Nine year old Macaulay Culkin pretty much came out of nowhere in 1990 when he scored the lead in the monstrously successful Home Alone, a movie that turned over an amazing $285 million in the USA alone, and for which he received a paltry $100,000. He had gained a little recognition a year earlier alongside John Candy in Uncle Buck, but it was scarcely a precursor of the enormous popularity he would enjoy after Home Alone. Suddenly, he found himself being paid a million dollars for a supporting role in My Girl, making him the highest paid child actor in history. Of course, the producers tripped over themselves setting up a sequel to Home Alone, but the boy’s father/ manager Kit Culkin, a former child actor himself, chose that opportune moment to start playing hard ball with his son’s career.
On top of the success of both Home Alone and My Girl, dear old dad decided to throw his weight about, demanding his boy be given the role of the nasty little psycho in The Good Son, otherwise he would be unavailable for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. He got his way, the sequel made a fortune, Macaulay got $5 million for The Good Son, and the future looked rosey for everyone. But already the fickle public were beginning to tire of him. Like a great many child stars his ‘cuteness’ had a ‘used by’ date, that would result in a screen lifespan of just a few short years.
Most critics describe Macaulay Culkin as one of the greatest child actors of all time. If we are simply talking dollars here that might be a reasonable assessment. After all, the two Home Alone pics chalked up nearly half a billion dollars in America alone, but his other efforts fell way short of that. In fact, his popularity really only lasted about four years! In 1994 he made three stinkers in a row (The Pagemaster, Getting Even with Dad and Richie Rich), and just like that he was no longer a ‘bankable’ commodity. There was trouble on the home front as well.
In 1995 his parents separated after 21 years together (they never married), and began a vicious custody battle over their seven children, three of whom had by now become handy little earners in the movie business. Kieran popped up in both ‘Home Alones’, and Rory scored parts in The Good Son and Richie Rich. But the main prize was still Macaulay (and his money). On an even sadder note, their older sister, Dakota, who later worked as an art production assistant, would be tragically killed at 30 in 2008 when she was struck by a car as she stepped off a kerb in Los Angeles.
In 1997 his Mammy Culkin won the legal battle and his father disappeared from his life. ‘My father was overbearing. Very controlling’, Macaulay told an interviewer in 2004. ‘He was always the way he is, even before my success. He was not always a good person. He would play mind games to make sure I knew my place’. In 1998 Rachel Miner became Mrs Macaulay Culkin, but they stayed together for just 18 months and divorced in 2002. Rumour had it that Rachel wanted a family and Macaulay still wanted an acting career.
Macaulay was 11 years old when he was befriended by Michael Jackson around 1991, and the pop star invited the boy to his Neverland estate on several occasions. In 2005, Culkin testified at Jackson’s child molestation trial, strongly denying he had ever been molested by the pop icon and labeling the charges as outrageous. When a former cook at the ranch testified that he saw the singer with his hands down the young actor’s pants in 1991, Culkin responded: ‘I think the allegations are absolutely ridiculous’. He also said he had visited Neverland ‘more than a dozen times’ between the ages of 10 and 14. Significantly, however, he added that he had slept in Jackson’s bed several times. He said nothing was planned, but he and other boys would just fall asleep wherever they were when they were tired.
Many feel that his testimony proved significant in Jackson’s eventual acquittal. ‘Michael’s still a kid’, he said. ‘I’m still a kid. We’re both going to be about 8 years old forever in some ways because we never had a chance to be 8 when we actually were. That’s kind of the beautiful and the cursed part of our lives’. He also felt it was quite ‘normal’ for Jackson to have pornographic material scattered about his ranch. ‘I don’t find it inappropriate’, he said on the stand. ‘It’s just something that human beings possess’. Well, not everybody. Somehow, the availability of pornography, the presence of so many unescorted children, and the admitted fact that many of them ended up in Jackson’s bed at times, paints a picture that would deeply concern a great many parents if it were their children involved.
In November 2014 a fake memorial page was set up on Facebook, announcing to the world that Macaulay Culkin (age 34) had died. It was totally untrue, of course. He quickly posted a photograph of himself on his band’s Instagram, accompanied by a message: ‘We’re on tour you silly people’. He was referring to his group Pizza Underground. In 2003 and 2004 he starred in the films Party Monster and Saved! The gay context in both movies, given that he had rejected so many other and, arguably, better scripts, briefly fueled speculation about Macaulay’s sexual proclivities, but he has quietly denied being anything other than heterosexual.
There have been quite a few terrific child actors in Hollywood history, but would Macaulay Culkin really measure up to the likes of Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien, Dean Stockwell, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Dakota Fanning and Bobby Driscoll, just to name a few? Some of these, particularly those from the early years had very long and diversified careers, while he really only had three successes. Admittedly, they made a mountain of money, but for sheer acting ability, in my opinion, it is hard to go past the wonderful Margaret O’Brien and Dean Stockwell. Most of the others, including Macaulay, were ‘personalities’ rather than genuine actors.