Charles Herbert

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For other people named Charles Herbert, see Charles Herbert (disambiguation).
Charles Herbert
Born Charles Herbert Saperstein
(1948-12-23) December 23, 1948 (age 65)
Culver City, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1953–1968

Charles Herbert Saperstein (born December 23, 1948) is a former American child actor of the 1950s and 1960s. Before reaching his teens, Herbert was renowned by a generation of moviegoers for an on-screen broody, mature style and wit that enabled him to go one-on-one with some of the biggest names in the industry, and his appearances in a handful of films in the sci-fi/horror genre have garnered him an immortality there. In six years he appeared in 20 Hollywood features.

Herbert supported his family from the age of five and went from being one of the most desired and highest paid child actors of his time to one of the multitude of performers Hollywood "discarded" upon reaching maturity. His situation and the lifetime of damage it created for him have only recently come to light.

Early life[edit]

Herbert was born Charles Herbert Saperstein in Culver City, California. According to Herbert, his career began when he was discovered by an agent: "I just happened to be riding on a bus while on a shopping trip with my mother one day and a gentleman who was a talent agent in Hollywood, named Cosmo Morgan, saw me talking and must have thought I was cute or something. He gave me his card, which I immediately tried to give to the bus driver! That’s basically how it started." [1]

Blue-eyed and freckle-faced, his first job was at age four on the television series, Half Pint Panel (1952). The Long, Long Trailer (1954) could have been his first movie, just after appearing in the stage production of On Borrowed Time at the Rancho Theatre. Auditioning with some forty other kids, they picked Herbert only to cut him out of the movie.

This period was highlighted with a celebrated performance at age eight for his role as a blind child on an episode of Science Fiction Theater (1956). Airing December 22, 1956, "The Miracle Hour" is about a man who never gives up hope that his fiance's blind six-year-old son will not have to spend the holidays in darkness. Herbert starred with Dick Foran and Jean Byron.

Career[edit]

What followed included roles in such popular and cult films as The View from Pompey's Head (1955); The Night Holds Terror (1956); These Wilder Years (1956), with James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck; Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957); The Colossus of New York (1958); The Fly (1958); Houseboat (1958); The Man in the Net (1959), with Alan Ladd; The Five Pennies; Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) and 13 Ghosts (1960), in which producer/director William Castle gave him top billing at the age of 12 in order to secure his services.

Herbert's final feature film and starring role was in The Boy and the Pirates (1960), produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon (Mr. B.I.G.), the master of giant monster films, co-starring his daughter Susan. Herbert and Susan Gordon had previously worked together in The Man in the Net (1959), the hospital scene in The Five Pennies (1959) and a TV pilot episode entitled The Secret Life of John Monroe (aka The Secret Life of James Thurber). The 30-minute unsold pilot aired as the "Christabel" episode of Alcoa/Goodyear Playhouse, June 8, 1959. Very rarely seen, The Boy and the Pirates was released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as a Midnite Movies double DVD set with the more recent Crystalstone (1988), on June 27, 2006. An interest in pirate films was generated by Walt Disney Company's theatrical release of Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, on July 7, 2006.

Houseboat (1958), Herbert's favorite of his films, [1] cast him with Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Mimi Gibson and Paul Petersen

During his peak, he was performing non-stop with multiple projects completed each year. By 1959, Herbert had achieved a lofty place among the most desired and highest paid child actors of his time, making nearly $1650 per week. He had established for himself both the reputation and the nickname of "One-Take Charlie." Of his acting style, one reviewer described Herbert as, "Sincere, accurate, ever over-annunciated at times, like a storybook character come to life. An extraordinary child actor by any standard. Herbert’s intense emotive quality is very much of the method acting school, highly unusual in such a young performer." [2]

Herbert's work had him opposite Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, David Niven, Vincent Price, Johnny Carson, Donna Reed, Doris Day, and Ross Martin, for all of whom he has high praise for their treatment of him. "Anybody who is in that category (a well-known actor) who is nice to the children is a nice person. 'Cause I worked with some who were not. Children and animals are not big favorites with movie stars." [1]

Starring screen roles in the 1950s soon evaporated and Herbert was relegated to TV appearances in the 1960s. Growing into that typically awkward teen period, he was forced to subsist on whatever episodic roles he could muster, including bits on Wagon Train (1957), Rawhide (1959), The Twilight Zone (1962), The Fugitive (1963), Hazel (1963), Family Affair (1966) and My Three Sons (1966).

Herbert's career amassed twenty feature films, over fifty TV shows and a number of commercials during his youthful 14-year span.

Quote[edit]

I'm a big movie fan, I always have been, but I've never been a big science fiction fan. It's the only category of movies I'm not a fan of... I love comedies, I love dramas, action... For some reasons, science fiction and horror movies have never been [appealing] to me. Maybe it's because of all the work I did in it.

Personal life[edit]

Because of the studio attitude towards child actors of the time, Herbert has a keen interest in the child actors of today. "I lost a lot more than the financial things. Financial things are way down the list for me. The way that it’s set up in Hollywood is, I did 50 TV shows, the 20 movies, the commercials, all of that stuff... and when I turned 21, zero was put away in the bank for me. It was not that way for every (kid actor): If you signed a long-term contract, like for instance if you did Lassie or The Donna Reed Show or something, they put away like five percent for you. But if you were not on a long-term contract, ALL of the money you earned for the movies, for ALL the TV things, went to your guardians, and your guardians could do with it whatever they saw fit." The only money put away for him until age 21 from his TV and film earnings was $1,700.[1]

Herbert and Vincent Price during their climactic "spider web scene" together in 1958s The Fly

Describing his studio education as "non-existent," Herbert attended public schools (Melrose, Bancroft, Fairfax High), rather than one of the private schools tailored to the unique needs of child actors. "My parents made that mistake, without malice; they were not too familiar (with the problems that child actors face)." He made up the story that he had a twin brother—-that it was not him his classmates were seeing in movies and on TV. Referencing his role in the sci-fi movie classic The Fly, he says, "Back in those days, the very few people who did know I was an actor, when they were kidding me they’d go, Help me, help me, help meeee!"... [1]

"Herbert was always happiest and at his best when he was performing. A talented actor, he felt secure and confident when the cameras rolled, but like many child actors, he faced difficulties adjusting to the real world beyond the controlled environment inside the studio walls. The career of a child actor often creates a profoundly troubling lack of identity at a difficult time, just after he has lost his commercial value" [3] with the onset of puberty.

Unable to transition into adult roles, Herbert's personal life went downhill as well. With no formal education or training to do anything else and with no career earnings saved, he led a reckless, wanderlust life and turned to drugs. [1]

Recent activity[edit]

With no family of his own, it took Herbert nearly 40 years to turn his life around. Clean and sober since August, 2004, his films, now reaching new generations of fans via DVD and cable TV, and his appearances at science fiction film festivals and conventions sustain him.[1]

He has expressed deep appreciation of the work Paul Petersen's organization, A Minor Consideration, has done for assisting present and former child actors both financially and emotionally. Herbert and Petersen played brothers together in the film Houseboat (1958) starring Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, and he guest-starred four times as David Barker from 1958 to 1960 on Peterson's ABC series, The Donna Reed Show.

Charles Herbert has appeared annually for the past six years in the celebrity lineup at the Monster Bash, held each June, at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Airport Four Points with his The Boy and the Pirates co-star Susan Gordon.

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1954 The Long, Long Trailer Little Boy Uncredited
1955 Screen Directors Playhouse Tommy Macy Episode: "Tom and Jerry"
1955 The View from Pompey's Head Pat
1956 Ransom! Butchie Ritter, Neighbor Boy Uncredited
1956 He Laughed Last Child Uncredited
1956 Science Fiction Theatre Tommy Parker Episode: "The Miracle Hour"
1957 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Street kid "The Night the World Ended"
1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Tommy Earp (Virgil's son)
1957 The Monster That Challenged the World Boy with Morty's Cap
1958 The Colossus of New York Billy Spensser
1958 The Fly Philippe Delambre
1958 Houseboat Robert Winters
1958 to 1960 The Donna Reed Show David Barker 4 episodes
1959 The Man in the Net Timmie Moreland
1959 Riverboat Paddy Saunders Episode: "Witness No Evil"
1959 to 1960 Men into Space Peter McCauley 7 episodes
1960 The Ann Sothern Show David Episode: "Slightly Married"
1960 Please Don't Eat the Daisies David Mackay
1960 The Boy and the Pirates Jimmy Warren
1960 13 Ghosts Arthur "Buck" Zorba
1961 77 Sunset Strip Lester Embry Episode: "The Lady Has the Answers"
1962 The Twilight Zone Tom Rogers Episode: "I Sing the Body Electric"
1962 The Eleventh Hour Steve Episode: "The Seventh Day of Creation"
1963 The Fugitive Cal Episode: "Nightmare at Northoak"
1963 Hazel Leslie Episode: "Hazel's Nest Egg"
1964 The Farmer's Daughter Arnold 2 episodes
1968 Family Affair Wendell Episode: "The New Cissy"
1968 Julia Clyde Whitmarsh Episode: "Who's a Freud of Ginger Wolfe?"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Weaver, Tom. "Charles Herbert: So You Wanna Be a Kid Actor. . .?". Classic Images. Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  2. ^ "The Boy and the Pirate". kiddiematinee.com. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 
  3. ^ Parla, Paul (1996). "Hollywood Eats Its Children: An Interview with Charles Herbert". Classic Images. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 

External links[edit]