by Paul Petersen
Rick Sorenson who played "Boy" in "Tarzan" and did a lot of voices
for Disney (101 Dalmatians, Sword and the Stone, etc.) was asked how to handle being a Kid
Actor. "You have to pick your parents with care," he said. There were a dozen
former kid stars in the room at the time (a Young Performers Committee meeting) and we all
Kid Actors aren't "born." They are "created." When a child is born
into a family that sets a large store in the affairs of the Entertainment Business, ooohs
and ahhhs over celebrities, comments favorably on performances, dedicates a lot of time
viewing movies and television shows, the child quickly learns that for approval it is a
simple matter to like what your parents like. Given that parents (one or both) are often
overboard in their attention to the performing arts you can see how the subtle (and not so
subtle) molding of the child begins.
Seeking approval is a key feature of being a child....along with fearing abandonment
and the fear of falling...and children are very quick to pick up the "vibes."
Layered atop this fundamental reality is the very nature of the parent: (a) who sees in
their child a true gift from God. Their child is the prettiest, most talented,
smartest...etc.. The urge is to share that child with the world. "Oh, isn't she
cute?" "Come on, Tommy. Sing that commercial for Uncle Paul." We've all
And the molding continues. Early in the child's development certain things begin to
happen...like lessons, or that "casual inquiry" to the nearest agent. It is at
this point that the nonsense begins, for if you ask a young performer they always say,
"Oh, I've always wanted to be in Show Business." The fact is they have been
Now we have a kid with his sights set on gaining approval with the purely subjective
parents vulnerable to the line delivered by a thousand hucksters all across this country
every day. "Your kid should be doing commercials. Why, for only (fill in the figure)
we can get him pictures, resumes and send him out on auditions."
Now, the very definition of being young is "inexperienced." Another
convenient term is "naive." That's just a pure fact. Budding show business
parents ... and their Sports counter-parts...are also naive and inexperienced...but they
have a knowledge base skewed to accept the risks which are known to the entire culture.
"But my kid is special," goes the reasoning. And beneath that is the parents'
certain knowledge that they love and care for their child and would never do anything to
hurt them. Sure they think they're invulnerable. Don't they love and care for their kids?
Aren't they smarter than everyone else? Didn't God give them this wonderful child? Isn't
it their duty to share with the world?
The profile of this family is familiar. Undereducated, often a single-parent home with
a crushing debt load, and a parent (a) willing to "sacrifice" their
"careers" for their child (children). The same energy and money, if applied to the
adult in the family, would bring rewards many times larger than what the child can
make...but Hollywood has refined the clearly mistaken belief that "lightning will
This is the old lottery-thinking. The truth is that the lottery is built on this
premise: "You give me a dollar, and I'll give you fifty-six cents."
That's the lottery. The figures approximates the return for a child going into the
Business...despite what you read and hear.
We at "AMC" have developed some measures to mark that transition point
between an idle and seldom dangerous pastime from the slippery slope of too much time
spent on the subjective pursuit of success in Entertainment.
First, we take it as a given that parents are not stupid...that their child is very
likely to be smart and talented. The pushiest Little League Moms and Dads are not yelling
at a total nincompoop, but at that child who HAS skills but just misapplies his God-given
gifts. If expectations begin to build around a child who shows a certain talent, there is
where the trouble begins.
Most performing kids are at the top of their class when they start down this road. The
first alarm bell should go off when grades begin to slip...or the network of friendships
begins to dwindle.
We have another measure, and this involves the actual time and money spent in pursuit
of success. The reason most kids and their parents give up the ghost is because it is
obvious they are spending too much time on a pursuit that is not giving something back.
Even at SAG the turn-over rate is 20% a year.
But say the child begins to work...and work steadily, whether in community Theatre or
Are the other children in the family suffering? Are Mom and Dad "giving up" a
professional opportunity in their own careers to "support" their child? Has
"the kid's career" started to consume the family?
Are you starting to break long-held plans to go to an audition? Are you making your
child give up his rotation in the starting line-up in Little League to drive a hundred
miles for an audition?
When there is a great deal of work parents must stop and ask, "Who is making the
most money in this family? If it's the child, Lord help everyone. The Golden Rule applies.
"The person with the gold...rules."
Of course kids have a hard time explaining to their parents that they feel trapped,
that they don't really want to "do this" anymore. Think of the investment
they're trying to eviscerate. You'd be amazed how large this investment...monetary and