Woman Reading Peter Pan book

Children have been entertaining the masses since the beginning of the industry in the early 1900s. We’ve all heard the stories of “child stars gone bad” but WHY bad things happen is just a touch more complicated than the media wants to make it. We think it is important to preserve the history of past mistakes—so we can avoid making them in the future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana (1863–1952), U.S. philosopher, poet.

Jena at 15

A Childhood in Hollywood
by Nancy Rommelmann, 2000
Jena Malone was Hollywood’s “it” child actor. Until she emancipated from her mom and the truth came out.

LA Weekly Cautionary Tale for Child Actors

The Twilight Zone Tragedy

Child Actors Die on Set
In 1982, 3 actors died on the set of a major motion picture, directed by Jon Landis. Two of the dead were children, hired illegally with no studio teacher.  This could still happen today. RIP Renee (age 6) and My-ca (age 7).

Twilight zone crash victims

Jojo Siwa Promised Them Pop Stardom. They Say They Were Thrown in the Trash.
Inside the Blockbuster Lawsuit Threatening One Teen YouTube Star’s Multimillion-dollar Empire (Piper Rockelle and mom Tiffany Smith)

The Perils of a Momager
All showbiz parents have to be “momagers” (mom + manager) to some extent because at the beginning of a child’s career there just isn’t the success to justify creating an entire team of professionals (agent, manager, publicist, lawyer, stylist, social media manager, etc). The skills gained while navigating this industry for one child can be valuable and transferrable to other careers. Some moms use these skills to become agents or manager and they do quite well. Others never seem to have gotten all the information they needed to be successful, and still others exploit their new-found child clients with illegal and unethical practices. These two cases are both still in litigation, but we feel the lessons are valuable no matter how the cases get resolved.

JEssalyn Siwa, Jojo Siwa in graphic

Child Stars Who Lost All Their Money

Bankruptcies, Conservatorship, Substance Abuse
These are all star names from classic films and series, and yet they found themselves in poverty. We can’t verify the numbers in this article, since they are using other media outlets for sources.  Still, the lessons from 20/20 hindsight are there if we choose to learn from them.

Amanda Bynes

Kid Nation

A Reality Show for Kids
In 2007, reality television was big.  CBS created a show very simlar to Survivor, where 40 children were chosen from across the country (except CA due to labor protections) to compete Lord of the Flies style, in New Mexico.  What could go wrong?  Plenty.  Parents signed a 22 page release and were miles from the set. There were a couple of lawsuits as well. In addition to what this article chronicles, BizParentz is aware of further child tragedies that existed on set, including child abuse, exposure to HIV, permanent disfigurement and more. NDAs (Non-disclosure agreements) for everyone!

Cast members of Kid Nation

Kids

Skateboard Movie Fame Turns Deadly
This 1995 film (trailer HERE) starred Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, along with a host of real-life street kids. At the time, the film was said to be ground-breaking as it was presented as a documentary/fiction hybrid about coming-of-age teens and AIDS in New York City.  The problem was, it was very much a profit-making venture for parent company Weinstein (and their parent, Disney), and the non-pro actors in the film struggled with the fame — two of them ended up dead.

In 2021, a documentary called “The Kids” premiered at Tribeca by Eddie Martin about the making of the film. He says, “A few people made a fortune, while the rest of the players were left to pick up the pieces. People like Pierce and Hunter didn’t have the support systems in place to help them navigate the Hollywood scene, he argues. It’s complex, especially when you’re approaching teenagers who really don’t have a lot of chances around them,” says Martin. “Do they take that opportunity? Many of them were runaways or people from traumatic backgrounds or troubled homes. They were very trusting of the filmmakers in a way and gave a lot. And then they didn’t have anyone around to help them or give them guidance while there was a narrow window of opportunity that opened for them.

The filming of “Kids” didn’t sound like a professional experience. Underage actors were shot naked and drugs were readily available. In “The Kids,” the low-budget production sounds more like a bacchanal than a film set. Then, when the movie became a box office sensation, the cast found themselves locked out of any kind of profit participation. They also discovered they were being stereotyped as amoral street kids, which further complicated their feelings.”

photo of teen boys

An Open Secret

#NoMoreVictims
This documentary feature film by Academy Award nominated Amy Berg, tells the haunting stories of child actors who were abused by Hollywood producers, directors, acting coaches and managers. Bizparentz served as consultants on the film, and we strongly believe every parent in this industry should see the film. It is not easy, but it is a necessary cautionary tale.
View the PG version of the film FREE on Vimeo.

For more background:
Bizparentz and the Making of An Open Secret

After An Open Secret