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The term child actor or child actress is generally applied to a child acting on stage or in motion pictures or television, but also to an adult who began his or her acting career as a child; to avoid confusion, the latter is also called a former child actor. Closely associated is teenage actor or teen actor, an actor who reached popularity as a teenager. Notable actor is Haley Joel Osment and awardees Shirley Temple, Darsheel Safary and Ayesha Kapur.
Regulation of child actors
In the United States, the activities of child actors are regulated by the governing labor union, if any, and state and federal laws. Some projects film in remote locations specifically to evade regulations intended to protect the child. Longer work hours or risky stunts prohibited in California, for example, might be permitted to a project filming in British Columbia. US federal law "specifically exempted minors working the Entertainment Business from all provisions of the Child Labor Laws." Any regulation of child actors is governed by disparate state law.
Due to the large presence of the entertainment industry in California, it has some of the most explicit laws protecting child actors. Being a minor, a child actor must secure an entertainment work permit before accepting any paid performing work. Compulsory education laws mandate that the education of the child actor not be disrupted while the child is working, whether the child actor is enrolled in public school, private school or even home school. The child does his/her schoolwork under the supervision of a studio teacher while on the set.
Issues involving child actors
Ownership of earnings
Many child actors never got to see the money they earned. Jackie Coogan earned millions of dollars from working as a child actor only to see most of it squandered by his parents. In 1939, California weighed in on this controversy by enacting the Coogan Law which requires a portion of the earnings of a child actor to be preserved in a special savings account called a blocked trust.
Some people also criticize the parents of child actors for allowing their children to work, believing that more “normal” activities should be the staple during the childhood years. Others observe that competition is present in all areas of a child’s life—from sports to student newspaper to orchestra and band—and believe that the work ethic instilled or the talent developed accrues to the child’s benefit.
The child actor may experience unique and negative pressures when working under tight production schedules. Large projects which depend for their success on the ability of the child to deliver an effective performance add to the pressure.
In August 2011, former child star Corey Feldman told ABC's Nightline, “I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be paedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry. … It’s the big secret”. He claims he was abused as a child star, and asserts "The trauma of pedophilia contributed to the 2010 death of his closest friend and The Lost Boys co-star, Corey Haim". (Haim's official cause of death was heart failure and pneumonia). Reports The Vigilant Citizen, "Feldman admitted that Haim struggled with addiction but said it was a mechanism to cope with his demons. 'It was a symptom,' he said." The two friends discussed that topic on their reality TV show, The Two Coreys. The Vigilant Citizen further reports: "While Feldman does not directly mention Monarch mind control (which is allegedly used on Hollywood child stars and is characterized by systematic sexual abuse), he describes a reality that is very similar to it."[unreliable source?]
Many actors' careers are short-lived and this is also true of child actors. Peter Ostrum, for example, is now a successful large-animal veterinarian after a starring role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Shirley Temple became a public figure and diplomat. Brandon Cruz is a successful punk rocker, after a co-starring role in The Courtship of Eddie's Father; Jenny Lewis, formerly of Troop Beverly Hills, is a well-known indie rock musician, and Kirk Cameron, star of Growing Pains, is now a minister of Ray Comfort's evangelist ministry The Way of the Master. In Poland, child actor identical twin brothers Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński became very successful politicians, at one time Lech being President and Jarosław the Prime Minister.
There are child actors who have achieved successful thespian careers into adulthood. These include Jodie Foster and Helen Hunt, who both won Academy Awards as adults; Roddy McDowall, who had a long and distinguished career including as the regular star of the Planet of the Apes series; Ron Howard, who, in addition to being the star of the both of the long running The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days television series, became an Oscar-winning director in adulthood; Elijah Wood, who continued his career successfully into adulthood playing Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings film series and starring as Ryan Newman in the T.V. series Wilfred. Other child actors who have continued their careers into adulthood include Christina Ricci, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dean Stockwell, Neil Patrick Harris and Oscar-winner Mickey Rooney.
Examples include the cast members of the American sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, which starred child actors Todd Bridges, Gary Coleman, and Dana Plato. Plato went on to pose for Playboy magazine and was featured in several softcore pornography films. She was arrested twice for armed robbery and forging prescriptions, and died in May 1999 from an overdose of prescription medication, deemed suicide. Coleman famously sued his parents for misuse of his trust fund and, although awarded over $1,000,000, filed for bankruptcy in 1999. After many charges of assault throughout the next years, Coleman died in May 2010. Bridges was plagued with many legal troubles as well as an addiction to cocaine. After breaking this habit, he traveled across the U.S., touring schools and warning about the dangers of drug abuse. He has since made several cameo appearances on multiple television programs.
The popular television sitcom Full House made child stars out of Jodie Sweetin and the Olsen twins. After the show, Sweetin went on to develop an addiction to methamphetamine, as well as alcoholism. She later overcame this and wrote a memoir describing her experiences. Mary-Kate Olsen and Tracey Gold. ("Growing Pains"). developed an eating disorder, for which they were treated with intensive rehab. Anissa Jones, of "Family Affair" fame, overdosed on August 28, 1976 at age 18.
Jonathan Brandis, who appeared in a number of films as a child and teenager, committed suicide in 2003 at the age of 27 due to reasons possibly related to his lack of continued success into adulthood.
- VC (January 9, 2012). "Corey Feldman Will Reveal the Name of Two Hollywood Pedophiles That Abused Him". The Vigilant Citizen. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- VC (August 11, 2011). "Actor Corey Feldman Says Pedophilia No. 1 Problem for Child Stars (video)". The Vigilant Citizen. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- Daily Mail Reporter (UPDATED: 22:51 EST, 1 December 2011). "Manager of Hollywood child stars arrested for sex abuse of former client... as police suspect there may be more victims". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
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