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Hollywood's Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era Paperback – 1997
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Diana Serra Cary's well-wrought, empathetic narrative presents he underside of he glittering stage and screen world; frightened children, merchants who buy and sell childhood as a commodity, rapacious stage mothers and fathers whose ambition and avarice make them willing to sacrifice their children to fulfill their own dreams
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Throughout the book, the author notices certain patterns common to the four child stars as well as other child stars, including Shirley Temple. The child star is innocent about money and never taught about it - until it's too late. (Baby Peggy, Jackie Coogan, and Shirley Temple had their parents spend most of all the earnings.) The child star has no normal relationship with other children. (Baby Peggy grew up into a mature adult without even knowing what hopscotch was or what it looked like.). Because they spent so much time with movies, they quickly relied upon romance to solve many of their issues as they became adolescents. (Shirley Temple married at 17, wanting to be the first in her class to get married, and Baby Peggy married just to escape her parents' control.). Finally, all these child stars and others as well prevented their children from going into the movie business and tried to protect them from it.
This book contains a faint sadness in its serious tone, a mood that is perfectly understandable given the circumstances of these children’s lives. The author draws perfectly reasonable moral lessons from the evidence she uncovers about her own life and that of other child stars regarding the psychological abuse of the child star, and it is this moral and psychological aspect that renders this book a true history of a bygone era rather than a tabloid exposé. One other takeaway from this book is the understanding that beneath the underlying psychological deprivation and harm equally shared among most child stars is the awareness that the same deprivation and harm equally reaches children who are nobodies through less-than-sensitive, controlling parents.
Unlike many former child stars, however, Ms. Cary was able to use her insight in a constructive way: she wrote about her experiences. She expanded on this, to create a book that covers the child star era from the late 19th century, beginning with such stage sensations as Cordelia Howard and Lotta Crabtree, and ending in the mid 20th century with Margaret O'Brien.
This isn't a gossipy tell-all celebrity book. It's a thoughtful look at the impact of fame and sudden wealth on child stars and their families. It can be painful reading at times, especially the realization of the pressure placed on the shoulders of these children as primary breadwinners, and how it impacted their parents', their siblings', and their own feelings of self-worth.
Ms. Cary is a gifted writer, and her book is fascinating as an account of early Hollywood, as well as an inside look at the early lives of some of Hollywood's most famous kids. It is obvious that she researched this material thoroughly, and added her own insight and memories for a more personal touch. When I read it for the first time, I found myself recalling various talk show interviews with former child stars, and thinking, "Oh, okay, THAT'S what they were getting at."
If you have an interest in Hollywood's history, family dynamics, child stars of Hollywood's golden days, or just feel like reading an interesting book on a subject that isn't often discussed, this book is highly recommended.