After the presents have been unwrapped and put aside in the "return" pile; excessively dry turkey dinner has been eaten; and one has watched Shaq dunk over Kobe for the gaxillionth time, Christmas Day
starts to slow down in tempo really fast.
So, of course, one turns on telly.
Programming isn't very inventive on the 25th of December
, despite being a day which is universally devoted to absolutely nothing but binge-eating and present-ooh-and-ahhing.
It was in this mood of relaxation, and frankly, not a bit of ennui
that I did what millions were doing, and turned on my set too.
That's when I chanced upon, in utter horror, VH-1's "100 Greatest Kid Stars"
It was hour three of this marathon countdown of the allegedly greatest children stars of TV, film, and music, and I couldn't have been more aghast.
Maureen McCormick?! Emmanuel Lewis?! The OLSEN FREAKING TWINS?!Watchutalkinbout, VH-1??
That has got to be the poxiest list of child stars of stage and screen, like ever.
Don't even get me started on Kristy McNichol and the two Coreys. I may ralph.
This historian manquée will not commit the errors of today's goldfish memory TV execs.
Below, is my personal list of the 10 Greatest Child Stars of All-Time
, which really means from 1920 to 2005.
And if we're being honest, it really means from 1920 to 1945, because, well, everything in history goes rubbishy after that.
I mean, Annette Funicello and the Beaver -- what was that all about?10. ROMY SCHNEIDER
In many ways, Romy Schneider is the archetypical child star.
If you could make a tick-list of characteristics shared by so many kiddie starlets, she would be page ranked at the very cusp of that sad list.
Let's see:Controlling Stage Mother
-- Magda Schneider
, herself a renowned actress and cabaret singer, who had the dubious honour of being acknowledged as Adolf Hitler's favourite actress in his lifetime, presaged the Culkin Family's woes by milking and bilking her adorable child for all she was worth.
Romy Schneider called her mother a Nazi publicly, and barely spoke to her in later life. Her father was an adorable rake, too soused most days to take advantage of his daughter's fame.Distinguished Lineage
-- Like many child stars who make a successful transition to adult roles (hello Drew Barrymore), she was the daughter of acting "royalty".
Apart from her already-mentioned parents, her grandmother, Rosa Albach-Retty, was considered the greatest actress of all time in the German language, and was the doyenne of Austrian theatre in the time of Franz Josef. Dem's good acting genes.Hatred of Starring Role
-- Romy Schneider would spit at people in the street if they called her "Sissi
". She LOATHED
her Empress Elisabeth of Austria role which launched her into world-wide acclaim, and is the equivalent of "The Sound of Music
" to many children around the world.
Fidel Castro is said to be so enamoured with the film, that though it is, after all, a movie about an upper-class blood-sucking bourgeois imperialist Empress, however cute in a dirndl, he allows it to be shown every December, around Christmastime, in fact.
There are 3 installments of the series, and she finally stood up to her mother, and turned down 1,000,000 U$ in hard cash for the 4th.
It took all of Luchino Visconti's charm to make her reprise the role, if only to make her subsequent portrayal as an embittered Sissi, bent on semi-incest with her rotting-toothed cousin, Ludwig, the Mad King of Bavaria.
That's like Dorothy killing Toto and serving him up to Auntie Em for breakfast.Personal Problems
-- Poor Romy. Troubled emotionally, she fell victim to drugs and alcohol, and eventually, committed suicide after her son David was found accidentally impaled on a fence.
She was reckless sexually, and once offered herself to Günther Grass, right then and there, on national German TV. (He declined).
Multiply-married, each time more unsuccessfully than the last, her most famous coupling came with the man that got away: French 60's heart-throb, Alain Delon.
With all these life travails, some inherited, some self-making, Romy Schneider never stood a chance.9. MICKEY ROONEY
(Christmas trivia: What is Mickey Rooney's
real name? Why, it's Joseph Yule
When you're a tow-headed man who tops the charts at 5'1", you'd better be either very talented or very charming, and for a time, Mickey Rooney was both.
Although his Andy Hardy
, World War II film series is what he's most-known for, which heralded for the first time, the box-office importance of those "teenage" years which Americans practically invented, his stage debut was actually at age 17...months.
Not surprising really, considering he came from a gypsy-like vaudevillian family.
Even though he was able to retain his youthful looks much longer than most other child stars, precisely because in Gary Coleman fashion, he was small of stature, Mickey Rooney had to be kept virtually under lock-and-leash by Louis B. Mayer.
Unfortunately for MGM's publicity department, everyone's favourite rambuctious but clean-living son, "Andy Hardy", liked three things in real life: booze, prostitutes, and gambling.
Smoking Gun would've had a field day back then.
Like many child stars listed below, because he started out young in a young medium, Mr. Rooney is alive and well today.
He's 85 years-old, and still a veteran of many New Year's Day parades, coming to a float near you.8. OUR GANG (ESPECIALLY ALFALFA)
Everyone who knows a thing or two about child stars, knows that Our Gang / The Little Rascals were instrumental in the genre of adorable kiddiness.
How VH-1 could ignore them outright, is beyond me.
First, they were integrated, spawning the first real black child star, long before the Nicholas Brothers
and Sammy Davis Jr.
had their Hollywood breaks.
Second, a non-tomboy little girl was able to hold her own in the company of rambuctious boys, just fine.
Maybe some people like Spanky, some like Buckwheat, or Darla, or the deep-throated Froggy, but my personal favourite is Alfalfa
He was the first screen-kid geek, complete with awkward social graces, and even more awkward unruly hair.
All that was missing to complete the Bill Gates meets Jerry Lewis ensemble were glasses, and buck teeth.
The geek is the anti-hero, the anti-Marlboro Man, the anti-All-American man, which goes a long way to explain why the French revere not only Mr. Lewis, but have tremendous fondness for Our Gang in their movie art channels.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery sayeth the fortune cookie, and Our Gang gave rise to a cast of lovable misfits that were later made famous by the adolescents known variously as the Dead End Kids
, and the Bowery Boys
, led by Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall.
Without the Our Gang cast, which were notoriously parent- and even authority-free, such shows as Charlie Brown or Beverly Hills 90210 would never have happened.
And that's the cleverest segue imaginable from Spanky to Shannon Dougherty, like ever.7. JACKIE COOPER
Let's just gloss over his Superman TV role, and remember Jackie Cooper as the ultra-blond youngster who was a few letters removed from his predecessor, Jackie Coogan.
They even starred in the same 3-hankie weepie, The Kid
, which defies any human being from blubbering like an infant when Wallace Beery dies (oops, spoiler, my bad!).
Cooper went on to have a distinguished if unremarkable character actor career as an adult, mostly on television, the last repository of child actors.
Just ask Rick(y) Schroder, who was later billed as the "new Jackie Cooper".
It must've been the platinum blond hair.6. JACKIE COOGAN
Remember when boys used to be called Jackie? Yeah, me neither.
Jackie Coogan, however, was truly the first child star, being made famous by none other than the silver screen's ultimate hero, Charlie Chaplin
It was his adorable good-looks which won the praise of film critics and the public alike, which just goes to show, if you can hit your marks and cry on cue as a 5-year-old, the sky's the limit.
To those who think Coogan is too highly-placed in this list, I give to you the greatest testimonial there is:
Once, I was walking along a street in Romania, and saw a street-sign with the name, Calea Jackie Coogan
(Jackie Coogan Street).
Talk about long memories.
Or street signage in need of repair.5. BABY PEGGY
Everyone knows Mary Pickford made a creepy Lolita-like living acting like an overgrown Pollyanna well after the age of 30, again being helped out by Mother Nature because she was yae-big to a grasshopper's knee.
(This is why America's Sweetheart, the Canadian Miss Pickford, didn't make the list)
But it was Baby Peggy that truly allowed Hollywood to capitalise on the fetish for little girls in a series of films starring the black-Irish "Baby Peggy".
Hard to describe her onscreen adventures, really.
They seemed to entail lots of running, crying, and pinching of cheeks, and from this, the studios made millions.
(What can one say? It was frikkin' Shakespeare compared to the Keystone Kops)
Her brunette pageboy bob emulated the stars of the time, like Louise Brooks'
The 20's were all about the brunettes, because they photographed better on celluloid, and Baby Peggy personified that Mini-Me Flapper look to a tee.
Why, even little Darla of Our Gang fame had it, and it took the Number 1 Child Star of all Time, listed below, to break that dark-locked mold.
Amazingly given her rise to fame in 1921, Baby Peggy (real name, Diana Sera Casey) is still alive, being 87 years-young, as one always says about the incredibly ancient.
Even more amazingly, she harbours no ill-will about her kid star days, and loves her screen-incarnation of Baby Peggy.
She's like the anti-Dana Plato in almost every way. Especially the dead way.
Ouch.4. ELIZABETH TAYLOR
I pondered long and hard about including Liz Taylor in this list.
She was indeed a bona-fide Hollywood child star, alongside such notables as Deanna Durbin
and Judy Garland, and though she's known for National Velvet
, which launched the British-born (but American-origined) actress to fame, it really was not until her later adult roles, and many many many marriages, that she became truly famous.
But all you have to do, is to look at her child acting career to see that, in many ways, she is really the most famous child actor of all time, if perhaps not the most influential.
Plus she has a double row of eyelashes, just like me. That's gotta count for something.3. FREDDIE BARTHOLOMEW
Used to be, there was not a single 1930's male child role that didn't feature either Freddie Bartholomew or Mickey Rooney.
Whether being cuddled by Greta Garbo
, or being the lovable impish sidekick of Spencer Tracy
, or the stereotypical ineffably snobby British boy in Eton collars, Freddie was the 1930's child actor personified.
Capitalising on his Received Pronunciation
elocution, Hollywood thought he could tackle the wealth of Dickens-roles which Brooklyn-accented boy actors just couldn't carry off convincingly.
("Say, what gives, Mr. Pickwick. Give me the lowdown on Fagin and cheese it, the cops!"
Bartholomew also had a certain quality that is much-too-be-prized about child actors:
Once their moment in the sun was over, that was it.
They sank into obscurity, never to be heard from again, at least not as an actor.
Freddie became an advertising exec, lost his snotty good-looks, and never wore an Eton collar ever again, if he could avoid it.
Apart from a few "Whatever happened to...?" shows, his fall from fame was as swift and lasting as his rise.
Here's to my Anglo-compadre, who made British children everywhere seem like the most awful gits imaginable.
Even I wanted to punch his too perky nose.2. JUDY GARLAND
When I was a child, I absolutely DETESTED Casablanca
and the Wizard of Oz, in that order. Didn't much care for Gone with the Wind
, either, if I recall smartly.
What a fool this rugrat was! I love them all now!
Except...alas, for the Wizard of Oz bit.
I'm sorry, I just cannot stand that film, partly because I don't "get" it, like gay men or North Korean orphans are said to.
And my dislike of Oz spilled over to Judy Garland, since the musical is my least favourite cinematic artform, by far.
Take away the showtunes, and well, Judy Garland just becomes a rather confused pharmaceutical warehouse.
That is, until one fine day, a few years ago, I chanced upon a CD of her London recordings, and was just blown away.
What a talent. What feeling. Magnificent.
There are few people who can be said to be incomparable, but Judy Garland, born Frances Ethel Gumm (yikes), is amongst the tiny few to whom no one can approach in similarity.
To my mind, the three greatest entertainers of the Twentieth Century were:3. Judy Garland
2. Elvis Presley
1. Frank Sinatra
Because they each of them were consummate performers, in the fullest sense of the word.
And hey, the 4'11" Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made a film teeny-bopper, bobbysoxer couple extraordinaire.
Together, they were as tall as Ingrid Bergman.1. SHIRLEY TEMPLE
Come on, VH-1.
You suck SO hard if you don't acknowledge that Miss Temple is the greatest child actor of all time.
This is the moppet who, aged 3, appeared in a very disturbing JonBenet Ramsay-like striptease, in what must've launched the Japanese cult of the "sexy little girl" (ick).
There, I'm glad I got the word "moppet" out-of-the-way. And oh, "cocktail".
These are words which are tied umbilically to Shirley Temple, poor dear.
I've never actually had a Shirley Temple, though, since I have no idea where to buy Grenadine. (Grenada?)
I've heard many anecdotes about Shirley Temple:
About her controlling stage mum, same as Romy Schneider and Judy Garland had; about her ambassadorship to Ghana and later, to the Czech Republic.
About the fact that at first, people were convinced she was a 40-year old dwarf, because she was so unbelievably talented, as if all 40-year old dwarves are.
(I supppose people thought that because not every child of 4 could tap-dance, sing, and act, apparently, although I could. However, my hair doesn't even curl on rainy days, so my Hollywood career never really took off)
I've also heard she's very down-to-earth, who can be approached on the street for an autograph, and not act like a spoilt brat (hello Lindsay Lohan).
Long after these other child stars are forgotten, the contributions made by Shirley Temple to the genre of child movie vehicle, will sparkle alongside Bill "Bojangles" Robinson
, or make dimply inroads with "On the Good Ship Lollypop
" for years to come.
But the greatest reason of all that Shirley Temple is the best, undisputed, numero uno child actor of all time is...
...she's a Republican! Booyeah!
No wonder she's a has-been.HONOURABLE MENTIONS:
Julie Andrews. Roddy McDowell. Natalie Wood.FOR THE RECORD:
Here is the VH-1 countodwn to Greatest Kid Star of All Time.20. Christopher Knight
19. Keisha Knight Pulliam
18. Ricky Schroder
17. Molly Ringwald
16. Dustin Diamond (who?)
15. Kirk Cameron
14. Tatum O'Neil
13. Jonathan Lipnicki
12. Brooke Shields
11. Jackson Five
10. Danny Bonaduce
9. Maureen McCormick
8. Corey Feldman
7. Ron Howard
6. Emmanuel Lewis
5. Drew Barrymore
4. Jodie Foster
3. Olsen Twins
2. Macaulay Culkin
1. Gary Coleman