PCA Proflies: Danny Lockin

PROFILES

DANNY LOCKIN

 

Danny Lockin isn’t the most memorable celebrity in the history of pop culture, but he will always be memorable to me.  You see, when I was nine years old and just cutting my teeth on classic film, my favorite movie was Hello Dolly!  Catching it one evening on a PBS station, I had never seen a film that large in scale and that colorful before.  The music was fantastic, the dance numbers were enormous, the girls were wholesome and pretty and the men were well dressed and dashing.  I must have watched that film a hundred times as a child.  I knew every song by heart.  Yet, despite the fact that the film starred such pop culture icons as Barbara Streisand, Walter Mathieu, Michael Crawford and a camoe by the legendary Louis Armstrong,  my favorite character was naïve and timid stock boy Barnaby Tucker, played by lively and charismatic dancer Danny Lockin.  Danny had all the best lines, and he got to put the squeeze on the lovely E.J. Peaker who played Minnie Faye, who I had a giant crush on.  So imagine my horror as an adult when I was doing research on the cast of Hello Dolly!  and I discovered that Danny Lockin was the victim in a gruesome Hollywood murder.  The world never got to really know Danny Lockin, although I would never forget him.

Young Danny Locking with Neal Reynolds, aka “The Two Checkers”

Danny Lockin was the son of Omaha based dance instructor Jean Lockin, and began dancing professionally at the age of eight.  It was during this early age that Danny started his very first dance team with a boy named Neal Reynolds.  Danny, being white, and Neal, being black, were called The Two Checkers and performed dance routines, pantomime, impersonations and comedy routines all over the country.  However, as a result of Neal’s color, Danny experienced the hardships of bigotry early on, and for the rest of his life would be an advocate for civil rights.  Danny and Neal stayed together for nine years until Danny and his mother moved to Anaheim in 1959.

After losing the part of Rolf in “The Sound of Music” Danny Lockin headed to Broadway where he found success in productions of “Oklahoma,” “West Side Story” and, of course, “Hello Dolly!”

As his mother set up another dance studio, Danny began to shop his music and dance talents around to different show business auditions.  He was awarded a small part in the 1962 film version of Gypsy with Natalie Wood, and was one of the finalists for the part of Rolfe in The Sound of Music, even filming a screen test featuring him singing I Am Sixteen Going on Seventeen.  Unfortunately he would lose the part to Daniel Truhitte.  Becoming disenchanted with Hollywood after losing The Sound of Music part, Danny moved to New York City after he graduated from high school and brought his dance skills to Broadway, quickly attracting the attention of casting directors.  Looking much younger then he actually was, Danny was cast primarily in the roles of younger men and was cast as Rolfe in the Broadway version of The Sound of Music and also as a Jet in West Side Story.  Eventually he found the part that he would be most famous for when he was cast as Barnaby Tucker in the Broadway version of Hello Dolly! opposite Betty Grable in the role of Dolly Levi.  This seemed to have been tailor made for him because Danny would go on to play Barnaby in six more productions opposite talents such as Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and Ethel Merman.

Danny Lockin with stage legend Michael Crawford as Cornelius Hackle and Barnaby Tucker in the screen version of “Hello Dolly!”

It’s no surprise that Danny would eventually catch the attention of Hollywood dancer and leading man Gene Kelly who was about to direct his own production of the play, and after thirteen grueling auditions, Danny won the role of Barnaby in Kelly’s upcoming film version.  Apparently during the filming of Hello Dolly! Gene Kelly was hard on Danny, often challenging the dancer to new heights.  Yet the challenges paid off, and when watching the film Danny often defies gravity in his dance numbers.

Soon after his divorce, Danny Lockin began to question his own sexuality. 

Soon after winning the role in Hello Dolly! in 1966, Danny met and married another dancer named Cathy Haas and in 1969 they had a son together.  However, their marriage wouldn’t last and by the end of 1969 Cathy left Danny.  This devastated the young actor who had just seemed to be making headway in his career, and as a result Danny began to drink heavily.  Furthermore Danny would begin to question his own sexuality.  Both of these factors would play heavily in the events that would end his life.

By the end of the 1960′s Danny Lockin had left New York and returned to Orange County to teach at his mother’s dance studio

Returning to California for solace from the confusion in his life, Danny went back to teach dance at his mother’s studio.  Described as a popular teacher, with a boyish smirk and a glint in his eye, Danny was a favorite amongst pupils.  Danny went on to do some more television work, including a guest spot on Dean Martin’s summer replacement series Dean Martin Presents the Gold Diggers, which was actually hosted by Paul Lynde.  On the show he and his fellow Dolly co-star Tommy Tune, who played the role of Ambrose Kemper both in the film and on the stage, did a dance routine.  Sadly Danny’s next TV appearance would be his last.

After an apperance on “The Gong Show” in 1977, Danny Lockin went to an Orange County gay bar called The Mug and left with a man named Charles Leslie Hopkins. He would never be seen alive again.

On August 21st, 1977 Danny performed on an episode of The Gong Show with another of his mother’s dance school’s instructors named Billie Jo Conway.  Danny, being small and slender, and Billie Jo, being a three hundred pound woman who was a fantastic tap dancer, were a hit with the audience and tied for first place.  Jean Lockin was in the audience, and as a result of Danny’s drivers license being suspended due to his increased drinking, she was expecting to drive him home.  However, Danny told his mother not to wait because he was going to be going out for a drink with friends.  Danny and his friends went to celebrate at a Garden Grove gay bar called The Mug, where he was seen leaving with a bar regular named Charles Leslie Hopkins.  Hopkins lived nearby and worked as a medical clerk.  This would be the last time Danny was seen alive.

Due to a technicality, all of the evidence found at Hopkins’ home, including a torture diary and poloroids of Danny’s murder, were thrown out of court

Later that evening police were called to Charles Hopkins’ apartment after a call of a disturbance was made by a neighbor.  When Hopkins came to the door, he claimed that a man had entered his apartment and had tried to rob him, but once entering the apartment police found the dead body of Danny Lockin.  Danny had been stabbed over one hundred times and accompanying his body was a torture diary filled with pornographic images and Polaroid’s featuring Danny.  The diary also revealed that Danny was known to his assailant before that night, and that the murder was premeditated.  Hopkins had every intention of ending Danny’s life far in advance.  A coroner report actually reported that only six of the stab wounds were actually fatal, and that the other wounds were made solely for the purpose of torture.  Hopkins was immediately arrested and the evidence of Danny’s torture was secured and removed from the apartment.  Unfortunately, as a result of not obtaining a warrant before removing this evidence, prosecutors were not able to use the torture diary or Polaroid photos in court!

Due to tainted evidence and an untolerant judge, Danny Lockin’s murdere recieved a four year sentance for man slaughter and walks the streets today as a free man.

After a long delay, Charles Hopkins went to trial in September 1978, but there was no jury present.  The decision lay on the shoulders of the judge.  Hopkins stuck with an unlikely story that Danny had been at his apartment, but then had left, and when Hopkins woke up later Danny’s dead and mutilated body was just there and he didn’t know how it had got there or what had happened.  As a result of little public outcry about Danny’s murder due to the papers reporting little about it during an age when homosexuality was still a taboo subject, as well as what has been said to be a judge who figured that the crime was just a case of some sort of kinky gay sex game, Hopkins was charged with a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter!  As a result he only spent four years in prison for the torture and murder of a talented young man that the world hardly got to know.  Friends and family were devastated that the man who ended Danny’s life so viciously would get off so light.  Justice was not served.  Charles Hopkins walks the streets today as a free man.

Jean Lockin’s life was never the same after she lost her son.  She quickly folded her school and disappeared from Orange County.  However, Danny is still there under a marker that reads “Beloved Son.”

 

POP CULTURE ADDICT NOTE:  I would just like to thank Mr. Joseph Tatner for his help filling in some of the blanks in Danny Lockin’s story.  Joseph Tatner was a student at Danny’s mothers’ dance studio and kindly talked to me in 2006 about Danny’s life.  You can visit Joseph’s web-site and learn more about his career as both a stage and television actor at http://www.miracleproductions.org/joseph.  I also would like to also give a big thanks to Kathy Mechan who runs the Danny Lockin web-site for sharing information and photos.  She has been very valuable in helping me tell Danny’s story, and doing a great job keeping Danny’s memory alive.  Make sure to visit her site at http://dannylockin.com.

  1. david o'brien’s avatar

    it was a shock to me when i read only three years ago
    that danny had been murdered and so brutal it was!
    i will always remember him in hello dolly(film)
    and to think of the justice he got!!!!
    the judge must of been thinking that a gay man’s life
    wa
    s’nt worth much.

  2. Brian Arsenault’s avatar

    Saw him in Hello Dolly and really enjoyed his dancing. What a shook when I looked him up, the world is less beautiful without the talent and charm of his performances. My thought s and prayers are iwth the people he loved.
    Brian Arsenault

  3. ryan’s avatar

    Thank you for your article on Danny. I still feel an overwhelming sadness whenever I think of him.

    I’m watching “Hello Dolly” as I write this. Seeing it prompted me to research Danny and his life again, and I came across your website.

    My aunt Vivian and Jean were old chums who traveled the Midwest circuit for a time in the early 1930s (two independent women who were way ahead of their time), doing a song and dance routine at a host of venues. When the touring days ended, Vivian stayed with Jean in Plattsmouth, Nebraska from time to time. They were to remain lifelong friends until Jean’s death. Both continued to entertain, teach and love life.

    A note on Danny and Neal: They were also billed as “Salt and Pepper.” My parents had a couple of their publicity photos in our Upstate New York house. I recall asking who they were when I was a very little boy. I wish I still had those photos to share.

    Danny visited our house a couple of times in the 1960s, and I remember him doing some dance steps in the living room with that bright smile on his face. I was a little boy who was mesmerized by his moves, his wit and his charm.

    Vivian and Jean were in constant contact through the years. Jean was heartbroken over Danny’s downward slide. I didn’t know much about his marriage or divorce, but Aunt Vivian did say drugs and alcohol played a role, and the failure of his marriage devastated him.

    News of Danny’s death came from Vivian. I was in Michigan when I received the call. I can still hear the pain and anguish in her voice as she told me.

    I moved to California in the late 70s and enjoyed visits to Jean’s house with Aunt Vivian. They were like schoolgirls when they got together, singing, dancing and carrying on. Their stories were hilarious. Jean was still teaching at that time. Her students loved her. I went to a dance recital and she was so proud to introduce her students before each performance.

    Jean would remain in that Anaheim house until she suffered a series of strokes in the late 1980s. She died in a convalescent home around 1990 or 1991.

    My Aunt Vivian died in 1999 in New York City.

    Plattsmouth, Nebraska has a historical museum that features a small display on Danny and Jean. When we visited that area around 2005, I had the chance to talk to the curator who knew all about Danny and Jean.

    Again, thank you for your story about Danny. I’m watching him right now, and feel such a sense of loss.

  4. Jona Benedict-Fisher’s avatar

    HELLO DOLLY is one of my very favorite shows & I watch the movie every time it’s on. I also own a copy of it. As much as I love Michael Kidd’s choreography & the all too few appearances of the fabulous Tommy Tune, I am still in awe of Danny Lockin! I wanted to be Minnie Fay to his Barnaby! I hope nothing good has happened to Charles Hopkins. In my opinion talent is NEVER forgotten & Mr. Lockin was talent personified! Rest in peace, Danny!

  5. patrick lentze’s avatar

    oh, i just read this horrible murder story today in the internet movie database when i was searching for information of what happened to the players in the film version of “hello, dolly! (1969). just awful, i am still really shocked. he is really a fine actor. at first i was enjoying the stories of some of the other players and then suddenly i stumble upon this tragedy. oh, terrible!!! i wish i had never read it, because “hello, dolly!” (1964) is one of my favourite musicals.

  6. Elizabeth Davies’s avatar

    Just to clarify Danny’s parentage, in case anyone gets the impression Jean Lockin was a single mother.
    She was born Jean Caldwell and was happily married to Danny’s father Joseph M Lockin, who worked for Del Monte fruit canners in California, where the family had moved expressly to enable Danny to further his career.

  7. Barry Levine’s avatar

    You will be happy to know that Charles Leslie Hopkins died an usually slow and painful death from cancer; however, if you read any of his obituaries online, or his family’s “memorial tributes,” you will sadly see that there is NO mention of his murder of Danny, the brutal nature of the savage killing, or the fact that Hopkins was gay. Oh YES, he left OC after the murder, and got married TO A WOMAN, and they had 5 kids together and 4 step kids. I wonder if any of those children were ever told they were raised by an animal who tortured a movie and television star to death?

  8. Happyminyan’s avatar

    Even more shocking than reading today of Danny’s murder, was that absurd “punishment” of four years given to the murderer. I’m only slightly comforted that the murderer/monster is dead and, if according to the testimony above is true, he died in pain. Life has become so cheap in the U.S. courts. And there is no justice to be found there.

    As a dancer in my remote youth (I’m 60 now), I went crazy for Danny’s exuberant performance in Dolly. So, graceful, agile. Loved his dancing, leaping, jumping, and his charming smile. His on-screen presence was the best part of the film which was filmed at 20th-Century Fox’s studio only a couple miles from the home I lived in at the time in L.A.

    I will be thinking about this for awhile. The shock will have to run its course.

  9. Bennett Silverstein’s avatar

    This is the first I had ever learned that Danny Lockin had died so tragically, and so young. I remembered him from the movie version of “Hello, Dolly” and just got curious. Ran his name on Wikipedia and had to read this heartbreaking story.

    What makes it even sadder is the fact that the man who preceded him as Barnaby Tucker on Broadway, Jerry Dodge, also died very young. Died of chemical poisoning at the age of 37. There is no way to know what either one could have gone on to have done.

    Let’s remember our two Barnabys and thank them for all the great things that could have been had fate been kinder to them.

  10. Rob Sullivan’s avatar

    Interesting posts. Horrible to hear that the murderer went on to have a family. Life is so unfair. (By the way – the caption next to the Streisand photo – which sarcastically implies that she has the effect on men of questioning their sexuality – is just plain stupid and brings down the quality of the whole posting.)

  11. Ritamari martin’s avatar

    In the late ’60s I had the pleasure of working with Danny in a little theatre production of The Music Man. He was an amazing dancer and a sweet man. I was so excited when he got the part of Barnaby in the movie version of Hello Dolly! I was hoping I’d see him in many films.

    It’s been so many years but tonight I thought of him for some reason and checked to see what he’d been doing. Shock – I’d no idea and had heard nothing of his death. What a shame and shame to the murderers sentence.

  12. Rob’s avatar

    It doesn’t surprise me that the killer only got 4 years. Most law enforcement and the judicial system at the time had no respect for gay people and thought that they deserved it. If he would have been a judges son the killer would have gotten death. The U.S. judicial system is so crooked till it stinks!!

  13. Robert Randall Gehrke’s avatar

    Like many of the other fans of Danny I was shocked to learn of his death in 1978. I’ve seen the movie Hello Dolly many times. I absolutely fell in love with Danny the first time I saw him. I have never seen a more talented singer dancer and actor. The end of his life was so extraordinarily horrible. I believe that he should be given more credit for his contributions to American art & culture. I’ve also lost someone very dear to me in my life that was stabbed and tortured to death. I know what his mother Jean felt upon learning of this devastating crime, her son’s untimely death as well as his tortured body. The only source of comfort I have in reading articles about Danny is that his killer died a painful death from cancer. It’s outrages to think that in 2016 looking back less than 40 years ago how gay people’s lives mattered so little in 1978!

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