Child Actors – What have we done to these kids?

Where do I even begin to explain the feelings deep inside me? Where do I even start? To explain what we have done to our children when we put them in the spotlight and give them false hopes that they are great actors and will one day be a big star.

Who is to blame when a successful child star becomes a has-been former child star? What happens when a child star grows up believing that he is the next movie star, when in truth, in reality so harsh – that he has no talent. The cuteness and attractiveness of the child long gone as puberty arrived.

This is what happens most to male child actors, unlike female child actors who will blossom into beautiful, sexy ladies and use their looks and silly antics to sustain their diminishing fame. But then again, most of us watch this kids for the cute factor aren't we? Would we still watch Dakota Fanning once she's older, when she has lost that cuteness in her? How many of you wanna bet she'll go the way of Lindsay Lohan and Hillary Duff?

Spencer Breslin and Dakota Fanning arriving for the premiere of The Cat in the Hat in 2003.

Why am I starting on this? Child actors are not a norm here in Malaysia. Or Asia even, save perhaps Singapore (as long as Jack Neo manages this kids well and not lull them into false hopes of an acting future). I want to address this because it is such a prevalent problem in Hollywood today. I am addressing this issue because of an increase in the number of child actors hired to act in movies (Cheaper by the Dozen 1, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Yours, Mine & Ours, Kicking & Screaming, Bad News Bears and Nanny McPhee are some of the recent Hollywood movies that has a big cast of child actors).

Most importantly, I want to address this issue because I was greatly, greatly affected deep within me by these two articles that I read online a few days ago. So greatly affected by the stories of sadness and tragedy that made my heart breakdown and cry.

The first article concerns the story of former child actor Joe Pichler, who acted in movies such as Varsity Blues, Beethoven's 3rd and Beethoven's 4th. I cannot begin to describe what young Joe must have gone through as his prospect of getting roles in movies lessened as he grew older. I cannot begin to say what must have gone through his mind when he decided to one day…on January 4, to disappear, to vanish just like that – leaving behind worried friends, family and others like me who cared and who give a damn. He has not been heard off since.

As an avid fan of child actors, I have watched Joe's performances in the three aforementioned movies. Other than his cuteness and endearing smile, I am not sure if he is capable of expressing the same level of intensity that Haley Joel Osment displayed in The Sixth Sense. No doubt Joe has a passing talent in acting and may be useful as a voice talent and given time and proper training, he may well be good enough to succeed as an actor.

 

Unfortunately, Joe (pix above), who recently turned 19, could not wait for that time. I have not seen his MySpace site and since I do not know him and lived on the other side of the world, I cannot tell what motivated him to take off like that. But I do know, from the article I read, I sense that Joe is in a state of confusion, a lost soul, who doesn't know the direction of his life. He has expressed his interest in continuing to act, but there were no offers.

I hope and pray that he is okay, somewhere out there in this cruel world. I pray that he is not in Death's grip that he is somehow safe. Chances are slim, for it has been three months since his disappearance. From his pictures, I just wonder how such a sweet boy, full of life…can become so lost, so hopeless.

Joe's story brings back memories of the day when I read of another tragedy that had befallen another former child star. Two and a half years ago, on 12 November 2003, 27 year old Jonathan Brandis, star of The Neverending Story II, Stephen King's It and the popular TV series Seaquest DSV, hung himself in an apartment, alone. Nothing prepared me for the shock and extreme sadness I felt when I read of his passing online.

Another precious life lost.

I loved the series Seaquest and Brandis's character was my favourite because of his interactions with the lovable dolphin and he was also well-loved by the cast, specifically Roy Scheider's character. I missed him so much ever since and had hoped that he had gone on to do better things. Unfortunately, it seems the acting offers began to dry up as well, and Jonathan could not face the prospect of doing anything else but acting. Depression set in and on that tragic November 12, he was discovered by friends, hung to death. He was accorded a most fitting tribute and his memory lives on here on this website – JonathanBrandis.org

If you've visited these two actors' profiles on IMDB, the first thing you'll probably noticed is that they don't have a publicity photo. Are they so insignificant that they don't have a photo to let people remember them by? Is it because they were not as popular as some of the current and former child actors who made it big like Osment, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dakota Fanning, Liam Aiken, Jodie Foster, Leonardo Dicaprio, Ron Howard, Fred Savage, Frankie Muniz, Shirley Temple, Joseph Mazzello, Anna Paquin, Christian Bale and many, many others?

From L to R: Barrett Oliver was quite a popular child actor back in the late 70's all the way to the late 80's, starring in movies like The Neverending Story, Frankenweenie, D.A.R.Y.L & Cocoon; a recent photo of a very healthy looking Shirley Temple; an old publicity photo of Temple back in the 30's and 40's during which she was one of the most in-demand child actress of the time.  

The second article was an eye-opener but just as heart-wrenching to read. Who among you, remember that black kid with an attitude living in a white home in the sitcom Different Strokes? His name is Gary Coleman, and though he did not take the suicide route, he did have it rough, just as the article mentioned. Though it seems as if he's still acting (his IMDB profile shows that his latest project is a 2006 movie called Church Ball), he has squandered most of his riches and was forced to live from hand-to-mouth, taking up bit parts on unknown TV shows and movies and other menial jobs like that of a security guard.

From L to R: After Haley Joel Osment's Oscar-nominated performance in The Sixth Sense, he has struggled to match that performance in his subsequent films – currently out of the limelight; Fred Savage of The Wonder Years fame learnt from past experiences of former child actors to ensure that he doesn't go that way as well; Jason Bateman who starred in the 80's sitcom Silver Spoons with Ricky Schroeder is still acting and is the star of the recently dropped sitcom Arrested Development. 

The second article itself has already detailed some former child actors who went through dark days of drug and alcohol abuse till some of them ultimately took their own lives. Some detested the limelight that was accorded to them, hating it because it had robbed them of their innocence and sense of childhood. Let's not even talk about the kids from The Brady Bunch…who has heard of the original cast ever since the shows went off air? When was the last time we've heard of the Home Improvement boys – Zachary Ty Bryan, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Taran Noah Smith?

And what will the future hold for up and coming child actors like Logan Lerman (Jack & Bobby), Cayden Boyd (Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl, X-Men 3), Josh Hutcherson (Zathura, Kicking & Screaming) and Georgie Henley (Chronicles of Narnia)?

It is sad isn't it? One can only hope that these child actors know that the future in show business is never sure and never absolute. You're hot now but you'll never be hot again in the future. It's kids like Barret Oliver, Wil Wheaton, Savage and Noah Hathaway who was lucky to know that they cannot depend on showbusiness forever and it was wise for some of them to even retire permanently and abstain from the limelight that had hogged them throughout most of their childhood.

From L to R: Tatum O'Neal with dad Ryan O'Neal in Paper Moon in which she, at age 10, became the youngest Oscar winner ever in a competitive category, winning Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1974 – she is now guest-starring in TV shows; Emma Watson who shot to fame for her role as the bookish witch Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies – unlike her co-stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint & Tom Felton, she has only starred in all the Harry Potter movies to date, what will happen to her after all seven are done?; a young Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of respected actor John Barrymore, saw her career overshadowed in the late 1980s by her highly publicised bouts with alcohol and drugs including a suicide attempt, an eerie echo of her family's troubled history – she has, of course, made it through to become one of Hollywood's respected actresses.

And some are like Drew Barrymore, who went through a dark patch before rising like a phoenix once again. And speaking of phoenix, Joaquin Phoenix watched his brother River die before him. That probably affected him the most and he has gone onto eclipse his brother as an actor, winning two Oscar nominations.

Look at what had become of the Olsen twins. I just hope the Sprouse twins (the boys from Suit Life of Cody and Zack)Look at what showbusiness and riches did to the Culkin family. It tore the family apart and resulted in Macaulay and his brothers to become estranged from their greedy father. With so much bad things happen to these child actors behind the scenes, it is remarkable that we can still laugh at their witty lines, at their silly antics on the screen and shake our heads at their mischievousness.

                

From L to R: One of my favourite child actors when I was growing up, I had wanted to be like Macaulay Culkin in his Home Alone movie – he was once one of the richest child actors, until his greedy dad took almost all of it, today he's divorced and trying his luck in theatre and indie movies – some of his siblings, notably Kieran and Rory are also actors, making the Culkins one of the youngest acting families in Hollywood today; Jake Lloyd, who has not been seen in anything since he won the role of Anakin Skywalker as a boy in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace; River Phoenix, who had gone through a tough childhood, started acting at 12 and was one of the most talented actors of his generation, until he died of drug overdose at the age of 23. His younger brother, Joaquin, is still acting today. 

What the Hollywood industry have to do is to educate children who are employed as actors in the movie business and ensure that they are not pressured and they should be given a chance to have a normal childhood. They must be informed of their future as well, as I had mentioned before, it is never certain. What these children need is a support group made up of former child stars that ensures these children's rights are not infringed and that ALL Hollywood studios adhere to child labour laws. No matter what profession a child may be in, as long as he or she is a minor, they must be protected. Parents of these child actors play a critical role in supporting, protecting and providing these kids a sense of mormalcy. Parents should not exploit their own children's fame to make money out of it, like what happened to the Culkins.

I hope that all child actors from the world over will be given the chance to have a normal life, free from the pressures of the business. We know what lengths some parents could go to in order to get their kids in a movie. We do not know how these kids are selected and the pressures that they go through every day from their peers and from people who recognise them in their movies.

I don't deny that children's characters play a major part in the TV and movie industry. Is it so much to ask that we all make sure that they grow up and mature well, and not living in a fantasy that they think they are guaranteed a place in Hollywood. Therefore, it is important that once these kids grow up to a certain age, they must be prepared and have a back up plan ready should their star dims.

It is downright stupid to throw your life away just because you are no longer getting any acting roles. Life is much more than that and America being a great land of opportunity, surely these kids will grow up to have a better life than that of an actor.

On that note, I want to wish all the child actors of today all the best in their future. I certainly hope that you all grow up safe and sound, that even if the acting offers dwindle, you will not be discouraged, depressed or give up. Be like Ron Howard (pix above) of The Andy Griffith Show  and Happy Days who is now an Oscar-winning director, or explore other avenues. Acting is not worth destroying your life for.

Fame is a fickle minded thing, it's just not worth throwing away your life for. 

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  1. spot

    Dakota Fanning is a much better actor than a lot of the names you’ve mentioned. Ever seen her debut, I Am Sam? There was a whole of more than just cute going on there.

    The depth of her performance was in many ways much like the fabulous debut of Natalie Portman in The Professional.

    So…turning into Lindsey Lohan or Hilary Duff? I don’t think so. I’ll take the counterbet any day! 🙂

  2. Samster

    We would all like to wish the best of every young talent but we must be realistic. It’s, in a way, easy to play a child-like character but many child actors don’t make it beyond that (Of course, there are Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning) but, hey, we can only do so much. Prayer is the best way to support them and hope they grow up well.

    I agree that teenage angst taken to extremes and such pressure is something no person should ever face and that they should consider wider things than what they have experienced on their narrow scope.

    Meanwhile, there are tons of other kids who don’t make it on the silver screen who still need our attention and support for fear that they too may throw their lives away for whatever reason. Who knows? Maybe we might even discover a star of our own along the way? 😀

    P.S. Apparently, Jake Lloyd didn’t have much talent from what I heard. He was chosen just because he was chummy with George Lucas.

    AND Jonathan Brandis, the sad sad stupid lad, if he had waited a little longer, he would have seen his series come out as a pretty decent success.

  3. An EXCELLENT article! I’m using it as some source material for my own article (on Fanning and Daniel Radcliffe) which I’m writing to Americanchronicle.com this afternoon.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Mr Van Eerden! I’m glad this article could be of some use to you in your article. Even if I do live far away from the glare and spotlight of Hollywood, I’m very passionate about the welfare and affairs of these child actors plying their trade in Hollywood. I just hope that all them will go on to have good futures and not just depend on acting as a way to earn a living when they grow up.

    Please let me know when your article has come online at Americanchronicle.com.

    Best of luck!

  5. eko =]

    hi! its a great article, opens up different viewpoints to fame and the limelight. im a student, currently revising for my essay exam. it’s a great aid! just want to say thanks a lot! =]

  6. I think Drew is one of the few child stars to endure their stardom. Remember her in Firestarter? She was so cute!

  7. william

    at first, this article has quite a good point.

    then its just lots of pictures of young boys.

    hehe, just kidding!

    The Eternal Wanderer: LOL! Can’t help it that there seem to be a lot more boy actors who grow up to troubled teens/adults when I was posting this (Brandis’s suicide, Pichler’s disappearance & Osment’s drunk-driving)…now, it seems, it’s Hollywood’s ‘It’ Girls gone wild! But what do you prefer… cute boys or LOTS of pics of wrinkly Shirley Temple??

  8. Harriet

    freddie highmore, elle fanning and abigail breslin(had a oscar nomination on little miss sunshine) are cool!So are Heather o`rourke and Judith barsi(R.I.P My angels)

  9. SherryinWA

    Joe Pichler disappeared on January 4, 2006. His car was found January 5 at 2805 Wheaton Way which at the intersection of Wheaton Way and Sheridan Road in Bremerton Washington. He was reported as officially missing by his family January 5. Joe had been playing cards with some friends, who reported he was in good spirits during the evening.
    According to his family’s reports to the media at the time, the last outgoing call on Joe’s cell phone was placed at 4:08 a.m. on January 4, to a friend who had said that he had been visiting with Joe earlier in the day. Reportedly, the friend “calmed him down,” but no one has heard from Joe since. People who were seen with Joe last have given conflicting stories of how the evening ended. The phone call reportedly dealt with his concern over his “Magic The Gathering” card collection.
    New information has surfaced leading law enforcement to suspect Joe Pichler was robbed by someone or some people he knew. His disappearance is no longer listed as suicide. It is speculated that the “suicide note” was placed in the car by someone involved in the robbery.
    Joe’s family has been the victim of an internet scam by someone who collected and kept money on behalf of his family. They are currently still actively searching for clues as to what happened the night Joe disappeared.
    So many similarities to the Natalie Holloway Case happening to this poor family right here in the United States. If you read more about this case, it seems more like a robbery gone bad. Joe had some valuable trading cards that were missing and unaccounted for. He was playing cards that night with some “friends.” Now they won’t cooperate with Bremerton Police. No family should have to go through not knowing where their child is. Enough is enough! This poor family has not only been scammed by a person collecting money on their behalf, (and keeping it) they also are desperately still searching for their child. I’m a mom, and I am horrified that more has not been done for this family. We hear about Natalie Holloway in the news, but a similar situation seems to be happening right here at home. So very sad…

  10. james

    what abt great actors in the making like corey haim who in lucas was as brilliant as ms fanning. you see the saddest thing in the 80’s was people in charge for these kids introduced them to booze and heavy drugs. even the ones in the care of michael jackson talk about how he helped messed up their lives. no generation of child actors had it as bad as the 80’s. corey haim, corey feldmen, winona rider, river phoenix, robert down jnr, macauly calkin etc

  11. Moose

    Not completely sure I agree with everything you said. I do agree that there is tremedous pressure on the kids, and that their lives are not exactly realistic. However, I still feel that despite their nearly public lives they are still capable of making their own choices (evident by those child actors you named who are still successful).
    Furthermore, I was not intending to leave a comment until I read “forced to take menial jobs such as security guards”. While I agree this doesn’t have the glam of their former occupation, this is the real world, and I think if we want these kids to understand the reality of life, they should not be demeaned for taking “normal” jobs. I and my peers find no disgrace in “lower class jobs”. It is simply a reality for a large majority of people.
    I too wish the best of luck for all current and past child actors and hope they and their guardians have the foresight to prepare for their potentially starless future.

  12. Williams

    Nobody mentioned of Dana Plato, who played the role of Kimberly in Diff’rent Strokes…….

    If only there were Time Warp Zones [sigh…]

  13. Chanel Erasmus

    i come from south africa and acting is my passion! i am 16 and working hard at it! i am still at school and doing dramatic arts as a subject after school i am going to university to study it! i might not mae it out there but its my passion and i love it…
    this article is great and i am actually making reference to it when writing my essay for drama on wether or not child actors have hope for the future 🙂

  14. d

    lol, it’s so funny, cuz Dakota is in both the Twilight Saga and in the movie The runaways about joan jett and her band. In your face or what hahhaa. Såååå sorligt.

  15. Tracy

    Your statement that Gary Coleman, of Different Strokes fame, squandered his money is absolutely wrong. When Gary Coleman was young and at the height of his fame, Gary SUCCESSFULLY sued his parents for stealing his money. Gary’s parents were found guilty by a court of law, for mismanaging Gary’s money. Instead of setting up a legal trust fund for Gary, his parents spent his money to lavish their life-styles. Gary was forced into bankruptcy by the greedy hands of his parents, not by himself. From a very early age Gary was legally emancipated from his parents, in order to keep them from stealing from him again. Gary Coleman had to basically raise himself. No child ever fully recovers from being “used” by his or her parents, that was the sad issue Gary suffered from his entire life! Please get your facts straight before publicly writing about someone!

    • Dear Tracy,

      Thanks for checking the facts for me. Yes, I was a bit rash in my judgment of Gary and I’m sorry if I had offended anyone who knew Gary and knew the truth of what had happened to him. I’ll be removing my statement about Gary from this post.

  16. I have to admit that i sometimes get bored to read the whole thing but i think that your blog can be an exception. Grats !

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