There are many reasons why children begin careers as actors at as young as infancy. The most obvious one being: their mothers. The role of the “stage mom” has been an important one throughout the history of Hollywood, and today their influence is as potent as ever. After all, who else is going to secure the kid an agent, drive them across town to auditions, and drop everything the minute they book a gig? FYI, SAG-AFTRA (screen actors union) rules require a parent or guardian onset with children actors at all times. So for moms whose kids are in demand on movie sets, their kids’ careers are their careers. Suffice to say, if acting and superstardom was never your dream, but rather something that helped pay the family bills, your mother’s dream, or something you just sort of fell into as a result of living in Los Angeles, once come of age, discontinuing is not so surprising.
Of course, there are the child stars whose careers just simply petered out or even nosedived later in life. And, no doubt, after years of living in the limelight at an exhaustingly young age, some of them may well have just wanted a change. (From experience, show biz can been crazy and cruel and fickle and inconsistent and WAY too superficial, so at times, a regular nine-to-five in the suburbs can seem like a dream!)
Although there are multiple examples, here are a few child stars who not only appeared in some cool shit, but who reached rare levels of notoriety—like, an Academy-Award nomination or blockbuster-type success—and later quit the business or now only make occasional onscreen appearances.
What, oh what, are they doing now…
1. Sue Lyon from Lolita
Sue Lyon was just 10 months-old when her father passed away. A widow with five children, eventually Lyon’s mother decided to move the family from Davenport, Iowa to Los Angeles in the hope that Lyon could cash in as a model. In 1961, Mrs Lyon’s dreams came true when her youngest, 14 year-old Sue, landed the iconic title role in Stanley Kubrick’s provocative film adaptation Lolita (the film was released in 1962). Lyon became an overnight star winning the Most Promising Female Newcomer Award at the Golden Globes in 1963. She also attended the Academy Awards that same year.
And justly so: Lyon not only seamlessly embodied a sexually provocative nymphet, her onscreen charisma and natural talent were undeniable. In 1962, Kubrick was quoted to have said, “In Sue Lyon, Jim Harris and I have found someone we think has a terrific potential for being a star.”
Lyon did indeed continue working in movies as an actress. However, after two unsuccessful marriages (to photographer Roland Harrison and then Colorado Penitentiary inmate Gary “Cotton” Adamson) along with a string of less-than-ordinary parts in B films, at 34, Lyon stopped acting for good. Critics have suggested that it was difficult for Lyon to shake the “Lolita” image and so consequently her career suffered.
In its 2013 Stanley Kubrick retrospective, LACMA exhibited a personal letter from Lyon to Kubrick along with a photograph of her, which explains her change of name to Suellyn Rudman, and her third husband, broadcast engineer Richard Rudman. In it she reveals:
“I spend most of my time gardening, cleaning the house, and playing/training our wonderful German Shepard dog Pax… My life is a very simple one now and I like it that way. I will always believe that the only reason I had any success was because of you. And I was grateful for that at that time.
2. Justin Henry from Kramer vs. Kramer
Born in Rye, New York to an investment advisor and a real estate agent, Henry’s first ever role was in Kramer vs. Kramer at just seven years old. Starring opposite Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, Henry became the youngest person to ever be nominated for an Oscar or Golden Globe. (If you haven’t seen the film, you should. In it, Hoffman, Streep, and Henry give groundbreakingly honest performances while portraying a broken family feuding over custody.)
While still a kid, Henry worked on a number of other movies including Sixteen Candles in which he played Molly Ringwald’s younger brother and Sweet Hearts Dance playing Susan Sarandon’s son.
Although Henry continues to make the occasional TV or film appearance, by Henry’s mid-to-late teens, he had more or less put acting to bed. Instead, Henry has worked as a Regional Director of Sales at Veoh and in the digital world at Blinx. He also co-founded the Slamdunk Film Festival in 1998.
3. Ariana Richards from Jurassic Park
Ariana Richards had been working regularly in film and TV from as early as eight years old (when she guest starred in The Golden Girls). However, it was in 1993, when Richards starred in the groundbreaking Steven Spielberg blockbuster Jurassic Park, that 14 year-old Richards appeared in theatres and households worldwide.
Post-dinosaur success, Richards worked in only a few TV movies and short films—none of which garnered much attention. She went onto to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree from Skidmore College, New York, and is now a full-time practicing portrait artist, which, she explains, is her true life’s passion.
Another way of looking at the child-star-turned-not-an-actor-anymore pattern, could be that Hollywood is just really really mean: it can enthrone you one day and cast you aside the next. But hey, who’s being cynical?