Big Broadcast of 1936" (1936), played one of the children in "Beau Geste" (1939), was one of the original six Jivin' Jacks (of the dancing Jivin' Jacks and Jills) in Universal's "What's Cookin'?" (1942), apeared in "The Human Comedy" (1943) and the was the teenage version of the crippled boy for whom Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) hit a home run"Pride of the Yankees" (1942). Holt continued working in films and television until the mid-1950s, and his final role was a the "lone hunter" in the 1976 horror feature "Grizzly."
As a composer, he wrote numerous jazz albums, many featuring Pete Jolly. An early Christmas song, "The Christmas Blues," which he co-wrote with Sammy Cahn, was heard on the soundtrack of the 1997 film "L.A. Confidential." In his golden years, Holt--who had siblings in show biz--had been working on his autobiography, "The Holts of Hollywood."