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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May 21, 2009 - 10:12am
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