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The Questionable Parenting Behind 5 Child Stars

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This week's edition of TV-Holic highlights some child stars who, in one way or another, had serious parental problems.

1. Taran Noah Smith

Taran Noah Smith was seven years old when he was hired to play Mark, the youngest Taylor son, on Home Improvement. By the time the series ended in 1999, he had approximately $1.5 million tucked away into a trust fund (thanks to the Coogan Law*), which would become available to him when he turned 18. In the intervening years, he received almost $15,000 per month in a combination of interest from his trust fund and residuals. Of that money, his parents gave him an "allowance" of $300 per month and used the rest to buy a $600,000 house in Sherman Oaks and pay for other family expenses. (His mother appointed herself his manager and accepted 15% of his earnings as her fee.) His parents and sister all had American Express cards in Taran's name, and his father started up a business funded with Taran's money.

When Home Improvement went off the air, his parents badgered him to find another acting job quickly so that they wouldn't "lose everything." Smith instead left home at 17 to marry a woman 16 years his senior and subsequently sued his parents over his trust fund. The marriage ended in divorce in 2007, and Smith has since attempted to reconcile with his mom and dad.

2. Danny Bonaduce

dannypartridgea.jpgJoseph Bonaduce had an itch to become a TV writer, so he moved his family from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1963. While meeting with producers to pitch scripts, he often was able to get the first notice when casting directors were looking for child actors. He had his wife take the kids out on cattle call auditions, and while all of the Bonaduce offspring landed the occasional commercial, it was red-haired, precocious Danny who landed several guest-starring roles on sitcoms.  When Danny auditioned for The Partridge Family, it was his smart-aleck attitude combined with his on-screen chemistry with Dave Madden (who played manager Reuben Kincaid) that landed him the coveted role of the middle Partridge child. Thanks to "I Think I Love You" hitting number one on the charts just as the series aired, and the teen-scream appeal of David Cassidy, The Partridge Family was an immediate hit.

As the series progressed, the producers exploited Bonaduce's comedic timing and he became the focus of more and more episodes. Soon groups of fans camped out in the Bonaduce family driveway and young Danny couldn't go to the mall without being mobbed. All of this heady success did not set well with father Joe. Joseph had always maintained discipline among his children with an iron fist (and occasional belt), but once Danny's star began to rise and Joe was still having to knock on doors to get his scripts read, tension in the Bonaduce household reached critical mass. Danny showed up on the Partridge set enough times with blackened eyes that Shirley Jones and Dave Madden feared for his safety and started taking him to their respective homes on weekends. Certified psychologist types would probably ascribe Danny Bonaduce's continuous destructive behavior in adulthood as a reaction to his turbulent upbringing.

3. Gary Coleman

gary-coleman.jpgGary Wayne Coleman was born on February, 8, 1968, in Zion, Illinois, and adopted four days later by Willie and Edmonia Sue Coleman. Gary was born with a congenital kidney disease that rendered his right kidney malformed and useless at birth. His overworked left kidney gave out when he was just five years old, which led to years of dialysis and two eventual kidney transplants. The immunosuppressant drugs he took stunted his growth, and the accompanying steroids gave him a permanent chubby-cheeked appearance. If you're a turn-lemons-into-lemonade type person, you might theorize that Coleman's illness led to his eventual stardom.


Mingling with adults in the dialysis unit matured him beyond his years, and when he was nine years old he could still pass for a preschooler, so the adorable tyke with the snappy adult repartee found plenty of work in Chicago-area TV commercials. NBC honcho Fred Silverman happened to notice the appealing tot and cast him in a new series called Diff'rent Strokes. Suddenly fans couldn't get enough of the precocious Coleman, and he received not only paychecks from his series work, but also numerous endorsement deals.

Even though a percentage of his earnings were placed in trust (again, due to the Coogan Law), the majority of his money was funneled into a production company his parents set up in his name, and in which they installed themselves as executives. They also accepted a salary from the trust fund for acting as "employees" of Coleman's estate.  When all was said and done, when Coleman reached the age of majority, after earning an estimated $3 million during his youth, his trust fund yielded a paltry $220,000 (which, of course, resulted in a lengthy son versus parents lawsuit).

4. Anissa Jones

 
anissa-jones.jpgAnissa Jones was a beautiful baby, and her ambitious mother felt that the little girl had a future in show business. She and her husband moved with their two children from West Lafayette, Indiana, to Playa del Ray, California, where she enrolled four-year-old Anissa in dancing classes. Anissa landed her first job, a TV commercial, when she was six years old, and one year later she was cast as "Buffy" on a new sitcom called Family Affair. The series was a hit, partly due to America's love affair with the irresistibly adorable Jones.


At that time, sitcoms filmed 30 episodes per season, and when Jones wasn't busy on the set, she was off promoting the series or one of the many products bearing her likeness. There were Buffy coloring books, paper dolls, lunch boxes, and Mrs. Beasley dolls. Despite working harder than most adults, Jones remained a kind and thoughtful child. Everyone on the set loved her, from grouchy Brian Keith to the studio janitor, who often entertained her with magic tricks between takes.  Anissa refused to accept gifts from people unless they also brought one for her younger brother. Yes, everyone seemed to love Anissa except her own parents.

Her folks had divorced since moving to L.A., and Mrs. Jones took charge of her daughter's career. She forced an unhappy Anissa to wear baby-doll dresses and style her hair in childish pigtails at the age of 13, simply because she had a lucrative marketing deal to sell a Buffy-style clothing line. When Anissa turned 15, no one in her family remembered to buy her a birthday cake. When her father passed away, Anissa started spending more time at the homes of friends, and her angry mother reported her to police as a runaway. She spent several months in juvenile detention as a result, and after that her life went into a downward spiral. She died of a drug overdose at the age of 18.

5. Jaimee Foxworth

Jaimee.jpgJaimee Foxworth played the youngest Winslow child on Family Matters for four seasons. But between the lack of character development (with Urkel's burgeoning popularity, there was little use for little Judy Winslow) and Foxworth's mother's demands for more money, she was quietly written out of the show without explanation. Foxworth returned to high school and looked forward to receiving the $500,000 in her trust fund when she turned 20 years old. However, one year before coming of age, her family was facing bankruptcy and her mother successfully petitioned the court to have Jaimee's entire trust turned over to her to pay the bills. With zero cash in the bank, Foxworth turned to drugs and alcohol and a brief career in the porn industry. She is currently working to get her life back on track and recently appeared on the VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab.

* For more on the Coogan Law and the actor who inspired it, read Kara's post about 8 Memorable TV Uncles and scroll down to Uncle Fester.

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9 Mysterious Facts About Murder, She Wrote
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CBS

For 12 seasons and 264 episodes, the small coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine, was the scene of a murder. And wherever there was a body, Jessica Fletcher wasn’t far behind. The fictional mystery author and amateur sleuth at the heart of the CBS drama Murder, She Wrote was given life by actress Angela Lansbury, who made a name for herself in the theater world and in movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. Though the show was supposed to skew toward an older audience, the series is still very much alive and being discovered by new generations of audiences every year. Unravel the mystery with these facts about Murder, She Wrote.

1. ANGELA LANSBURY WAS “PISSED OFF” AT THE TV ROLES BEING OFFERED TO HER BEFORE MURDER.

After years of high-profile parts and critical acclaim in the theater, Angela Lansbury was in her late fifties and ready to tackle a steady television role. Unfortunately, instead of being flooded with interesting lead roles on big series, she said she was constantly looked at to play “the maid or the housekeeper in some ensemble piece,” leaving her to get—in the Dame’s own words—“really pissed off.”

After voicing her displeasure, she was soon approached with two potential solo series, one being Murder, She Wrote, which grabbed her attention because of its focus on a normal country woman becoming an amateur detective. After meeting with the producers and writers, it was only a matter of time before Lansbury agreed to the role and began the 12-season run.

2. THE SHOW TOOK A SHOT AT FRIENDS IN ITS FINAL SEASON.

In 1995, CBS made a bold move: After airing on Sundays since 1984, Murder, She Wrote moved to Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. for its twelfth and final season, going head-to-head against Mad About You and Friends over at NBC. On a night dominated by younger viewers, Lansbury was at a loss.

"I'm shattered," she told the Los Angeles Times. "What can I say? I really feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn't mean anything. It was like gone with the wind."

Maybe not so coincidentally, during that last season of the series there was an episode titled “Murder Among Friends,” where a TV producer is killed in her office after planning to get rid of a member of the cast of a fictional television show called Buds. Complete with its coffee shop setting and snarky repartee, Buds was a not-so-subtle stab at Friends, coming at a time when Murder, She Wrote was placed right against the hip ratings juggernaut.

Putting the murder mystery aside for a moment, Fletcher takes plenty of jabs at Buds throughout, literally rolling her eyes at the thought of six twentysomethings becoming a hit because they sat around talking about their sexuality in every episode. The writing was on the wall as Murder, She Wrote was being phased out by CBS by the end of 1996, but Lansbury made sure to go down swinging.

3. JESSICA FLETCHER HOLDS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

Here’s one for any self-respecting trivia junkie: Jessica Fletcher holds a Guinness World Record for Most Prolific Amateur Sleuth. Though Guinness recognizes that Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple has been on and off screen longer—since 1956—Fletcher has actually gotten to the bottom of more cases with 264 episodes and four TV movies under her belt.

4. THE SHOW’S FICTIONAL TOWN WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE PLANET.

Quiet, upper-class New England coastal towns aren’t usually known for their murder count, but Cabot Cove, Maine, is a grisly destination indeed. In fact, if you look at the amount of murders per the population, it would have the highest rate on the planet, according to BBC Radio 4.

With 3560 people living in the town, and 5.3 murders occurring every year, that comes out to 1490 murders per million, which is 60 percent higher than that of Honduras, which only recently lost its title as the murder capital of the world. It’s also estimated that in total, about two percent of the folks in Cabot Cove end up murdered. 

5. SOME FANS THINK FLETCHER WAS A SERIAL KILLER THE WHOLE TIME.

That statistic leads us right into our next thought: Isn’t it a little suspicious that Fletcher keeps stumbling upon all these murders? We know that Cabot Cove is a fairly sleepy town, but the murder rate rivals a Scorsese movie. And this one person—a suspicious novelist and amateur detective—always seems to get herself mixed up in the juiciest cases. Some people think there’s something sinister about the wealth of cases Fletcher writes about in her books: It’s because she’s the one doing the killing all along.

This theory has gained traction with fans over the years, and it helps explain the coincidental nature of the show. Murders aren’t just exclusive to Fletcher and Cabot Cove; they follow her around when she’s on book tours, on trips out of town, or while writing the script to a VR video game for a company whose owner just so happens to get killed while Fletcher is around.

Could Jessica Fletcher have such an obsession with murder mysteries that she began to create her own? Was life in Cabot Cove too boring for a violent sociopath? Did she decide to take matters into her own hands after failing to think of original book ideas? We’ll never know, but it puts the whole series into a very different light.

6. LANSBURY WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT A PROPOSED REBOOT.

Despite its inimitable style, Murder, She Wrote isn’t immune to Hollywood’s insatiable reboot itch, and in 2013 plans were put in motion to modernize the show for a new generation. NBC’s idea was to cast Octavia Spencer as a hospital administrator who self-publishes her first mystery novel and starts investigating real cases. Lansbury was none too pleased by the news.

"I think it's a mistake to call it Murder, She Wrote," she told The Hollywood Reporter in November 2013, "because Murder, She Wrote will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person ... So I'm sorry that they have to use the title Murder, She Wrote, even though they have access to it and it's their right."

When the plug was pulled on the series, Lansbury said she was "terribly pleased and relieved” by the news, adding that, "I knew it was a terrible mistake."

7. JEAN STAPLETON TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE OF JESSICA FLETCHER.

It’s impossible to separate Angela Lansbury from her role as Jessica Fletcher now, but she wasn’t the network’s first choice for the role. All in the Family’s Edith Bunker, actress Jean Stapleton, was originally approached about playing Fletcher, but she turned it down.

Stapleton cited a combination of wanting a break after All in the Family’s lengthy run and the fact that she wasn’t exactly thrilled with how the part was written, and the changes she wanted to make weren’t welcome. Despite not being enthralled by the original ideas for Fletcher, Stapleton agreed that Lansbury was “just right” for the part.

8. FLETCHER’S ESCAPADES HAVE LIVED ON IN BOOKS AND VIDEO GAMES.

For anyone who didn’t get enough of Fletcher during Murder, She Wrote’s original run, there are more—plenty more—dead bodies to make your way through. Author Donald Bain has written 45 murder mystery novels starring Fletcher, all of which credit Fletcher as the "co-author." The books sport such titles as Killer in the Kitchen, Murder on Parade, and Margaritas & Murder. Not even cancellation can keep Cabot Cove safe, apparently.

On top of that, two point-and-click computer games were released based on the show in 2009 and 2012. Both games feature Fletcher solving multiple murders just like on the show, but don’t expect to hear the comforting voice of Angela Lansbury as you wade through the dead bodies. Only her likeness appears in the game; not her voice.

9. LANSBURY WOULD BE GAME TO REPRISE THE ROLE.

When recently asked about her iconic role by the Sunday Post, Lansbury admitted that she'd be into seeing Murder, She Wrote come back in some form. "I was in genuine tears doing my last scene," Lansbury said. "Jessica Fletcher has become so much a part of my life, it was difficult to come to terms with it being all over ... Having said that, there have been some two-hour specials since we stopped in 1996 and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got together just one more time."

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Why the Names of the Dragons in Game of Thrones Are Important—and Telling
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HBO

Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Beyond the Wall,” the sixth episode in Game of Thrones’ seventh season. If you are not caught up on the series, stop reading now.

The death of a dragon in “Beyond the Wall,” the latest Game of Thrones episode, highlighted just how little we really know about Daenerys’s three children. (Be honest: Could you have named the dragon that died?) But for fans itching to know more about the show’s dragons, alive and undead, the symbolism in their names offers clues about their true characters and hints at how they might behave in the future.

First, the dragon that died was Viserion. The show doesn’t make it very easy to distinguish Viserion from its sibling Rhaegal—Rhaegal is slightly greener on screen than Viserion—but if you watch closely you’ll see that Viserion was the one downed by the Night King’s spear.

Notably, this is the dragon named after Viserys, Daenerys’s power-hungry older brother. In the first season, Viserys sold his sister to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army he could use to take the Iron Throne. But after growing impatient with Drogo, Viserys threatened to kill his pregnant sister if the invasion didn’t begin immediately. Drogo, at his wit’s end, silenced Viserys’s whining with a pot of molten gold. Last night, Viserion died, too. Like its namesake, Viserion is set to turn on Daenerys and Drogon, the dragon named after Drogo.

That leaves Rhaegal, named after Daenerys’s eldest brother—and Jon’s father—Rhaegar Targaryen. If anyone is going to ride Rhaegal it would make sense for it to be Jon, the only other living Targaryen in Westeros and the son of the dragon’s namesake. After all, Jon has already demonstrated an ability to put dragons at ease in “Eastwatch,” when he patted Drogon on the snout.

Last night’s episode put to death the iteration of the Three-Headed Dragon theory that predicted Tyrion Lannister would be revealed as a hidden Targaryen and ride the third dragon into battle. But the theory will now almost certainly be fulfilled in a much more chilling way: with the Night King as the third rider.

It’s unclear how Viserion would behave as the Night King’s mount. Nerdist reported on how, in the books, Old Nan alludes to mythical ice dragons in stories she told Jon growing up. There’s also a constellation called the Ice Dragon, complete with a rider with a blue star for an eye that always points north. The World of Ice and Fire, the companion encyclopedia George R.R. Martin wrote to further detail his fantasy world, describes unverified reports of ice dragons over the Shivering Sea north of the wall. Sailors claim they are bigger than regular dragons, translucent, and breathe cold that “can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.”

Long before he started on A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin also wrote a children’s book called The Ice Dragon—though he has since insisted that his children’s book does not exist in the same sex-and-violence-crazed universe as his later novels. In the world of the children’s book, the good ice dragon defeats the evil fire-breathing dragons to save the story’s protagonist. Over at Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson wondered if Viserion might end up being one of the good guys, writing that, "Now that we’ve seen two close-ups in the span of two episodes, of dragon eyes both brown and blue, will we eventually see one go white as Bran takes control of Viserion back from the Night King in Season 8?"

It remains to be seen which side will win in the Game of Thrones universe—and chances are we won't have all the answers by the time the current season concludes.

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