Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #41: The Kids Aren't All Right...

As the uncle of three nieces, all under the age of eight, I've encountered a small part of the Hannah Montana phenomenon starring Miley Cyrus, the 15 year old daughter of that Achy-Breaky-Heart guy Billy Ray.

And in a brilliant piece of counter programming Disney released a concert film with their biggest scandal-free star during Super Bowl weekend, and while dad and the sons watched football, mothers and daughters went to see Hannah Montana, propelling it to the number one spot in the box-office while playing on only around 600 screens.

Now some folks are already sharpening their knives and preparing to pounce on the poor girl and bring her down. Because Hollywood is essentially a pit of snakes, and these serpents eat their young.

Hollywood is notoriously rough on their young stars. You'd be hard pressed to look over the tabloid rack at the supermarket check-out or a "Where are they now" segment on TV and not see some story about how some former child-star is now broke, on drugs, overweight, unemployed, nuttier than a squirrel turd, doing porn, or all of the above.

But it's not the fate shared by all kids in show-business.

A good example is Jodie Foster, who won an Oscar and became a pretty respectable box office player as an adult. And a few others managed to survive puberty with their careers and sanity intact.

But they're stories are considered the exception instead of the rule, because the child stars that crash and burn get all the attention.

And that's the key word here: "Star."

Jodie Foster's early career was based on a reputation for quality over stardom. She wasn't necessarily a household word, but she was known as a reliable and professional player within Hollywood, and that meant that she worked steadily in a variety of roles from family fare to edgier work.

She didn't appear to have parents trying to saddle her with fame at any cost, especially her personal privacy. In fact, to this day people know very little about her private life, and most people don't care about her private life. It's her life, it's nobody's business, and since she doesn't cram it down people's throats and lets her work stand for her, her privacy is respected.

We don't hear about a messy divorce and fights over her money by her parents like what happened Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone.

Such tabloid coverage of family dysfunction, coupled with the almost inevitable pot arrest, badly damaged his transition to an adult career. He was lucky to have escaped with some of his Home Alone money unlooted and has been working hard to reinvent himself as an adult actor in theatre and indie films.

Plus, she dodged what I consider the ultimate bullet for a child star's career: The Catchphrase.

You know what I mean, a phrase, a bit of slang, or facial expression that becomes the first thing you think of when that actor's name appears.

I'm sure Gary Coleman would be a happy man if he never gets to hear: "Whatchoo talkin bout Willis?" ever again.

It's a double edged sword. Such a punchy image or phrase can make a child a household name overnight, but it can also make them unemployable because no one wants to cast an actor who comes with an old part casting a long shadow over everything.

So I wish that Cyrus girl luck. She's on top now, and I hope she's banking every penny she can get, and has a devoutly honest accountant. She's going to need when Hollywood inevitably turns on her.



  1. Recent child stars that came out OK:

    *Amanda Bynes, former Disney child star who is known for hard work, reliability, stability. Played co-lead for 4-5 years on a sitcom. Made a couple of movies. Intact, non-show business family.

    *Sarah Michelle Gellar, "Buffy" married to Freddie Prinze Jr. Former soap opera child star, makes lots of movies, known for relaxed, professional approach to roles. Conservative and friend of Andy Garcia.

    *Amber Tamblyn, another soap star. Professional, father is Russ Tamblyn. Known for her sarcastic roles, a total pro.

    *Eliza Dushku, former child star ("True Lies") and friend of Macauley Culkin, non-show business family.

    All of course have no catch phrase, stable family, a non-tabloid approach.

  2. That's pretty much what I was saying.