LEE AAKER & RUSTY (1943 – )
Lee Aaker was born in September 1943, in Los Angeles where his mother owned a dance studio. The boy was on TV almost from infancy and in bit parts in movies from the age of eight. His uncredited parts were in some major movies – High Noon, Hans Christian Andersen and The Greatest Show on Earth (all in 1952), Hondo (1953), and The Raid and Destry (1954). He tested for and was promised the part of Van Heflin’s son in Shane (1953), before the role unexpectedly went to Brandon de Wilde.
Lee & James Brown as Lt. Rip Masters & Rusty
Lee’s big break came when he was cast as Corporal Rusty in the TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1954-59). Television was in its infancy and just beginning to become part of life in American homes. His face became known nation-wide over the five years the series lasted. Then, just like that, fame and an acting career were over. A few minor appearances as a guest on I Love Lucy, etc, and a brief stint assisting the producer on the Route 66 series in 1962, and he retired from the business altogether to become a carpenter.
‘BABY PEGGY’ MONTGOMERY (1918-2020)
She was born in San Diego in October 1918. In the early 1920s, the only child actor to rival Jackie Coogan’s popularity after he played the title role in Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), was a cute little girl named ‘Baby Peggy’. She was ‘discovered’ at 19 months when her mother visited Century Studios on Sunset Boulevard. Little Peggy-Jean Montgomery would go on to appear in 150 shorts and nine feature films.
Baby Peggy Montgomery in her latter years
Her father was a cowboy who supported himself as Tom Mix’s ‘double’. She was not yet four years old when she made her first screen appearance and by the age of eight her career was over. Peggy entrusted all her money (about $2 million) to her father’s stepfather (a banker) and, through bad management and high living, he squandered the lot. The former child star suffered from nervous breakdowns and near poverty for many years, until she found a successful career as a book publisher and writer, using the pseudonym ‘Diana Sierra Cary’. She wrote about Hollywood history and, in particular, child stars. In 1996, Peggy released her autobiography, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?’ She moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico after leaving Hollywood, and was considered to be the last living star of the silent movie era until she passed away in 2020, aged 101.
DREW BARRYMORE (1975- )
Drew in ET – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
A great many fans, if asked what was Drew Barrymore’s first movie, would probably answer E T – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), yet that is not so. It was her fourth, but it is the one in which her extraordinary talent became immediately apparent. She played Gertie at the age of six and was simply delightful. I think, like a lot of other people, I fell for Drew hook, line and sinker during the scene in which her brother Elliott tells her not to tell anyone about ET, not even their mum. ‘Why not?’ Gertie asks. ‘Because, uh, grown-ups can’t see him. Only little kids can see him’, Elliott replies. ‘Gimme a break!’ says Gertie, and I instantly fell in love with her.
Drew all grown up
Before E T, she had appeared in two tele-movies and the feature film Altered States (1980). Born in Culver City, California to John Drew Barrymore and Jaid Barrymore in 1975, Drew is the grand-daughter of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello. At seven she became the youngest ever host of Saturday Night Live. It might surprise readers to learn that she auditioned for the role of Carol Ann Freeling in Poltergeist (1982), but missed out to the ill-fated Heather O’Rourke.
In 1990, aged just 14, she completed her autobiography titled Little Girl Lost. Drew’s notoriously troubled childhood has been well-documented. As a young girl she was a regular at Studio 54, partying heavily and meeting men. An alcohol problem saw her placed in rehab at the age of thirteen. A year later she attempted suicide and was put back in rehab. For three months she lived with singer David Crosby and his wife, the idea being to surround her with people who were committed to sobriety. The following year she lodged a successful juvenile petition for emancipation from her parents and moved into her own apartment. Happily, her life has since settled down and she is now a highly professional actress.
FREDDIE BARTHOLOMEW (1924-92)
London-born Freddie Bartholomew’s career spanned just 21 years and 28 screen appearances. Twenty-two of those performances were as a boy or juvenile; the other six after he was no longer a teenager. He was a precocious boy, reciting and performing on the stage from the age of three. He also sang and danced. MGM signed him to a seven-year contract and tossed him into its 1935 production of David Copperfield. He was an overnight sensation. Without doubt, his best film was the 1937 hit Captains Courageous, alongside Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and Lionel Barrymore. It is worth the price of admission to see Freddie get his ears well and truly boxed by Barrymore in one memorable scene!
Freddie & Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous (1937)
Raised by his unmarried Aunt Millicent, Freddie began making features for MGM, including the excellent Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936). His enormous success soon had his birth parents scuttling out of the woodwork, hell-bent on re-acquiring their boy and his money. At his peak Freddie was earning $2,500 a week, a lot of money in the mid-thirties, especially with the nation in the grip of the Great Depression. The only child star earning more at the time was Shirley Temple. As was often the case, however, once he reached adulthood Freddie’s services were no longer sought after. Six years of court cases involving his aunt and his parents drained him of the fortune he had accumulated at MGM, so he worked behind the cameras in television for many years until his death from emphysema in 1992.