BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Growing pain of child stars
Anna Paquin, Jodie Foster, Daniel Radcliffe, Gary Coleman, Macaulay Culkin
A film of the hit first Harry Potter novel will make a household name of its 11-year-old hero, actor Daniel Radcliffe. BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley looks at the triumphs and trials of child stardom.

When you reach the top, there's usually only one way to go.

For child stars the slippery slope to obscurity can be particularly steep, evoking pity and perhaps a little schadenfreude in a once clamouring public.

Becoming a has-been at 14 is often nothing to do with a lack of acting ability, according to veteran film critic Barry Norman.

"The talent may still be there, but the cuteness tends to vanish, to be replaced by gawkiness, puppy fat and unsightly pimples."

However unfair this may seem, the history of troubled child stars is as long as that of cinema itself.

Jackie Coogan

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan
"Here's looking at you, kid."
"Jackie who?" you may ask. Coogan starred alongside Charlie Chaplin as the eponymous "Kid" aged seven and commanded more column inches than the Beckhams.

Although he received an allowance of only $6.25 a week, the star was among Hollywood's highest paid actors - having brokered a $1m contract.

When the parts began to dry up in the 1930s, Coogan looked forward to the $4m held in trust by his family until his 21st birthday.

However, his mother and stepfather turned party-poopers, forcing the actor to fight them through the courts for his fast dwindling fortune.

The case prompted the passing of "Coogan's Law" to protect child stars' earnings, but came too late to save Coogan's marriage to screen siren Betty Grable - which faltered over "money matters".

Coogan later surfaced as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family TV series.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple Black
"Lollipops? Excellenté, Ambassador!"
Child stars don't come much more successful than Shirley Temple.

Hitting the big screen at just three, the ringletted-starlet was credited with buoying American morale during the Depression and keeping her studio, 20th Century Fox, from going under.

Despite the hard times, fans in the 1930s were willing to shell out not only for cinema tickets but also a whole raft of merchandise - from dolls to kettles.

Although Temple could not be accused of "gawkiness, puppy fat and unsightly pimples", the casting directors no longer beat a path to her door when she hit 20.

Taking such rejection on the chin, Temple reinvented herself as a politician, running for Congress and becoming a White House staffer.

Despite being best known worldwide for her rendition of On The Good Ship Lollipop, she was charged with some tricky diplomatic missions - including being made the ambassador to Czechoslovakia in the final year of the Cold War.

Jodie Foster

Jonh Hinkley's assassination attempt on President Reagan
A Jodie Foster stalker shot President Reagan
Seemingly a million miles away from Shirley Temple's antics, Jodie Foster polished her star as a child actor playing a junkie prostitute in Taxi Driver.

Although a regular in more family fare, it was this controversial role which captured the imagination of John Hinkley.

In 1981, after stalking Foster - then studying at Yale - Hinkley attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

He was said to be emulating the psychopathic central character in Taxi Driver, who shared his obsession with Foster's screen prostitute.

Foster went on to forge a successful adult career in Hollywood, twice picking up the Best Actress Oscar.

She remains one of Tinseltown's most secretive figures, jealously guarding her privacy.

Gary Coleman

Todd Willis, Gary Coleman and Dana Plato
Strokes of misfortune for sitcom child stars
The 1980s TV sitcom Diff'rent Strokes was the story of a boy lifted from destitution by a millionaire. For its star Gary Coleman, the rags to riches story is all the more poignant considering his current financial woes.

Coleman, who even as an adult measures only 4ft 7ins, filed for bankruptcy last year - blaming financial mismanagement for the lost of his earnings.

The one time star, who receives constant treatment for a serious kidney ailment, has even been forced to sell personal items on "Web-a-thon" site to make ends met.

Convicted for assaulting a 14-stone autograph hunter who pestered him while he worked as a security guard, Coleman is not the only Diff'rent Strokes star to have a brush with the law.

Actress Dana Plato was accused of trying to rob a video store. She later died of a drug overdose. Todd Bridges was acquitted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore was a "wild child"
The youngest of the Barrymore acting clan, Drew rose to fame in the sci-fi film ET.

The film's director, Steven Spielberg, said she was "13 going on 29". The actress proved his point by ending up in a rehab clinic, attempting suicide and formally separating from her parents. All before she turned 16.

Though a maternal rift still exists - her mother recently auctioned an array of Barrymore's baby clothes - the actress has outlived her "wild child years", appearing in a string of hit movies.

Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin and wife Rachel Miner
Home Alone: Culkin (19) is having marriage troubles
Just like Jackie Coogan 70 years before him, Macaulay Culkin became one of Hollywood's highest paid stars barely before he lost all his milk teeth.

Home Alone, in which the blond tyke was left at home by his parents, was one of the top grossing films of the 1990s, making £300m.

His meteoric rise was followed by an equally dramatic fall. Beset by family wrangles, Culkin "divorced" his manager/father and has not made a movie since 1994's ironically titled Getting Even With Dad.

He is set to resurrect his acting career on the London stage in Madame Melville.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

21 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Potter star unfazed by stardom
21 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Young Daniel gets Potter part
19 Aug 99 | Entertainment
Diff'rent Strokes actor declared bankrupt
11 May 99 | Entertainment
Diff'rent Strokes star dies
05 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Diff'rent Strokes star sentenced
13 Jul 00 | Entertainment
'Wild child' Drew settles down
17 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Drew's baby gear for sale
24 Jun 98 | Entertainment
Home alone no longer
04 May 99 | Entertainment
King And I remake in new row
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories