Admit it: you (like me) are a sucker for intriguing lists, especially those with a Hollywood connection. While trying to get some work done (yes, really), I couldn’t help being distracted by a link to a site called Ranker, which was touting its survey of the “The 30+ Ugliest Former Child Actors.” This snarky post by someone named Robert Wabash enjoys bashing cute show biz kids who have turned into what he calls “train-wreck adults.” He accuses them of growing up to look like Muppets, despite the fact that “most of them made more money before they lost their virginity than you'll make your whole life.”
Well, okay. I’ve always been interested in the careers of child actors. Let’s see whom he’s accusing of taking ugly pills. I can’t pretend to know every name on the list, since at some point in my life I stopped watching sitcoms. And what I mostly have to go on is the photos on the site. I must admit Eric Bonsall, who was a cherubic little tyke on Family Ties, looks pretty creepy with his stubble and his neck tattoo. (Sounds as though he’s had serious run-ins with the law, which goes with his new look.) Macaulay Culkin, who’s had his share of problems since he scored with Home Alone in 1990, looks disturbingly strung out. It’s a surprise to see Jonathan Lipnicki, so adorable in Jerry Maguire, sporting a tattoo and a six-pack, though I’m not sure he qualifies as ugly. (And this photo might certainly reflect him in a costume, of sorts, for a movie role. Ditto for Frankie Muniz’s mohawk.) Yes, Raven-Symoné looks far more zoftig than in her Cosby Show days, but I assume this is puberty kicking in. Like most of us civilians, kid actors tend to gain a little weight as they age.
Two women on the list should be congratulated for getting their lives together. Mackenzie Phillips and Oscar-winner Tatum O’Neal both had unconventional childhoods, early success, and drug problems. The wonder is that they both seem to be back in action -- and look pretty good, despite all they’ve survived.
Then there are the photos of ex-child stars who look like (and apparently are) perfectly normal adults. Like Mara Wilson, of Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. And Fred Savage, once the adorable star of The Wonder Years, who’s now a family man with a budding career as a director and producer. He doesn’t look ugly in the photo posted by Wabash, just grown-up. Mayim Bialik, who made gawkiness a trademark on TV’s Blossom, still gets laughs on The Big Bang Theory. It doesn’t seem fair to call her ugly, though she can justly be accused of nerdiness, thanks to her PhD in neuroscience.
Perhaps the most interesting figures on Wabash’s list are Daniel Radcliffe and Haley Joel Osment, both poised for adult success but both not immune to the perils of the adult world. After a drunk driving episode, Osment headed for rehab. I hope it works for him, as it eventually did for another on the “ugly” list, Clint Howard. True, the Howard boys – with their hair loss and scraggly teeth – are not beauties. Clint, in fact, has made a career of his oddball looks. But we should all have the success in life that Ron Howard’s had, bald pate or no.
When writing for the Hollywood Reporter’s annual Showbiz Kids issue, I interviewed Amanda Bynes, who was then starring in her own Nickelodeon show. At 13, she seemed level-headed. Now she’s a train-wreck. Pretty, yes, but with a growing rap sheet. That to me is ugly.