I posed this question years ago to Paul Petersen, a noted child performer himself (on the classic “The Donna Reed Show”) and for decades the courageous advocate for past and present child stars. He has fought for legislation to protect their assets and their welfare, often attracting hatred and attacks from stage parents in the process, but draws a hard line at banning kids in stage, screen and TV. “Gotta have those cute kids, Jack” he replied, essentially admitting that as brutal as pre-adult careers in show business often were, the public would never give up their lovable moppets. I don’t dispute Paul’s clear-eyed acceptance of reality, but I also think his answer ducks the question. As he knows better than anyone (you should check out the website of his non-profit organization here, and consider sending a contribution his way), the carnage on young lives a too-early introduction into one of the most callous and mind-warping of professions brings is well-documented and undeniable. Enablers and apologists, not to mention greedy parents willing to cash in their kids’ chances at a healthy childhood for fees and residuals, point to the prominent child stars (Shirley Temple, Brooke Shields) who did not grow up miserable, dysfunctional, and lost, but that is like arguing that child abuse is tolerable because some victims recover from its wounds.
The evidence of child stardom’s destructive effects is ever-present, so much so that the public has become inured to it, and hardly notices. Incidents and quotes exposing Justin Bieber’s gradual evolution into a narcissistic jerk have been regular features of the tabloid news, as have weekly hints that former Disney star Miley Cyrus is heading off the rails. Her infamous fellow alumna from the Mouse Factory, Lindsay Lohan, continues to cement her credentials as the poster girl for child stars gone bad, and just yesterday, former Nickelodeon comic Amanda Bynes was ordered to undergo psychiatric examination following the latest in a year’s worth of weird conduct.
Over at Cracked, a former child star who managed to escape the Biz with her sanity, values and reputation intact weighed in with an unusually sensitive (for Cracked) essay entitled, “7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy.” The author is Mara Wilson, now virtually forgotten despite the fact that she is barely in her thirties and the Broadway musical adapted from her most popular film, “Matilda,” was a 2013 Tony winner. Wilson identifies the key factors dooming her less fortunate colleagues as… Continue reading