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Entries in child stars (39)

Wednesday
Feb032016

Judy by the Numbers: "Got a New Pair of Shoes"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Though nobody guessed it when she was cast, Judy Garland’s fifth movie would be the first in a series starring the most famous child actor team in Hollywood history. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, a Freddie Bartholomew vehicle sadly missing its intended star, saw the first team up of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Though both played supporting parts, their onscreen chemistry is clear. These kids were a hit!

The Movie: Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (MGM 1937)
The Songwriter: Arthur Freed (music and lyrics)
The Players: Ronald Sinclair, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, directed by Alfred E. Green

The Story: This bizarre little musical number perfectly encapsulates what would become the Mickey and Judy dynamic. Mickey is busy working at a project – in this case, trying to take Ronald Sinclair’s pants off (just in case you needed your daily dose of unintended homoerotic subtext). Meanwhile, Judy flits and flirts in and out of the scene, trying to get Mickey’s attention through accolades, through annoyance, through anything so long as it makes him notice her. She dances around him, he gives her a swat – it’s schoolyard flirting with song and dance. This formula would define the two child actors together until long after they had put away childish things. But for the moment, it’s dimples, music, and fun.

Wednesday
Jan272016

Judy by the Numbers: "Dear Mr. Gable"

Anne Marie is charting Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

In 1936, 14 year old Judy was selected to perform at Clark Gable's birthday party. Gable, the biggest MGM star at that time, was to have an all out bash. For Judy's performance, Roger Edens wrote an intro lyric to an old MGM property, "You Made Me Love You," which directed the 1917 song specifically at Gable. At the party, Judy jumped out of a cake and sang the star his song, charming not only the birthday boy, but also his boss, Louis B. Mayer.

The Movie: Broadway Melody of 1938 (MGM, 1937)
The Songwriter: James V. Monaco (music), Joseph McCarthy (lyrics), Roger Edens (new title & intro)
The Players: Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Judy Garland, Clark Gable's photo, directed by Roy del Ruth

 

The Story: The result of her hit at the birthday party was that Judy Garland was cast singing her new song in  Broadway Melody of 1938. The Broadway Melody series was designed for MGM to try out up-and-coming talent; Buddy Ebsen made his debut there, and it helped make Eleanor Powell a star. Judy was no exception. All of the reviews raved about her: NYT called out her "amazing precocity" while The Hollywood Reporter asked why she'd been kept under wraps so long. "Dear Mr. Gable" would become her first single, too. Judy Garland was an overnight hit, but it would take her 2 more years and 5 more movies to become a star.

Friday
Jan222016

Happy Birthday, Linda Blair!

Happy Birthday to horror legend and Oscar nominee, Linda Blair! The actress and activist's signature role as Regan in The Exorcist is as iconic as it comes, but she never landed another role as significant. Later years saw her winking at and spoofing her legendary demonic turn, but we will always be terrified by her icy stare behind the makeup.

Blair's Best Supporting Actress nomination remains one of our youngest nominees (though she was defeated by the even younger Tatum O'Neal) and one of the few honored performances in a horror film. Her Oscar chances were sidelined due to perceptions of Mercedes McCambridge's vocal contributions to the possessed Regan, but put the film on mute and Blair still stuns. The performance is as terrifying as it ever was - primal, physical, and unflinching. (If you missed last year's Smackdown which really dived into her work, check out the Smackdown and its companion podcast.)

Here's to one of the rare Oscar-approved Scream Queens!

Wednesday
Jan202016

Judy by the Numbers: "Americana"

Anne Marie here with one of the foundational building blocks of the legend that is Judy. This week it's the story you've probably heard: young Judy Garland sings in a two-reel with another mostly-unknown MGM child actor named Deanna Durbin. Mayer sees the short and decides to dump one of the girls. Which he chooses and why is up for debate, but the practical fallout turns one girl into a big star at a small studio, and puts the other on the road towards a mythmaking career.

The Movie: "Every Sunday" (MGM, 1936)

The Songwriter: Roger Eden

The Players: Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin directed by Felix E. Feist

The Story: When young Judy had signed with MGM, she had done so without a screentest. The powers that be decided to rectify that in 1936, casting Judy with Deanna Durbin, another girl singer whose classical style contrasted nicely with Judy's big, swingtime voice. Durbin's option at MGM was about to expire, and the studio decided not to renew it. Durbin was rapidly scooped up by Universal, cast in Three Smart Girls, and became a nearly overnight sensation. These are the facts as we know them.

Many variations on this storyfeature heavily in the Judy Garland myth. In some versions, Mayer tells an underling to "get rid of the fat one," and the studio mistakenly lets go Durbin. In others, Arthur Freed recognizes young Garland's talents and intercedes on her behalf. Whatever the real reason was, this story remains the most romanticized near-miss in Hollywood musical history. It's a story of foils: Classical Deanna vs Brassy Judy, the flashpan sensation vs the undying star, the nonegenarian vs the talent gone too soon. Every good myth needs an origin story, and this moment, when Judy's career nearly stopped before it began, serves neatly as the genesis for Judy Garland, Child Star.

Wednesday
Jan132016

Jacob Tremblay is frighteningly good at being a celebrity already. But will he be Oscar nominated?

Recently Scott Feinberg added Jacob Tremblay to his actual predictions for Best Actor nominations. Yes, Best Actor. While Tremblay is obviously the leading man of Room (he co-leads the first half and essentially takes over in the second) he's been campaigned as supporting because he is a kid and that's how kids are campaigned invariably -- remember when they tried to pretend that Keisha Castle Hughes (Whale Rider) was supporting even though her movie had no other leads. LOL. Not so good times.

Tremblay in Best Actor would be a surprise but it maybe isn't a bad call given the seemingly passion-free zone that is the presumed leaders in that particular race. Though I think we'll only see that "promotion" happening if Room is strong enough to nab a Best Picture nomination (I think it is --see the updated Best Picture chart). On the other hand the actors branch, like most organizations, is subject to the whims of the patriachy and as such little boys have a much harder time nabbing Oscar nominations than little girls probably because no one feels comfortable, subconciously that is, making grown accomplished men step aside for children (but accomplished grown women? "Get out of the way for that little cutie, you old hag!"). The most recent valid comparison point in terms of acclaim and size of role might be Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (1999) who co-led that picture with Bruce Willis and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In that case though the co-lead was of the same gender and Oscar is generally pretty forgiving of category fraud in those cases. At least since 1991's Thelma & Louise, the last film to be nominated for two leading players of the same gender.)

If Jacob Tremblay were to be nominated in Best Actor (and we hope he is) he'd be the second youngest of all time. His exact age is the subject of question; Wikipedia says he was born in October 5th, 2006, which would make him 9 years old right now but IMDb has no birthdate and recent reporting at Entertainment Weekly refers to him as an 11 year old boy. But regardless of where he is between 9 and 11, if he is nominated tomorrow he will not become the youngest Oscar nominee in either male acting category. The record in Best Actor will continue to be held by Jackie Cooper who was nominated for Skippy (1931) when he had just barely turned 9 and he enjoyed a very lengthy showbiz career thereafter (he passed away in 2011). The record in Supporting Actor will continue to be held by Justin Henry from Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) who was nominated at 8 years of age. Unlike Cooper, though, he did not become a showbiz fixture. 

Anyway remember that time in December that Oscar Isaac was talking about his face on Yoplait "go-gurt" and people went crazy for it? So that popped up again on Jimmy Kimmel with Jacob Tremblay as a guest and the child star handled the crowd with future leading man charm offensive... this is all very Dakota Fanning territory if you ask me. Definitely a kid but a kid with hyper-developed confidence who has eery instincts for sitting at the grown up table like he already belongs there and plans to stay.

Well, I do have a delicious face."

Let's hope Tremblay has great grounding at home and people on his professional team who care more about him than his earning potential. The child star path can be treacherous. Historically speaking child stars take one of these four roads after their first burst of fame 

  1. Become a Cautionary Tale: petty crime, drug arrests, self-destructive (too many names to mention)
  2. Enter the 'Where Are They Now' Lexicon Hall of Fame: a disappearing act either because showbiz wasn't for them or showbiz didn't want them after all... or some combo of the two.
  3. Become Showbiz Troupers: many child stars stay in the business when they grow up with wildly varying degrees of success but their initial child star fame remains a crucial part of why they're famous (Anna Paquin, Drew Barrymore, Roddy McDowall, Christina Ricci, Jackie Cooper, etc...)
  4. Ascend: Here's the rarest of outcomes. The actor or actress becomes so popular as an adult movie star once they're grown up that their childhood ascendance becomes an anecdotal part of their history but not anyone's chief focus (Jodie Foster, Christian Bale, Natalie Wood, Liz Taylor)

So best wishes to Tremblay and his team if they choose to pursue the long game of outcomes #3 or #4 or if they take a healthy #2 out if he doesn't stay interested in a few years time. 

OSCAR PREDICTIONS: ACTOR & SUPPORTING ACTOR (Supporting Actor is particularly difficult this year. It's possible to imagine virtually any combination of the top ten as long as Mark Rylance and Sylvester Stallone are accounted for)
NATHANIEL'S BALLOT: My votes in these two categories coming up shortly