Darryl Hickman, 86, was a successful child actor in the 1930s and 40s, working alongside many prominent actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood. He went on to become a successful television executive, producer, writer, and acting coach, and still works in the industry.
He is also a practicing Catholic. He briefly quit Hollywood in 1951, and tried his vocation as a Passionist monk. He lasted in the monastery for 32 days before deciding a religious vocation was not for him.
For many years Hickman was close friends with Servant of God Cora Evans (1904-1957), whose cause for canonization is currently being promoted by the Diocese of Monterey, California. Evans was a convert from Mormonism who claimed to have had mystical experiences throughout her life.
The Mystical Humanity of Christ, an organization that promotes the life and writings of Cora Evans, has recently released Gems, a collection of her writings. Visit www.coraevans.com to purchase the book or for additional information on the life of Evans.
Hickman recently spoke to CWR about his friendship with Cora Evans, whom he calls his “spiritual mother,” and about her life.
CWR: How did you meet Cora Evans and what impact did she have on you?
Darryl Hickman: I attended Cathedral High School in Los Angeles in the 1940s. It was operated by the Christian Brothers. One of the brothers, Brother Edward, took special care of me. I was about age 15, and the other kids in the school knew I was a child actor, so they’d try to beat me up. Brother Edward would protect me. He also knew I had a special interest in religion; in my teens, for example, I was reading St. John of the Cross.
Brother Edward introduced me to Cora. She was living in Burbank at the time. Cora had a son who died young; if he had lived, he would have been about my age. We bonded, and she became a spiritual mother to me. I knew her almost 10 years, and she had a profound influence on my life.
I joined the US Army, and was stationed at Ft. Ord in Northern California. It was near Boulder Creek [in the Diocese of Monterey], where she moved for the last years of her life. I’d spend my weekends with her, staying in the family guest house. It was a beautiful area, with mountains, a forest, and a stream nearby. She treated me like a son. She possessed great wisdom, and really taught me about doing God’s will.
CWR: She was said to have had the stigmata [wounds of Christ]. Did you ever see it?
Hickman: Yes, I saw it on more than one occasion. One weekend when I was visiting, for example, she was building a grotto to St. Francis of Assisi. She was placing rocks at the statue’s feet, using a trowel and wet cement. I sat and talked with her, and as I did, I noticed an open, gaping wound on her left hand. It was an inch-and-a-half long and a half-inch wide, but it was not bleeding.
I asked her, “Is that what I think it is?” She had a great sense of humor, and made light of it. She put some of the wet cement over top of it, and told me it was no big deal.
I recall another time when she was washing the dishes, and again had a big gash in her hand. I asked her, “Doesn’t that hurt?” She just shrugged and replied, “I have to wash the dishes.”
CWR: Did you ever see Cora in ecstasy?
Hickman: Yes. Cora’s spiritual director, Father Frank Parrish, SJ, allowed me to come to one of her major ecstasies, and it changed my life. She was totally unconscious, with her eyes closed, and was sunk into the bed like she weighed 300 lbs. It went on for an hour and a half. She spoke in a language I didn’t understand, and I was later told it was Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
As she started to come out of it, I was told that she had mystically received Holy Communion. She opened her mouth, and there on her tongue was a host.
CWR: Did this frighten you?
Hickman: I was so close to her, and had spent so much time with her, it didn’t frighten me. It astonished me, but didn’t frighten me.
I remember coming to her house another time and sitting in a chair. I smelled the strong scent of roses. I mentioned it to Cora. She said it didn’t surprise her, as Jesus (she called him “The Master”) had been sitting in the chair the whole morning. With Cora, things like this would happen all the time. It was impossible not to believe when you were around her.
CWR: How has your time with Cora affected your life?
Hickman: I think I’ve become a more efficient Christian, with a much greater faith because of her. I think I learned how to pray better, think about God better, and read religious literature better.
In my professional career, I think my relationship with Cora has influenced everything I’ve done as an artist.
CWR: What was your reaction when she died in 1957?
Hickman: I felt as if I’d lost my mother. It brings tears to my eyes today just thinking about it. I saw her in Boulder Creek about a month before she died. I was told that she didn’t have much time left. She had a terrible cancer in her stomach, which was all swollen.
I recall her lying in a hospital bed in her living room. She greeted me in her jocular way, and asked me to come to her bedside. I said, “Cora, I’m praying for you. I wish there is something more I could do for you.” She replied, “I’m doing just what I want to do, I’m offering my sufferings for the conversion of Mormons.”
She had huge tumors in her stomach, and named each one, with her usual sense of humor. I didn’t know what to say. It was the last time I saw her.
CWR: Why was the conversion of Mormons important to her?
Hickman: Other than the mystical humanity of Christ, the spirituality she promoted, it was of the greatest importance to her. She considered the Mormons her people, and winning their conversion was an important part of their mission. I understand that she helped convert hundreds of Mormons to Catholicism.
She and her husband Mack were married in a Mormon temple at a young age. They were very simple people, and it was the first time they’d been to a Mormon temple. They were disillusioned by the experience. Cora referred to the temple ceremony as “pagan and unpleasant,” and said that when she left that temple, she’d left the Mormon church forever.
She came to the Catholic Church through the Blessed Mother. She had experienced apparitions of the Blessed Mother since childhood. One day, she heard Msgr. Duane Hunt talking on the radio program “Catholic Hour” aired in Salt Lake City. He was talking about the Blessed Mother. It led her to go to her local Catholic parish to seek answers, and she became Catholic. She had always referred to the Blessed Mother as “my beautiful lady.” She said that the beautiful lady turned out to be the Blessed Mother. I say the Rosary nearly every day, and I still think of Mary as Cora’s beautiful lady.
CWR: What was Cora’s husband Mack like?
Hickman: He was the sweetest man, who worked all kinds of odd jobs to support the family. I recall he was a Good Humor ice-cream man, and worked in a gas station at night. I remember when people would come to see Cora in the evenings, and she’d begin to talk. He’d be so tired from working that he’d doze off. She’d stop and lovingly say, “Mack, why don’t you go to bed?” They had a great relationship.
CWR: Did many people come visit her?
Hickman: Sometimes there would be many people who would come to see her, sometimes just a few. Brother Edward would come with me sometimes, or Father Parrish would be there. You’d see Catholic priests and theologians. The theologians were always asking her difficult questions to trip her up and prove that she was not legitimate. She’d say to me later, “Darryl, they’re always trying to trap me. I never studied theology, all I know is what I’m being told by the Lord.”
Sometimes I’d go to Mass with her, and people would stare at her. Apparently, word got out about her mysticism. She’d smile at them and be nice, but I suspect it made her uncomfortable.
CWR: What do you recall about going to Mass with her?
Hickman: Cora was always a lesson in devotion and appreciation for God’s presence. She really taught me about the value of the Eucharist.
I also remember one humorous experience. Once, during Mass, a priest was delivering a sermon. For whatever reason, he was not doing a good job. He didn’t make a lot of sense. Cora and I looked at each other. A few moments later the priest cut short his remarks and said, “Well, I’d better get back to saying Mass.”
Cora later told me that she’d prayed to St. Aloysius Gonzaga: “Get him out of that pulpit!” I know that sounds weird, but I had many such unusual experiences with Cora. She was a wonderful woman, and I’m always eager to share about my experiences with her.