The boys that appeared in these movies were often smartly dressed, especially for publicity photographs. In some cases, parents and guardians liked to dress them in juvenile fashions so as to prolong their child movie careers. Others were dressed in clothes approapriate for their age. Thus they reflect popular styles for boys from well to do families. Many affluent mothers often dress their clothes in very conservative fashions. Generally speaking the child stars did not wear the more conservative styles. The images depicted here will eventually not be the costumes worn in movies, unless they were movies set in contemporary periods. We want to see how the boys dressed when not in costume. Temporarilly, HBC will use a movie still as most of the available images are from movies. As photographs of these boys in their non-costume roles become available, these will be used as much as possible.
Thousands of children have appeared in films in credited roles since movies first appeared at the tutn-of-the 20th century. Many more have appeared without credits. Only a handful have been so hugely successful that they can be classified as child stars. There were popular child theater actors, but nothing like what occurred with the advent of film. This probably refklects the immediacy of film, the number of productions, and the exponentially higher audience base. It is more difficult grasping just what it is that makes these children different. Appearance is if course important, but not the inly factor involved. The impact of these children can be considerable, out of all proprtion to their screen time. In many cases it is the child star who has changed a film from a forgetable drama into a film classic. A good example is 'Shane'. Of course once a child becomes a star, there are films crafted as vehicles. This of course was the case for Shirly Temple. Here is HBC's list of major child movie stars. Most of the stars we are familiar with are American or British. We would like to add well-known child actors from other countries as well. Let HBC know if you think a child actor should be added to this list.
Freddie Bartholomew, born Frederick Llewelyn on March 24,
1924 in London. The curly-haired, dimpled, angelic boy star was destined to make a real mark in Hollywood. Handsome, impressive and very English, well-bred Frddie was a sensitive, royal figure among the children of the sound stages. His brief, but stellar reign lasted only about 7 years, before audiences lost interest in him as he grew up.
Scotty Beckett is best remembered for his appearances in the Our Gang comedy shorts. His appearances were, however, rather limited--only
about 15 shows. Many Our Gang fans rank Scotty as the shoertest of all the kids. He was usually paired with his pal Spanky. He was born in Oakland, California during 1929. He was about 4 years old when he made the first Our Gang short. Along with a very young Spanky, the two were forever out-witting the big kids. His trade mark was a big cap worn sideways (never backwards) and much too large sloppy sweater. This was a few years before Porky and Buckwheat were paired as the little kids. Scotty actually returned to the Gang in 1939. He played Alfalfa's nerdy "Cousin Wilbur" in two of the 1939 MGM shorts. He was then a well-establisherd Hollywood actor. He often played the main character
of the film as a chiod. Two of his major films were "The Blue Bird" (1940) and "Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves" (1944). "The Blue Bird" was a Shirley Temple Vehicle". At the peak of his career in 1939, he appeared in about 10
films. Comics fan will remember him as Corky in "Gasoline Alley". He appeared in many feature roles. One of his more
interesting costume that he wore was a classic sailor suit with flat cap in "Heaven Can Wait" (1943). He was about 13 years old, but play a younger boy. He also did a World war II film, "Boy from Stalingrad" (1943). By the time he was 14, he could still do child parts as he looked so young, and had worked in about 75 different frature films and shorts. As an older teenager and early twenties he became something of a Hollywood heartthrob. He appeared in films with Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy. Perhaps his most memorable role was the young Al Jolson "The Al Jolson Story" (1946). Scotty unfortunately would up like many child stars, living a sad life of depression, becoming adicted to drugs. He died in Hollywood in 1968.
Jackie Coogan was the first major child movie star. No child, except Shirly Temple, has so captivated American movie goers. With his signature Dutch-boy haircut, big brown eyes and appealing personality, the public went crazy for Jackie Coogan. He was literally an overnight success, thanks to the guidance and exposure from Charlie Chaplin. After Chaplin, Jackie proved he could hold his own. He was a terrific actor with the uncanny ability to cry copious tears on cue or
raise the roof with his hilarious antics. It was not mere platitudes when the fan magazines proclaimed him as "The Greatest Boy Actor in the World." Jackie had the gift of touching the emotions of his audiences and the practiced professionalism of a seasoned performer. He was the first child star to achieve such a magnitude of superstardom. His shabby treatment by his parents was to give rise to the "Coogan
Law" to protect future child stars.
Born John Cooper, Jr., on September 15, 1921 in Los Angeles. He was a nephew of film director Norman Taurog. He began appearing in Bobby Clark and Lloyd Hamilton comedies and later was in eight episodes of "Our Gang" comedies. During the 1930s he was one of Hollywood's most popular child stars, in a long series of tear jerkers. He was dominated for a Academy Award for best actor as a result of his performance in "Skippy" (1930). I once saw a TV show where Ken Murry showed his home movies, shot in Hollywood. He had a nice scene, I think taken during the filming of "Skippy" when he was about 9 or 10 years old. Jackie was in a soapbox derby race with Groucho and Harpo Marx. He wore a nice short pants (knee length) suit with an open neck shirt. He looked very smart, I think it must have been the suit he normally wore, not his costume for "Skippy." He was teamed with Wallace Berry in several successful films; "The Champ" (1931), "The Bowery" (1933), and "Treasure Island" (1934). He was a manly little fellow and once complained during the making of "Dinky" (1935) that in the fight scene the other children were cautioned to be careful not to hurt him. He complained to his mother "I don't want fellows like these to treat me like a sissy!" He seems to have worn shorts as a boy as a lot of the publicity shots show him him wearing shorts. At about 13 he began taking his acting a bit more seriously and became a bit embarrassed about his previous roles. The film he was most proud of, however, was "Treasure Island."
Philippe was born in Nancy, France on July 25, 1917. He was a World War I war orphan, but a lot luckier than most. He was born during an air raid in which his mother was traicallu killed. He was adopted by am Americam war aid worker--Mrs. Edith DeLacy. She was in France working with the Woman's Overseas Hospital. After the war, Mrs. DeLacy brought Philippe to America. It was not long before the boy's hansome appeal made him a natural for first advertisements and tghen the movies. His first films were silent pictures and thus not well-known today.
Brandon was born April 9, 1942 in Brooklyn New York. He was the son of a stage manager and an actress. He made his broadway debut at seven in Member of the Wedding (1951) to great critical acclaim. He played again played the part of John Henry, the bespectacled bratty--overly imaginative 7-year old, in the film version (1952). (The producers originally wanted Tommy Rettig.) He was the first child actor ever to win the Donaldson Award for an outstanding stage performance. He also played Howey in the popular Broadway play, Mrs. McThing (1952). He became internationally famous the following year in the Western classic, Shane (1953) for which he received an Oscar nomination. His line, "Come back, Shane!" is one of the most famous movie lines of all history. One reviewer wrote, "It is Master DeWilde with his bright face, his clear voice, and his resolute boyish ways who steals the affection of the audience and clinches "Shane" as a most unusual film." He had a TV series, Jamie (1953-54), an unpretentious show which Brandon later recalled with affection. Brandon looked far younger than he was, but made few pictures as a teenager. The movie makers did not quite know what to do with him. He appeared in a variety of films and TV shows, but without any further memorable performances. He died at only 30 years of age due to injuries suffered in a car crash.
Bobby was born May/March? 3, 1937 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was perhaps the
best known child star in the 1940s and early 50s. Bobby's parents moved to Los Angeles in 1943 and a local barber insisted that Bobby should audition for the movies. As a result Bobby landed a small role in Lost Angel opposite child star Margaret O'Brien. A hard worker and natural actor, he soon had offers from different studios. Unlike some of the sickingly-sweet 1930s child actors, Bobby delivered a sweet, but believable performance. He played in "So Goes My Love" with Myrna Loy and Don Amechee. Loy remarked, "He has so much charm, if Don Amechee and myself aren't on our toes all the time, we know that the audience would be looking at the youngster and ignoring us." Ameche said, "He has talent and I've worked with a lot of child actors in my time, but done of them bore the talent that seems apparent in young Driscoll."
Ra was a noted child violin prodigy. That led to a movie career. Ra Hould has used many names. He was born as Richard Arthur Hould and worked as Ra Hould from age 4 until he was 13 years old. He changed his name when he was 13 to Ronald Sinclair. Today he is perhaps best known as Ronald Sinclair. Most of his film credits, however, are as Ra Hould. One of his best known films is "Dangerous Holiday" (1937). He also appeared in "Boots And Saddles" (1937).
Billy Lee, whose birth name was Billy Lee Schlensker, was born on March 12, 1929, at a farm near Terre Haute, Indiana. He was a major child star during the 1930s and 40s. Contracted by Paramount, he appeared in an amazing number of films, beginning with "Waggon Wheels" in 1934. His most famous film, however, was the classic production of "The Biscuit Eater", a film for which another child actor had originally been cast. He was one of the most talented child stars. He could dance, sing, and play musical instruments.
Mark Lester was thecleading boy film star in the 1970s. He stared in the marvelous
musical, Oliver, giving a particularly effective performance. These two early images of
Mark Lester show him in clothes other than movie costumes. Mark was born in Oxford, England on July 11, 1958, the offspring of two acting parents. Mark's parents began entering Mark in auditions at an early age and by 7 years he was a season performer on British television. He appeared in small roles in Allez France! (1964) and Spaceflight IC-1 (1965). His first important role was in "Fahrenheit 451" (1966) where he played an angelic-looking English school boy, appropriately dressed in shorts and knee socks. His next role was the stuttering Jiminy in "Our Mother's House" (1967). Jack Clayton directed the offbeat film and Mark made a big impression on the film maker that was to play big dividends.
Roddy McDowall was one of the major child stars of the early 1940s. His
performance in films like How Green Was My Valley and Lassie Come
Home were classics. He dressed as an English boy in short pants for his
roles, but also wore shorts from day to day even after coming to America.
This was at a time when most American boys, especially boys his age did not
wear shorts. He said that he felt that there was a conspiracy to keep him a
child. Fairly large sums of money were involved. His transition to teenage
parts did not go well. He continued making films, but was no longer a star.
Child and then juvenile actor, Dickie Moore, appeared in an incredible number of movies, both as the central character and in bit roles. With his striking combination of fair hair and very dark, intense eyes, the tiny Moore fluttered maternal hearts everywhere, and was featured as the screen baby of many a famous name in the early 1930s, most notably of Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. For eight films during 1932-33 he was a leading member of Our Gang. In 1933 he also played Oliver Twist. He will always be remembered for bestowing on a 14-year-old Shirley Temple her first screen kiss - in
Miss Annie Rooney (1942). Has been a public-relations executive since the 1950s, currently (1995) based in New York City.
Jay North started his show business career in commercials. He is best known for his TV series, Dennis the Menace (1959-63). He was reportedly chosen personally by creator Hank Ketcham himself to play Dennis in the TV series. Jay appeared in some 146 episodes of "Dennis."Incredibly, even though he began the series when he was about 6 years old,
I never once saw him in shorts. Jay landed the Dennis part when he was 7 years old. Jay says now that his years as Dennis were a nightmare of loneliness and "physical and emotional abuse" from his aunt and uncle, who were his legal guardians. He told one journalist that Dennis the Menace was a piece of garbage. Through it all, he was the most popular child star of the early 1960s. He had many guest roles in major television shows. He also appeared in many variety Shows. The made several movies, but none of great note. He was never one of the more effective child stars. His blond hair and angelic boyish looks, however, made him a very effective Dennis in his TV series.
Most Americans will forever associate Tommy Rettig with Lassie's faithful companion Jeff. Tommy was born December 10, 1941 in Jackson Heights, New York. He played in stage, radio television , and movie roles. He started his career at age six, touring with Mary Martin in "Annie Get Your Gun." He played Little Jake for some 22 months. He was offered a part in stage plays ("Member of the Wedding" and "Peter Pan"), but his mother decided on the movies. Tommy wore a the dress as called for in the younger brother role in "Member of the Wedding." He made his screen debut when he was 9 years old. During the 1950s he appeared in 17 films, usually only small bit parts. I've seen a few and he never appears in short pants--even when he wears a nice suit in "For Heavens' Sake" and was young enough to do so. Perhaps his most memorable role was the boy with a vivid imagination in the "5,000 Fingers of Dr. T" (1953).
Child actor in Hollywood fins during the 1930s after a radio career beginning when he was 3 years old. He often played bratty kids. One of his first movie roles was in "Tom Sawyer" (1930), of course as Tom's bratty kid brother Sid. He appeared again as Sid in "Huckleberry Finn" (1931). Often he had only small roles, such as "Strictly Dynamite" (1934) in which he played an obnoxious child actor goaded on my his mother, costumed in a long pants suit. Some of the more memorable fins he appeared in included "Skippy" (1931), "High Gear" (1933), "Peck's Bad Boy" (1934), "Great Expectations" (1934), and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1936). In the 1940s he had some supporting roles and later appeared in TV character parts.
Rickie Schroeder is the sweet little blond boy who first drew everyone's attention in the remake of "The Champ" (1979). Many of his subsequent movies were disappointiong. They were laregely set in contemprary times and as a result along with his TV show give a good idea of the clothes and hair styles worn bu American boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The one exception was, of course, was the flawed but still quite good remake of Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Dean was born March 5, 1936, in North Hollywood, California. He was the curly-haired, twinkle eyed child star of the 1940s, but had trouble bridging the gap to adult parts. He was the son of Broadway performers. He made his stage debut
at age seven in the Theater Guild production of "The Innocent Voyage", alongside his younger brother Guy. Two years later he charmed movie viewers in the musical, "Anchors Away" (1945). Some of his best parts were "The Green Years"
(1946), "The Boy With Green Hair" (1948), "Kim" (1950), and several other M.M. films. His last film as a child was "Cattle Drive" (1951). I think his performance in each was rather impressive, especially the first two. He grew up as
a sensitive, intense, but infrequently employed leading man.
One of the best known early English child film star was Desmond Tester in the 1930s. Desmond was born in London (1919). He was really a teenage star as he made his first film at age 12 years. A talent scout spotted him as he was taking his little sister to her ballet lesson. In his child roles he often ended up a fatality. His first screen role was as Gossett in 'Midshipman Easy' (1935). Here he was beaten to death. The following year he played Stevie in 'Sabotage' (1936) and was blown to pieces when he unknowingly carried a parcel bomb onto a London bus and it exploded. This was one of his best known films and an early Hitchcock talkie. Also in 1936 he played the role of Prince Edward VI and died a horrible death from an illness. In 'The Drum' he played a lowly drummer boy and he survived to the end of the film having made friends with an Indian prince played by Sabu. In 1937 he played a child violinist prodigy who liked to play the saxophone in 'Non-Stop New York' (1937). Despite his roles often leading to a tragic end he played a wise cracking mischievous British boy. He went on to adult roles and became a producer of Australian TV programs. He died (2002).
Note that this list is composed primarily of American child stars or English children who have moved to America. Why is this. Is it that HBC just does not have information on foreign child actors and their movies. Or is it that Americans place more interest in childhood and films about children. Certainly one factor is the importance of the American film industry. Another factor is the approach other countries took with children. The Soviets in their films selected from loval communities, but used different children rather than build child statrs like American studios.
HBC also has some information on the acting careers and clothes worn by many other child actors besides the stars listed in this page. We have not included them on our star list either because they were no major actoirs or because we do not know very much about them. If you don't see the child actor you are looking for here, please let HBC know and we will add him to our list.
The studios in the Golden Years of Hollywood put their stars under contract rather than sign individual contracts for specific films. Paramount had one the largest and most impressive group of film stars under contract. Paramount stars included Rudolph Valentino, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Mary Pickford, Clra Bow, Gary ooper, William Powell, Cludette Colbert, Alan Ladd, Marlene Dietrich, and many more. Each of the studios had a number of children under contract to play the many child parts required by films. If one of the studio stars wanted to work on a film for another stydio, they would have to get permission from the studio that had their contract. Billy was, for example, loaned out to MGM for a film. This system was dominate in the 1930s, but began to decline after World War II (1941-45).
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