Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Psyche of Child Stars Along a Modified Kinsey Scale
An incredibly important disclaimer regarding this speculation as to what makes a child star tick and what fans should consider when approaching him or her is that these remarks are made with an absence of any psychological training or experience or any genuinely intimate knowledge of any member of that group. These thoughts merely reflect conclusions based on interviewing several former young performers over the past nine years and informal online research.
A terrific talk with super-nice Harlen Carraher, who is best known for playing young Jonathan Muir on the '60s fantasycom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," for a recently posted entry planted the initial seed for this current entry. A follow-up interview with former child star Paul Petersen of "The Donna Reed Show" regarding Petersen's non-profit child star support group "A Minor Consideration" amped those thoughts up to a level that required putting them out here.
As an aside, one highlight of writing about DVD releases of classic TV has been discussing a drug possession charge that ruined the career of "Father Knows Best" child star Billy Gray. Gray laughed in the middle of the interview and asked "you don't smoke, do you." The response was only admitting to once finding the kitchen witch in the home of a college friend absolutely hilarious.
Moe fun came while interviewing a pre "Big Bang Theory" uber-awesome Mayim Bialik. She kindly laughed hysterically when asked if Joey Lawrence's "Blossom" character was named Joey so that Lawrence would remember that name. Whoa!
One reason for sharing these observations is to illustrate the concept that the real-life personas of former child stars allows placing them (as well as the general population) along a modified version of the Kinsey sexuality scale. Roughly 10 percent of them are people with whom you would love to share a sundae, another roughly 10 percent of them are individuals worthy of intense loathing, and the rest fall somewhere in the middle. This is despite their on-screen counterparts mostly being Godiva hot fudge worthy.
An interesting (but not very insightful) aspect of the scale is that it seems that the environment on a show somewhat predicts where the adult version of the stars will end up. This is comparable to how the family life of the 99.9 percent of us who do not spend our childhoods in front of the camera largely makes us the people we are today.
"Happy Days" provides a perfect example of this "nurture" theory in that "Days" showrunner Garry Marshall both had the young stars form a softball team and provided them a chance to learn behind-the-camera skills largely to help keep them out of trouble. By all accounts, virtually every younger cast member is now a well-adjusted and happy adult.
A collision of these childhoods can occur with varying degrees of damage based on the factors described above. Many of us growing up in the late '60s and '70s found ourselves home alone watching these shows after school in an era in which our mothers were working either out of financial need or a desire for greater personal fulfillment but before society caught up in the form of providing the current ginormous range of afternoon activities.
The numerous factors that contributed to our own psyches and the elements of a series largely determined the degree to which we kept things in perspective or became obsessed with a show. A personal experience that TRULY was the story of a neglected neighbor child was that he became obsessed with "The Brady Bunch" to the point of recreating activities from the show and openly talking about fantasizing about being a member of the loving Brady clan. One should feel great sympathy for any "Brady" child actor who ever encountered that guy.
For the record, your reviewer never would have wanted to have shared a bedroom with even one sibling or shared a bathroom with anyone. He also has always loathed meatloaf.
A recent conversation with someone "in the industry" illustrates the above point even better. Discussing the extensive Unreal TV coverage of Blu-ray sets of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" led to expressing hatred of Wesley Crusher in the otherwise sublime series. The other guy, who was in his early teens when TNG aired, agreed that Wesley was annoying but that he was in the show to allow boys of a similar age to fantasize that they were that literal space cadet. A terrific example of those worlds colliding is the below photo showing an adult Wil Wheaton looking at a velvet painting of a wistful Wesley Crusher with great disdain.
The Wheaton story additionally provides good context for the related concept that many of these kids being the sole breadwinner of their families immensely compounded the same harsh reality that most of us face that we are not nearly as special as led to believe while growing up. At least our not excelling in college academics and/or athletics or not getting the job of our dreams on graduating is not the subject of painfully intense media scrutiny and does not threaten the fiscal health of our parents.
One purpose for sharing all the above-stated thoughts is to help fans both better understand the person behind the decades-old character and the fact that there is one of them and millions of us. The fact that cable systems have 100s of channels, YouTube and numerous streaming services are ubiquitous, and that virtually every show from the '60s through the '80s is out on DVD (and is in the Unreal TV library) further contributes to the (not necessarily welcome) visibility of our childhood idols. This is not to mention the Internet greatly facilitating contacting these people.
On the other hand, the former child star who is approached for the umpteenth time while simply going about his or her business earns good karma points by being gracious unless and until the contact becomes burdensome or scary. Someone shouting "Hey, Urkel!" or you being asked (for the millionth time) about a co-star is understandably annoying to you but is a first-time experience for the fan.
The third hand regarding all this is that those of us who get ensnared in unwanted conversation while going about our daily lives should have due compassion for the actor whom we ensnare.
The ultimate answer to the question "can't we all just get along?" in this context is yes, so long as we respect the other person and duly consider his or her perspective. In other words, please consider the concept of "gimme a break" in mind if you run into Joey Lawrence at Target or Matthew Lawrence at Safeway. Please also respect their privacy by not making all of cyberspace aware IF they are buying Rogaine or another embarrassing personal care product that is in the medicine cabinets of millions of us. Anyone who needs Nair can borrow some of mine.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding this armchair psychology (or any former child star interested in granting an interview) is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.