Were he still alive, Bobby Buntrock would be be 62 year old. He died tragically, however, over 40 years ago, at the age of 21, The child actor, who played Harold Baxter on the popular 1960s Hazel comedy series, lost his life in an automobile accident on a bridge in Keystone, South Dakota on April 7, 1974. According to the World Heritage Encyclopedia, the bridge had been severely damaged two years previously in the South Dakota Flood of 1972. There was a large hole in the middle of the bridge with at least 3.1 to 4.6 metres (10 to 15 feet) of water in the hole from the creek. Unfortunately, there were no warning signs or barricades to call attention to the danger. Bobby was en route to visit a friend when his car slid of the side of the road and flipped over into the water.
The accident was reported and divers arrived at the scene. They eventually reached the car and discovered Bobby's body. The young man had tried to escape, but he had been unable to pry the door open far enough due to the mud and the sheer force of the water. His death was horribly heartbreaking and could have been prevented.
Robert Willard "Bobby" Buntrock was born in Denver, Colorado on August 4, 1952, the son of Robert Edward Buntrock, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, and his wife Maxine. Bobby had a younger sister named Stella. When he was three years old, the family moved to Whittier, California where neighbours urged Bobby's parents to get their son into acting. and encouraged them to send photographs of the child to the studios. The neighbours were so persistent, according to an October 14, 1961 item in the Lewiston Evening Journal, that they sent a photographer to have Bobby's picture taken specifically for that purpose.
When the photos were received, the Buntrocks agreed, under pressure, to submit them to an agent, Marcella Bell, who auditioned young Bobby and signed him on as client.. He made made his acting debut n 1959, appearing with Hollywood great Bette Davis on NBC's Wagon Train. In the episode, "The Ella Lindstrom Story" (Season 2, Episode 18, Air Date (February 4, 1959). he played Bo Lindstom, one of Ella's (Davis) children.
In 1960 Bobby appeared as Buddy on an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse called "Dr. Kate." In 1961, he had cameo roles on two of the biggest hit comedies on American television, Mr. Ed and The Donna Reed Show. In an early episode of Mr. Ed, "Kiddy Park," he played a small boy in the park where Ed, the talking horse, was giving pony rides. (Season 1, Episode 4, Air Date: January 26, 1961). On The Donna Reed Show, Bobby played a crying child in an episode entitled "Mary's Little Lamb" (Season 3, Episode 38, Air Date: June 8, 1961). In the episode, Mary Stone (Shelly Faberes) is permitted to open the house to a baby-sitting service while her mother is out of town.
In 1961, Bobby was cast as eight-year-old Harold Baxter on the sitcom Hazel, starring Oscar-winner Shirley Booth (In 1953, she won an Academy award for her role in Come Back, Little Sheba). The series, based on Ted Key's cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post about a busybody maid, became a huge hit with viewers. Don Defore and Whitney Blake played Hazel's employers, George and Dorothy Baxter, and Bobby played their blond-haired son.
The first five seasons of the show (1961-1965) were broadcast on NBC. After the fourth season, both DeFore and Blake left the series. When the show moved to CBS for its fifth and final season, it was completely revamped. George and Dorothy were transferred to Saudi Arabia on business for a lengthy period and Hazel and Harold moved in with George's bother, real estate agent Steve Baxter (Ray Fulmer) and his wife, Barbara (Lynn Borden). Their daughter Susie, Harold's younger cousin, was played by child actress Julia Benjamin.
Below is a photo (circa 1965) of Bobby with Shirley Booth and Julia Benjamin.
While starring in Hazel, Bobby Buntrock made appearances on other television series. In 1963 he took on the role of Andrew in an episode of the popular TV Western The Virginian ("Brother Thaddeus," Season 2, Episode 7, Air Date: (October 30, 1963). That same year, he played a character named Scout Hendricks in an episode of the crime series Burke's Law entitled "Who Killed Eleanora Davis?" (Season 1, Episode 13, Air Date: December 20,1963). In 1965 he portrayed Peter, a Cub Scout, on the Inger Stevens comedy, The Farmer's Daughter in an episode entitled "Ja, Ja, a Thousand Times Ja" (Season 2, Episode 32, Air Date (May 7, 1965).
After Hazel went off the air in 1966, the teenage Bobby, made two more guest appearances on The Virginian and then retired from acting. The Virginian episodes, which aired in 1967, are "Doctor Pat" (Season 5, Episode 23, Air Date: March 1, 1967) and "The Masquerade" (Season 6, Episode 6, Air Date: October 18, 1967).
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE REST OF THE CAST OF HAZEL?
Shirley Booth (Hazel),retired from acting in 1974. The New York City-born actress died on October 16, 1992 at her home in North Chatham, Massachusetts after suffering from health problems such as blindness and a broken hip. Shirley was 94 years old at the time of her passing.
Don DeFore, who played Hazel's employer, attorney George Baxter, died of a cardiac arrest on December 22, 1993 in Santa Monica, California. He was 80 years old. Prior to his role as George Baxer, Don played Erskin "Thorny" Thornberry, the Nelson family's neighbour on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Whitney Blake, who portrayed Dorothy Baxter, died of cancer of the esophagus on September 28, 2002. She passed away in Edgartown, Massachusetts at the age of 76. Whitney was the mother of actress Meredith Baxter of Family Ties fame (Coincidentally, Blake's first husband was named Tom Baxter).
|Hazel (Booth) with Mr. and Mrs. Baxter (DeFore and Blake)|
Julia Benjamin (Susie Baxter) will turn 58 years old on February 21, 2015 and is retired from acting. After Hazel was cancelled by CBS in 1966, Julia was only able to land a few guest-starring roles on television.
Ray Fulmer (Steve Baxter) celebrates his 82nd birthday today. After Hazel left the air, Ray played the role of Lee Gantry on the CBS daytime soap The Guiding Light. He later portrayed Martin Nell Dillard on another soap, Somerset, a spin-off of Another World.
Lynn Borden (Barbara Baxter) is now 77 years old She has made guest appearances on such television series as My Three Sons (1967), The F.B.I.(1968), Family Affair (1967) (1968 - twice), Get Smart (1967) (1969), The Mod Squad (1969), McMiillan & Wife (1975), Petrocelli (1976). Starsky and Hutch (1977), Fantasy Island (1978), The Fall Guy (1982) and CSI: NY (2006). In most recent years, Lynn has worked in television commercials and on stage.
|Lynn Borden (right) with Shirley Booth and Ray Fulmer|
* Bobby Buntock's sister Stella appeared in some television commercials as a child.
* When Bobby starred in Hazel, he was required by law to have a tutor on the set. When the show was on hiatus, he attended Lake Marie Public School in Whittier, California.
* A false story has been circulating that Bobby Buntrock's mother died a year before her son in a car accident at the same bridge in South Dakota where he perished. However, Maxine Buntrock died on June 20, 1972 of cardiac arrest at the family home.
* Bobby's father, Robert Edward Buntrock, remarried in 1979. He wed a widow named Margaret R. (Champion) McClure.who became stepmother to Bobby's sister Stella (Buntrock) Watson. Robert, who was born on September 3, 1915, passed away on March 21, 1996. Margaret, originally from Keystone, South Dakota, died on March 14, 2011 at the age of 92 in Rapid City, South Dakota.
* According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Bobby was a member of the National Guard in Rapid City, South Dakota.
* Below is a photo of Bobby Buntrock's grave. He is buried at Keystone Cemetery, Keystone, Pennington Country, South Dakota, U.S.A.
EDITOR'S NOTE (March 10, 2016): The above photo has been misidentified as Bobby Buntrock on the "Find a Grave" website and on "Pininterest." It is, in fact, Bobby Driscoll, an American child actor who became drug-addicted and died a sad death in 1968 at the age of 31. Here is a picture of Bobby Driscoll as a child.
It is easy to understand the confusion as both actors had the same first name and both died young. Driscoll had darker hair. Note: I have yet to see an adult photo of Bobby Buntrock.
EDITOR'S NOTE (March 17, 2017): I have recently written another piece with more information about Bobby Buntrock. To read it, click on the link below.
EDITOR'S NOTE (April 19, 2019): I received the following e-mail regarding Bobby Buntrock's tragic death. It is very informative.
I was reading about Bobby Buntrock's death in your column and I would like to offer the opinion that the business of not being able to open car doors under water is not uncommon.
Even at a depth of 5 feet, the water pressure is 2.17 pounds per square inch. Figuring a fully immersed door at 24 x 48 inches in size (pretty conservative, a total of 1152 square inches) at that depth, the force of water holding the door shut is about 1152 square inches times 2.17 pounds per square inch = about 2500 pounds or over a ton.
At ten feet, the water's force on the door is about 5000 pounds or 2 1/2 tons.
As you can see, it would be very difficult to get out under water, even at very modest depths, because of the forces involved.
Your report mentioned that Mr. Buntrock had struggled to get out, but that mud and water pressure would not allow that. There was no mention of the depth of water at that site, but as you can see, mud or no mud, the car doors might be very difficult to open.
The "trick" is to roll the window down (or break it) to allow water to equalize the pressure, but this takes real fortitude to do, and is unlikely to be thought of in a panic situation.
One hopes that none of your readers will ever find themselves in that situation, but if they do, remembering this might save their life.
It has been surmised that the reason Senator Ted Kennedy could not rescue Mary Jo Kopechne when he dove down to get her out of the car, was because of the water pressure on the door, and that was the same reason she could not get herself out.
A friend of mine died in his pickup truck for this very reason.
You may verify the physics involved with any physics involved with any physics professor or SCUBA diver.
Note these numbers are for fresh water. They are slightly higher for salt water.
Water pressure versus depth calculator:
- Dick Loesch
I thank Dick Loesch for his letter.
EDITOR'S NOTE (December 16,2019): A reader was kind enough to send me these 1968 yearbook photos of Bobby Buntrock at Eagle Rock High School. He was on the track team and he was 16 years old.
|Bobby is in the centre.|