John Harper: A child shall lead them

John Harper: A child shall lead them
Director Charles Laughton on location with actors Peter Graves and Billy Chapin

Billy Chapin was not your typical child actor playing cutesy.

He had started acting professionally in 1951 in the Broadway stage musical “Three Wishes for Jamie.” After a year of touring, the play became a considerable success and earned him the New York Drama Critics Award as the most promising young actor of the year.

Charles Laughton personally cast the eight-year-old for the role of young John Harper in his 1955 film classic “The Night of the Hunter.” Chapin plays the dirt poor Depression-era son who must protect his younger sister and keep his dead father’s secret from the ravages of a psychotic preacher.

Chapin holds his own against an increasingly erratic Shelley Winters and looming, dangerous Robert Mitchum. He holds a certain dignity.

No small task for a small child.

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