There were many child stars in the 30s and 40s
- some grew up to face agony & despair, others found a new life. This is
the story of what made them end up the way they did.
They blamed Judy Garland's early
death on her early life. They said the one-night stands in vaudeville as a
child, the lack of a normal life, of normal playmates, of uninterrupted
schooling, combined with the pressures of too much adoration and too much
hard work, eventually destroyed her.
Long before she died, E. Y. Harburg,
who wrote the haunting lyrics of OVER THE RAINBOW discussed why she was never
able to find hers.
"In Hollywood, Judy was a
commodity, She was there for exploitation. When they saw they had a money
maker, they used her to the hilt - unwisely and inhumanely with no conception
of the psychological treatment of the human being. This was common in the
industry. If a star was box office one year that didn't mean he would be box
office the next. So the studio wanted every ounce of profit it could
This situation held true with all the
great box-office stars of the '30s and '40s - with the Ava Gardners, Rita
Hayworths, Lana Turners. But if anything, it was intensified with the
"child stars," where a studio was racing not only against
box-office staying power but against time. There was no way of anyone knowing
whether a child star would possess the same - or even greater - magic as a
teenager or adult, as was the case with Elizabeth Taylor and, to a somewhat
lesser extent, Natalie Wood, or whether the appeal would fade and the talent
diminish in a few short years.
Child actors have been used, abused
and discarded by the dozens. Many went on to live healthy and happy adult
lives outside the industry, others held on for years trying desperately to
make a comeback, failing, and going on to drugs and/or alcoholism. A handful
made the transition.
.....It's hard to find a common
denominator - aside from their premature careers - that would fit all the
child stars. Some came from broken homes, some were orphaned or half-orphaned
and others had parents who stayed together to the very end. Some are still
miserable today, others terribly happy. However, only a mere handful were
able to stay married to their original mate, and those were the devout
Catholics like Ann Blyth, and from TV, the Lennons.
We have examined the lives of several
of Hollywood's great child stars. You can judge for yourself what made them
what they are today.
......There is one young man who
definitely does NOT look back on his child performer days as the happiest of
HIS life - and that's Dean Stockwell.
Dean, the son of actor Harry
Stockwell and actress Betty Veronica, was already a vet of radio's DEATH
VALLEY DAYS and Broadway's INNOCENT VOYAGE when MGM brought him to Hollywood
for ANCHORS AWEIGH. And he just about stole that musical from Gene Kelly,
Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. Critics and public hailed him as the most
appealing child actor in a decade.
Dean was rushed from one picture to
another. He was pampered and petted and there were adults all around him
telling him how cute he was. But he felt lonesome and lost, and years later
he was to say that the only happy moments of his life he could remember were
back in New York when he was starting public school. He also was to remember
that when people were fussing over him he'd think, "Those people aren't
talking about me, they are talking about Dean Stockwell, child star."
Of the films he made as he was
growing up - THE GREEN YEARS, BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT -
Dean has no recollection whatsoever. Of his entire early career he can only
recall certain moments from DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS.
At 15, Dean worked in a Joel McCrea
western called CATTLE DRIVE. Then he burned his scrapbooks and vowed never to
act again. A couple of years later, he entered college hoping to find a new
goal and a new career, but left after his freshman year. For three years Dean
roamed the country trying to find himself. Finally he returned to Hollywood and,
because he was not really trained for another kind of work, Dean
resumed his career in films. He was
still lonely, still moody, still confused. But the talent Dean was blessed
with as a youngster didn't fail him as a young man. He scored on TV and on
Broadway and in films like COMPULSION. Dean went into analysis. He fell in
love with actress Millie Perkins and they were married, but the marriage
The adult career climaxed by
COMPULSION lost momentum. Dean didn't become another Jimmy Dean as many
thought he would. He just became another Hollywood actor. Those few people
whom he allows to be somewhat close to him today admit that Dean's still
lonely, still tormented by demons he can't understand, still up-tight when
people ask, "Weren't you that cute little boy with green hair?"
Dean's 33 years old now. He doesn't look it. But his future is one big