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From ‘Little House on the Prairie’ to ‘Bewitched’ and More: Remembering 10 Favorite Child Stars

When you say the words “child star” to somebody, what will usually come to mind is the image of a former TV cutie who, upon the demise of their respective shows, heads down a path of self-destruction, oftentimes with tragic results. Thankfully, the vast majority of the people that follow — ranging from shows like Little House on the Prairie to Lassie, The Partridge Family and more — emerged from childhood stardom relatively unscathed. But it’s not always an easy journey.

Actress Juliet Mills, who played Phoebe Figalilly on the 1970 to 1971 sitcom Nanny and the Professor, worked on that show with three kid actors: David Doremus, Trent Lehman and Kim Richards. David left acting for a career in mobile electronics, but Trent committed suicide and Kim’s adult life (oftentimes chronicled on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) has been filled with bouts of alcoholism and emotional issues.

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“In some ways I was shocked,” Juliet explains in an exclusive interview regarding her costars, “but, you know, children brought into acting so young and everything — if they don’t have the right family environment, or a solid family life, which is what we [she and sister Hayley Mills] had with my parents, it’s a problem. We had that with my family in that fame never went to our heads in the sense that daddy always said, ‘You treat it like a job, but we’re so lucky to be doing what we love to do and be paid for it, but don’t expect to be treated like a star.’ If you are, that is a big mistake. Especially if you’re only 6, as Kim was.”

Pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark points to Anissa Jones, who played Buffy Davis on the 1966 to 1971 sitcom Family Affair and, in 1978, died of a drug overdose at the age of 18. “Anissa,” he says, “was not taught how to be anything more than Buffy. She wasn’t taught the exigencies of adult life. Life is wonderful, but life is hard. Life is making decisions and making changes when it’s necessary. Life is advocating for oneself. Life is also realizing that one is not the center of attention. Many child actors walk away from their shows not knowing any of these things and we’ve seen the carnage of it. The ones who end up truly well, like Ron Howard, are because his family knew exactly what to do and made sure when he was away from the set, he was a child that had chores in the house and responsibilities at home. They were on set with him to make sure he was being treated well.”


Someone who can attest to that is Karen Knotts, daughter of Don Knotts who costarred with Ron on The Andy Griffith Show and met him on the set. “Ron wasn’t like a kid at all,” she explains. “Not like any kid I knew. He just had this pose and maturity about him. Almost like a whole other personality, in a way. He was very friendly to me. I remember him showing me a little transistor radio that could fit in your hand, which in those days was unheard of. I hadn’t seen anything like that. It was gold in color and I guess was a precursor to him becoming a director.”

Lloyd J. Schwartz, whose father Sherwood Schwartz created both Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, and who worked on both shows, points to the fact that the actors playing the “Brady Kids” came out well, which he also attributes at least partially to their families.

“That is part of it,” he tells us. “You always want to cast the parents as well as your kids. One of the things I remember is that Mike Lookinland was offered the part of Eddie on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and he was also offered the part of Bobby on The Brady Bunch. Because his parents didn’t want him to be the only kid on a set, they chose The Brady Bunch. These kids shared an experience and they had each other to share it with. There six of them and that was also very important to all of this. We also wanted to keep the parents very down front. On most shows they say, ‘Get the parents off the set,’ but we approached it like it was a family. That makes a big difference.”