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The Secret Of Child "Actors"

This thinkpost was partially inspired by shrijani who pointed at an article written by some celeb sycophant blogger type, promoting the fact that Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and their ilk are simply having their fun and don't deserve the humiliation and attention for those actions that they are receiving.

I mean, there is a common argument that people in the public eye are different from the rest of the general population. The things they do are seen. The things they say are heard. We do have a separate standard that we hold these public figures to that is different from your local grocer, letter carrier or DJ.

We lift these people up to very high levels. They earn large sums of money and own property in the finest parts of the best cities on earth. They vacation in even nicer places and tend to party, even when they're on the job. Heh. Nice work if you can get it!

The point is, there is a responsibility with being in the public eye. Some people understand this, while others do not. And that brings me to the issue of child actors.

Both Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan were child stars in the 1990s; Britney got her big break on MMC, the third incarnation of "The Mickey Mouse Club." Lindsay also got her start at Disney, with the remake of the Hayley Mills comedy "The Parent Trap."

Really, I could be talking about any child actor, from Gary Coleman to Macaulay Culkin. The facts are basically the same.

1. Child gets "idea" to become an "actor."

This can happen in several ways. Frequently, the parents get the idea to have the kid audition for roles, participate in beauty pageants, the usual rundown of kid opportunities to show off.

2. Child does well.

The kid lands an audition. Wins the competition. Has some success and starts working.

3. Encouragement.

Everyone tells the kid how great they are, people start to recognize her or him in public, and the PR blitz begins. Off to Hollywood or New York for the Up Fronts, onto the talk show circuit for exposure. Autograph hounds start to appear, paparazzi await the red carpet arrivals.

4. Full Blown Fame.

Becoming a household name is a huge thing. Being a part of a project that people know and love is a high point. And then being nominated for awards? That's when it really gets sick. Now, people are writing scripts with you in mind. Actors and directors clamor to find out your schedule so they can work with you. You're starting to develop a "career" and maybe you're getting a love life too, all right out in full view of EW and "ET."

5. The Fork and/or The Transition.

At some point, a child actor hits a difficult time. There are various reasons why they do, and a laundry list of results that can happen when they do. What basically happens is the work slows down, or stops.

And this is why "Child Actors" are not the same as "Actors." This is the crucial point:

Child actors are hired for being themselves.

Basically, every child actor is just doing a variation of who they actually are. Alison Arngrim aside, the kids who appear on teevee shows and in films aren't doing a whole lot of "acting."

So, the problem happens when everyone rushes in to praise them and reward them for basically being themselves all this while, and then suddenly, when it's over, and they aren't getting jobs, and the big support machine evaporates into the heat of a Hollywood night, there's a disconnect. What happened? All I did was grow up!

Now, some of these kids get what's going on and make some choices. Quinn Cummings was extremely precocious and talented and actually earned an Oscar nomination for her work in Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl." But at some point she stopped getting roles she liked and she ditched the show biz scene entirely, for a happy life as a mom, only to return in a non-acting role, as a casting director and agent... and now is, of all things, a blogger! This is just one example from this series of people that include Jean Sagal and her twin sister Liz Sagal, Fred Savage, and many more.

Another option is to expand the mind. And, no, I'm not talking about LSD, Winona! I mean attend college. A lot of kid actors take a break from the surreal life of a show biz childhood to learn something new. And many of those graduates go on to some pretty great things! Jodie Foster, Brooke Shields, Natalie Portman and Claire Danes are just four kid star graduates of Ivy League universities who have all done very well for themselves after their formative years.

And really, it's in the learning that it all comes together. Stepping outside of yourself to see something bigger is a crucial and eye-opening experience. Getting a bigger world view and discovering that the world doesn't revolve around you, and that Los Angeles isn't the center of the universe is information that is valuable.

Then, there are the others. I've twice commented on the Olsen Twins aka Mary-Kate and Ashley, aka MK&A... First piece - January 12, 2002 and Sequel - May 6, 2004. I have to admit, looking back on those commentaries, even I'm stunned by how accurate my prophecies became.

They were headed to college and spent a semester at NYU, so they started on the track of Jodie, Brooke, Natalie and Claire. But what happens when you have a bankroll of millions of dollars, everything in life is handed to you and THEN, you attend a school where you're not treated as "special" any more? Wouldn't you just drop out and spend your time jetting around the world, having coffee in Paris and shopping in Milan? I think that question has been answered.

This brings up another point about the quality of a child star's education. Really, the work always comes first. Learning is done when and where it can be, in a trailer on a movie set, at a special school two out of every four weeks, six months out of the year. And if these kids aren't getting that grounding when it matters, can they pick it up later?

And that finally gets us back to where we started, with Brit and Linz.

There are superficial similarities between all of these current Hollywood "Bad Girls." But I believe that beneath that first glance look you get from the pages of People magazine, there are some vast differences among that crowd.

Lindsay is, in fact a very talented actor. There are some that just have the ability and she is one of those. Her singing is forgettable. However, it's in her singing that we can see a clue to who she is and what she's about. Her song, Confessions of a Broken Heart is a difficult tale of a daughter trying to connect with her father. (Note: I actively chose not to connect to a sound file of the song.)

Britney didn't have nearly as many issues with her parents as Linz did. Brit's problems are rooted in one thing, a horrible secret that she has come to not only know, but fully understand: she has no talent, whatsoever. Britney was a cute kid, jumping around on Disney Channel when that was a premium service. Then Max Martin came along and produced her first album, and that provocative video, "...Baby One More Time." And the timing was perfect.

America wanted some wholesome skank to sachet down the hallways of every High School, and Brit was it. Then, the wave of blond pop tarts came: Brit's MMC co-star, Christina Aguilera turned up. Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore rounded out the collection.

In a way, having 4 similar singers was a relief for Brit, because the focus wasn't all on her. That way, people wouldn't notice how untalented she actually is, or that the image of what she was portraying had nothing to do with who she actually was.

Eventually, though, the spotlight came back to her, as her relationship with her childhood idol, Madonna, began to make headlines. The Kiss at the MTV awards even upstaged Aguilera, who was also on stage and also kissed Madonna!

As the four singers went their separate ways: Jessica to her reality series and later to divorce and more acting, Mandy all but abandoning music, and Christina who has her own issues, but seems to have worked many of them out, Brit still needed someone to deflect attention.

Enter Lindsay, who was ideal. She was no vocal threat and she seemed sorta wacky. Linz made for a good diversion for Britney, who was starting to flop with every new album she released, every reality series she tried and was becoming a constant joke in the Late Night monologues with her marriage to Kevin Federline.

The babies, and the lack of experience. Here is a child attempting to be a parent. Of course she doesn't know how. And apparently, she has no clue about asking for help. She's just going along, doing things as if she's the first person to raise kids all on her own, and has never done it before!

Note, I'm not even discussing Paris Hilton here. It's just not worth it.

The bottom line is that when you get the world at a young age, it messes your mind up. When you don't have parents, it screws with your sensibilities. When you have opportunities to party in the world of stars, you take them. And when there are drinks and drugs to be had, you'll try, if everyone is supporting that kind of stuff and that's where you've been living all that while.

Is there any hope for these child actors, grown up? Really, it's all up to them.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2007 08:25 am (UTC)
As a form of contrast to Britney, I would note that her sister, Jamie Lynn not only seems to have more actual talent, but is smarter, too.

Jul. 29th, 2007 04:22 pm (UTC)
That's very true. I think she has some well developed acting skills, and might eclipse her sister eventually. Whatever issues Brit has, Jamie Lynn seems to have avoided, or at least that's how it appears right now!
Jul. 29th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
Along that line, Nicky Hilton has much more talent, brains, and tact than Paris has ever had or will ever have. How does that work out?
Jul. 29th, 2007 04:26 pm (UTC)
Nicky seems to have inherited her grandfather's business acumen. And actually, and on top of all the points you just made, I think she's more attractive than her famed (or infamous) sis.

Nicky seems to prefer less attention, so maybe Paris is actually doing her sibling a favor by being so out there, because while everyone is talking about the latest antics she pulls, Nicky can create and achieve... who knows... maybe she'll be the next great designer!
Jul. 29th, 2007 12:23 pm (UTC)
I bet you knew I'd weigh in on this post...
I mean, how could I not. First though: This is something very hard to say to a New Yorker, but I'm sorry I just have to say it: Los Angeles *is* the center of the universe.

There I've said it, now you won't hear anything else I say. Sorry. But, I'm going to go on anyhow.

First - just an aside: you mentioned Allison Arngrim - I knew her brother Stefan, he was part of glam Hollywood. So was Sal Mineo, who was a very sad case at that point in his life. Micky Dolenz from the Monkees was hanging around with them at the time. They didn't know what to do, their lives were all sort of tainted with 'Has Been' syndrome.

Altogether, it's inevitable that growing up here, I knew a lot of child actors. As you know, I could have been one myself, but my parents agressively blocked that from happening. (we won't beat that dead horse tonight!) I knew plenty of child actors though (including both Lisa Loring and Kenny Weatherwax) and also had a lot of friends who went to Hollywood Professional School which used to be the special school for working child actors - Mackenzie Phillips went there (for instance). I've also known plenty of parents who pushed their kids into the industry. Babies don't get the idea to be an actor. Parents get the idea.

And this is where I lay the blame. It's not the fame, or the wealth, or the attention that causes these little pumpkins to rot, but it's their lack of good old fashioned character-building and what used to be called 'upbringing'.

Many of them have screwed up parents out of the gate. Combine that with the licentiousness of their lifestyle and you have trouble on the way. They seem to fall apart at the point where they're not the kid actor any more. I know I went through a massive identity crisis when I hit about 25-26. We live in such a youth culture, for some girls it's about hitting midlife crisis at 25 these days. Between 18-24 you're part of the most desirable demographic in the advertising world... then all of a sudden one is yesterday's news. For someone who counts on the superficial, such as an entertainer... this is a crisis. It was a crisis for me and I wasn't even an entertainer.

So I have a very different take on this stuff, and I want to point out that children in ordinary homes who are raised in supportive environments get told how great they are all the time, but that's called positive reinforcement and doesn't lead to drug addiction.

It is very much a result of these poor children's lack of good upbringing. That's what really sets a kid up for success, ya know?

Jul. 29th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
Re: I bet you knew I'd weigh in on this post...
Haha! You are too much, Angeleno!

Really, there was that era when all those poor kid actors were left to their own devices, like Trent Lehman and Anissa Jones. Then Paul Petersen formed that help group for these kids, A Minor Consideration.

Part of it is Hollywood themselves. They ate up what abilities these kids had and then threw them away when they were done. But I think that was the mentality of everyone at the time, including many parents during the spaceagers era. Children were not "valued" or "cherished" in the same way as they are now. It's a sad but true fact. People simply didn't care. There were other, more interesting pursuits to engage these people. Hollywood demanded these kids do their bidding first. Then, when they stopped giving them work, these kids weren't prepared to have a "normal" life! Plus, with the pay scale back then, they really had no chance to bankroll money to allow them to keep their lifestyles.

Poor Jay North. Here was the happiest and most talented kid on the block who did everything exactly as requested, and he got trashed. When I see him interviewed, I can tell he's trying to maintain a friendly attitude, but it's very clear, he's bitter and still angry about all of the crap that he got tossed after "Dennis" went away, and I always feel sorry for him, maybe most of all.

I agree the parents are the most important line of defense when it comes to not being "screwed up" as a performer, especially through that "transition" period. And yes, a lot of these kids really only begin this life because it pleases their parents and because it garners more attention from their parents. They don't care about acting, they just want mom and dad to notice and care about them!

That's why stuff like those kindergarten beauty pageants are so creepy! To the kid, it's a chance to be with mom and have fun. To many of the moms, it's a chance to live out a personal dream, to "be a winner." It's like a different world! And within that gap between the two ways of looking at the same event, is the abyss that so many of these kids fall to their doom.

But I think there is a marked difference between having parents, friends and relatives tell you how great you are, giving you that "positive reinforcement," and superstars, top directors and total strangers swarming to get near you. That is a completely unique experience going well beyond "support" and into "worship" and I have to think that it has a completely unexpected effect based on the upbringing AND personality of the kid in question.

Really, it's both. We know this because two different people can go through a situation and have shockingly different experiences and reactions to it. Drew Barrymore we might have predicted would have died by 16. She went through rehab at 13 for heaven's sake! But she not only survived that, she developed into a great hollywood producer and is doing even better now than when she was at the height of her fame.

Natalie is probably the finest template for a child actor transition. And she had incredible parents, a strong stable homelife growing up and went on to Harvard. Now, she can do pretty much anything she wants in Hollywood, and even though she was pals with Brit for a while, she totally skipped the insanity.

The positives for most kid actors now is that there is an emphasis on preparedness. The ones that are "screwing up" particularly the Olsens, Brit, Linz... Michael Jackson (!) have a money cushion that lets them get away with all this, but eventually, that's not going to be there. Then, when it's gone... what happens? They will have burned all their bridges and be trapped. I think Michael is giving a glimpse into what that's all about, now.

Jul. 31st, 2007 03:27 pm (UTC)
Re: I bet you knew I'd weigh in on this post...
Agreed across the board. Makes me think, too... you *did* see Little Miss Sunshine, didn't you?
Jul. 31st, 2007 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: I bet you knew I'd weigh in on this post...
Indeed... but that was such a "mild" version of what actually happens during those shows!

The cutthroat mothers can literally be deadly... like that Texas cheerleading mom!

Jul. 29th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
This was a fun read... but in defense of Mandy Moore
Hey... Mandy didn't abandon music. I have all of her CDs... they just don't play her music on the radio. And she's been in a few movies that were pretty good. Saved!, How To Deal, American Dreamz, License To Wed (I enjoyed it), and Chasing Liberty was just a fun Roman Holiday type flick.

On her most recent CD, Wild Hope, she co-wrote every song. Some of them don't really make much sense, but no more sense than a Fiona Apple song. It's still a pretty good listen.

Her previous CD, Coverage, was also pretty amazing. Some people have the voice but no writing talent, and maybe it's just me but I seem to have a fair number of CDs of people singing well known songs but in a different stlye. (Il Divo, Ronan Tynan who sings everything as an elaborate, operatic tenor.) Mandy's version of Whole Of The Moon and Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters give me goosebumps.

There's a mid day show I listen to who discussed this phenomenon of young people coming into fame and money at an early age. They waxed that, at whatever age you amass a great fortune, that is the mental age you remain as you "grow up" until your fortune goes.

These girls all got money in their teens (with the exception of MKA) and they still act like teenagers.

My mom told me the other day that had I gotten famous as a youngster, she would have had a more active parenting role than some of these starlet's mothers. She wouldn't have raised me to turn out that like these skanks.
Jul. 29th, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
Re: This was a fun read... but in defense of Mandy Moore
Well, relative to her acting, Mandy really isn't doing a lot of recording any more, and she even admitted that she wasn't a good singer! Yes, she does put out albums, but no, people don't much pay attention... at least, not according to iTunes or Billboard! No offense was intended though. I still like that song "In My Pocket!"

That's an interesting point about the success factor. But again, I think it depends on the individual. Some people are capable and even intent on growing, even as they hit their stride. Natalie is the brightest example of this, but there are others.

Conversely, there are some very intelligent and focused 13 year olds! Again, this points to the fact that everyone's personality dictates a bit about how they will act and react to their circumstances. How these kids function, what they need to know about the system they're living in and how they deal is guided by that combination of their upbringing and their method of dealing, rooted in who they are.

In great part, it is all about parenting and the parent's POV... what is this to THEM? A chance to act out their fantasy, a cash cow opportunity? Really, it's the parents that need the psychologists just as this is starting for their kid. Family counseling is advised!
Jul. 29th, 2007 07:00 pm (UTC)
Just a digression to non-famous wealthy people...
That's an interesting point about the success factor. But again, I think it depends on the individual.

Of course. But for the most part.
Jul. 29th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
The only thing I want to comment on is MK&A. I went to NYU, thus the twins were a pretty common joke in my repertoire (we were best friends, I was going to move into their walk-in closet, etc.). While they did both drop out of school, I have to give them some credit. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have branded themselves. And despite what they may do on the LA party scene, they haven't branded themselves that negatively. I've seen their clothing line for pre-teens and it contains some of the most tasteful outfit choices on the market. They know who their fan base is and they're not trying to make all little girls into tarts with too much eye make-up. I think what I'm trying to say is that the Olsen twins have a lot of money and a lot of pull on pre-teen America, but they are responsible with it. Maybe one or both has a cocaine habit, maybe one or both has an eating disorder, but at least in one regard, they are doing what's right.
Jul. 29th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
I don't know that MK&A branded themselves as much as their handlers did!

This isn't really a knock on the Olsens. I think they are pretty sharp when it comes to not messing up the stuff that is driving their engines. As an example, they yanked out the "mind body spirit" element from their website, which smacked of some New Agey philosophy. So, they definitely respond to what the public wants.

But I think in MK&A's case, they got some brilliant business people around them who offered up a lot of these concepts and ideas and the girls simply said yes or no to them. I suppose Mary Kate and Ashley do make some choices when it comes to clothing design, but the bulk of it is something they are not "working on" as much as "agreeing to" for their products.

I agree! Credit to them: they know what their image sells and how a generation of girls is following them. Of course, that doesn't explain what they look like when they're seen in public, or what they're actually doing with all their cash, but I guess that's another question for another post!
Jul. 29th, 2007 05:50 pm (UTC)
...and who will still be rich and famous 20 years from now?
Christina Aguilera. No matter what trash is talked about her the fact is the girl can really friggin sing...I see her doing opera or starring in broadway.

Paris Hilton...No matter what we say or do, the fact is she's the only billionaire in the group. She has all the time and money to keep her faux-fame goin on for the rest of her life. She likes the attention and really doesn't have to do much to get on the news.

the others, will slowly be forgotten as they get older. Lindsey will probably die, she is the current generations version of Sid Vicious. She's a hilarious train wreck waiting to hapen.

Jul. 29th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: ...and who will still be rich and famous 20 years from now?
See, that's the thing I was noting about Christina. I thought that she should have just come in and blown the other three off the face of the planet, but that wasn't what happened. Christina's daddy issues and her problems with growing up in a place where she was constantly ridiculed was what she was dealing with at first. Now, it seems she has come to terms with all that and is ready to become the superstar we all knew she was.

Yeah, that voice is simply incredible, and I'm certain she'll try anything she wants as the years roll by. Wonder what her kid is going to be like?

Paris definitely has the cash, but she's teetering on that same borderline with Linz. People may not want to work with her. The positive for Paris is she could just start producing her own scripts! Money is power. But there are people who would resist this, even with the prospect of a great payday, so she might not be able to buy her way back.

Poor Linz. She is headed for a disaster and I don't see a way to avoid it, at least not unless she gets out of LA.

Idea: she goes to Nashville and becomes a country singer! At least she has life experiences to draw from, to make them songs!
Jul. 29th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
Paris vs. Linz..
Paris Hilton---supported by unlimited wealth and a mafia like upper class old money white family. She really is the closest thing we have to royalty in this country.

Lindsey Lohan---worth approximately 7-10 million dollars. Most of which will be spent on legal fees and cocaine. Supported by a cast of leeches and parasites. called mom (a trashy milf) and Dad (a moron with a short temper). When her money disappears, so will she.

Jul. 31st, 2007 04:07 am (UTC)
Re: Paris vs. Linz..
Jul. 31st, 2007 04:46 am (UTC)
Re: Paris vs. Linz..

Jul. 30th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)
1. Jodie Foster-internalized homophobia.
2. Brooke Shields-internalized fatphobe.
3. Natalie Portman-thinks she understands blackness because she read some book.
5. Claire Danes- manstealing hussy who has also made some sketchy racial comments (but I can't find links!!!)

Give me the Coreys over the ivy girls anyday.
Jul. 30th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC)
I didn't say that they had "no" problems!

Jul. 30th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC)
I know. I loved this post. Nobody does it better. AND OMG thanks for the Quinn Cummings shout out. I think about her a lot because she totally rocked my young socks the first time I got to watch "The Good Bye Girl".
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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