Recently, while fiddling around on my iPad and knocking off a burger at a Red Robin off Polaris Parkway in Columbus, I came across a couple of pretty disturbing pictures.
They weren’t pictures of mutilated body parts or anything grotesque. Instead, they were images of a couple individuals I remember from many years ago.
At one time, the individuals in the pictures were America’s darlings, one a boy and one a girl, one who appeared on the silver screen and one on the television screen.
As for the boy, the picture I stumbled upon was Macaulay Culkin, as he is now, a picture that bore no resemblance to me of that "Home Alone" kid who lit up the movie screen and managed to make fools of a couple of cat-burglar dopes played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, both accomplished actors certainly not used to playing second bananas to kids in any of their acting endeavors.
Culkin not only starred in the 1990 breakout film that featured him as a child accidentally left behind to defend the house by a family who wanted to spend Christmas in Paris but also in a very commercially successful sequel, "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York."
The current picture of Culkin looked like a totally different person. While I realize no one stays young forever, for a young man of just 32, my, did he look bad. He’s very thin, almost to the point of emaciated, and very pale. There have been rumors of drug addiction, but he says he’s fine and has no money worries as a result of his being at one time the highest-paid child actor ever.
With a film career no longer flourishing, his latest pursuit, according to the brief story accompanying the picture, had to do with trying to make it as an artist.
Culkin’s life, actually, was less than idyllic back when he was at the height of his childhood glory and earning potential. You may recall significant disputes with his father over access to his money, disputes that eventually led to the estrangement that exists to this very day.
Additionally, as a child Culkin developed a very close relationship with Michael Jackson. While there has long been speculation as to the nature of the relationship and the sleepovers that took place, Culkin maintains what he testified in Jackson’s child molestation trial, that while he often shared Jackson’s bed, never once did the pop singer ever touch him in a sexual manner.
Culkin, when speaking of his relationship with Jackson, said something that speaks powerfully about the difficulties of achieving fame at such a young age.
“Michael and I had an understanding about my problems with my father,” he said. “He knew what that was about. He lived it (with his own father). We were both going to be about 8 years old forever because we never had a chance to be 8 when we actually were. That’s kind of the beautiful and the cursed part of our lives.”
As for the other darling of the screen, the TV screen in her case, is Erin Moran. Once upon a time, starting in 1974, she came into our living rooms as Joanie Cunningham on the wildly successful sitcom, "Happy Days."
She has been in the news in a not-so-good way. The series "Happy Days" enjoyed an 11-year run, and, while I’m not so naïve to assume she was paid so well that her nest should have been feathered for life from what she earned, I would have to believe with some sound financial planning and other acting opportunities, including co-starring in a spin-off series, that would have given Moran a solid start on the road to prosperity.
Moran, thanks to a favorable judgment from a lawsuit that she and other co-stars from the show filed in 2011, received an additional $65,000 from royalties from show-related items, such as dolls, lunch boxes and such that featured the cast members’ likenesses.
Now, according to reports, Moran has blown through all her money on drinking and partying and has been evicted from a trailer park in Indiana. Tabloid stories abound about Moran’s public drunkenness and conflicts with her mother-in-law.
At just 52, it’s been years since the former actress found any work in an entertainment business that has long ago forgotten her. The image of the once fresh-faced girl with the darting, mischievous eyes has been replaced by an image of a woman who, to me, looks a decade or more older, one with cigarette dangling from lower lip, with clothing that looks more like Goodwill than Hollywood chic.
My hope for both, one who still has a lot of his money and one who is closer to a state of destitution than prosperity, is that they can somehow find a way back to a point where there is some joy and fulfillment in their lives. Certainly for Culkin, given his accumulated and retained wealth, it may be easier than for Moran.
I can only imagine when fame and success come at such a young age how difficult it is when the spotlight ceases to shine. To a degree athletes face that, but they are, generally, a lot older and more able to transition than child stars.
It seems for those of us who were never thrust into that spotlight so very young that we don’t need a second act. Ours is a first and only act that evolves over time. But, for Culkin, Moran and others who burst on the scene like so many meteors across their pre-adolescent skies, really it’s all about finding that second act after being given so much so soon.