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15 Future Stars Who Appeared on PBS Kids

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Over the decades, children’s public television programming—namely, PBS Kids—has jumpstarted the careers of a number of soon-to-be-famous actors. Here are 15 of them.

1. BEN AFFLECK // THE VOYAGE OF THE MIMI (1984)

At the age of 12, more than a dozen years before winning his first Academy Award, Ben Affleck received his breakout role as C.T. Granville in The Voyage of the Mimi. The series was produced for middle school science classrooms and aired on PBS in 1984. It followed the crew of the Mimi, as they explored the ocean and took a census of humpback whales. Four years later, a second series—The Second Voyage of the Mimi—was produced, with Affleck reprising his role.

2. MORGAN FREEMAN // THE ELECTRIC COMPANY (1971-1977)

Morgan Freeman was a series regular on The Electric Company during its entire run from 1971 to 1977. The future Oscar winner played a number of recurring roles, including Easy Reader, Mel Mounds, and Vincent the Vegetable Vampire.

3. SARAH JESSICA PARKER // 3-2-1 CONTACT (1980)

In 1980, a year after taking on the title role in Broadway’s Annie, Sarah Jessica Parker appeared as the Little Orphan on 3-2-1 Contact. It was her first credited television appearance.

4. MICHAEL KEATON // MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD (1975)

In 1975, future Oscar nominee Michael Keaton worked a number of odd jobs at Pittsburgh’s public television station WQED, including stagehand, stage manager, and eventually background player on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. "When you worked at QED, you kind of did everything,” Keaton said during an interview on Live with Kelly and Michael. “So you would work on Fred [Rogers’] crew from time to time … [He] was one of the nicest, authentically good people you've ever met. Really good dude [with] kind of a sneaky, sly great sense of humor.”

5. SAMUEL L. JACKSON // GHOSTWRITER (1992)

Although he began his acting career in the early 1970s, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t gain stardom until the 1990s, after appearing in movies for directors Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino. During that same time, Jackson appeared on the PBS Kids show Ghostwriter, where he played the father of Jamal (Sheldon Turnipseed) in the series’ first mystery, “Ghost Story.”

6. STOCKARD CHANNING // SESAME STREET (1972-1988)

At age 28, future Oscar nominee Stockard Channing made her first credited television appearance as the “Mad Painter's Victim” on Sesame Street in 1972. The Mad Painter was a recurring segment where a painter would draw a number on practically anything in public, namely Channing. She reprises the role in the short segments throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.

7. DEMI LOVATO // BARNEY & FRIENDS (2002-2004)

In 2002, nine-year-old Demi Lovato made her television debut on Barney & Friends, where she played “Angela” during the show’s seventh and eighth seasons. Among Lovato’s co-stars during this time was fellow singer/actress Selena Gomez.

8. SELENA GOMEZ // BARNEY & FRIENDS (2002-2004)

In 2002, the same year that Demi Lovato made her debut, Selena Gomez joined the cast of Barney & Friends as “Gianna.” It was her first professional acting job, and she went on to appear in more than a dozen episodes of the series over the next two years. "I was very shy when I was little,” Gomez told People. “I didn't know what 'camera right' was. I didn't know what blocking was. I learned everything from Barney."

9. YEARDLEY SMITH // SQUARE ONE TV (1987)

Two years before she began voicing Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons, Yeardley Smith appeared on PBS Kids’ Square One TV. She played a gorilla handler named Jane Rice-Burroughs in four of the first season’s “Mathnet” detective segments.

10. RAÚL JULIÁ // SESAME STREET (1971-1972)

While he was already a rising star on Broadway, Raúl Juliá appeared as Rafael, one of the co-founders of the Fix-It Shop with Luis (Emilio Delgado), on Sesame Street. Juliá had a short stint on the series, only appearing in four episodes throughout season three.

11. JULIA STILES // GHOSTWRITER (1993-1994)

In 1993, at the age of 12, Julia Stiles made her television debut as the computer hacking enthusiast Erica Dansby on Ghostwriter. She appeared in season two's “Who Is Max Mouse?” mystery and season three’s “A Crime of Two Cities.”

12. REG E. CATHEY // SQUARE ONE TV (1987-1992)

Before he starred on HBO’s The Wire or Netflix’s House of Cards, Reg E. Cathey was a series regular on Square One TV. He played a number of roles and characters on the educational math variety show from 1987 to 1992.

13. MING-NA WEN // MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD (1985)

In 1985, Ming-Na Wen appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a Royal Trumpeter for King Friday XIII’s court in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The role marked her television debut.

14. KEITH DAVID // MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD (1983-1985)

During the mid-1980s, Keith David had a recurring role on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as Keith the Handyman. However, for one episode, David played a game coin collector who taught children to play video games. 

15. DULÉ HILL // GHOSTWRITER (1992)

In 1992, Dulé Hill appeared on Ghostwriter’s first season, in the episode “To Catch a Creep: Part 1.” “My first gig was when I was about 13,” Hill told PopMatters. “I played ‘Basketball Boy’ on the show Ghostwriter. I had about two lines. That’s how I got my SAG card and I did commercials, too.”

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Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
60 Years Later, a Lost Stanley Kubrick Script Has Been Found
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images
Evening Standard/Stringer, Getty Images

A “lost” screenplay co-written by famed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has been found after 60 years, Vulture reports.

The screenplay is an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella Burning Secret, which Vulture describes as a reverse Lolita (plot summary for those who forgot high school English class: a man enters a relationship with a woman because of his obsession with her 12-year-old daughter). In Burning Secret, a man befriends an adolescent boy in order to seduce his mother. Zweig’s other works have inspired films like Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (which the director claims he "stole" from Zweig's novels Beware of Pity and The Post-Office Girl).

Kubrick’s screenplay adaptation is co-written by novelist Calder Willingham and dated October 24, 1956. Although the screenplay bears a stamp from MGM’s screenwriting department, Nathan Abrams—the Bangor University professor who discovered the script—thinks it’s likely the studio found it too risqué for mass audiences.

“The child acts as an unwitting go-between for his mother and her would-be lover, making for a disturbing story with sexuality and child abuse churning beneath its surface,” Abrams told The Guardian. It's worth noting, however, that Kubrick directed an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1962, which MGM distributed, and it was also met with a fair share of controversy.

Abrams said the screenplay for Burning Secret is complete enough that it could be created by filmmakers today. He noted that the discovery is particularly exciting because it confirms speculations Kubrick scholars have had for decades.

“Kubrick aficionados knew he wanted to do it, [but] no one ever thought it was completed,” Abrams told The Guardian.

The Guardian reports that Abrams found the screenplay while researching his book Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. The screenplay is owned by the family of one of Kubrick’s colleagues.

[h/t Vulture]

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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