Friday, November 30, 2012

Two and a Half Child Stars: The Strange Case of Angus T. Jones

The big news rocking TV Land is that another crisis has hit the comedy favorite, Two and a Half Men. First it was Charlie Sheen very publicly flipping out, touting his sexual prowess and talking trash about series creator Chuck Lorre. Now Angus T. Jones, who’s played the kid on the series since age nine, has come forward to announce he’s found God. At 19, he’s made a passionate commitment to a Seventh Day Adventist group, the Forerunner Christian Church. In a YouTube video that quickly went viral, he states his new-found conviction that audiences should turn away from his often-risqué series. “Please stop filling your head with filth,” he pleads.

Though in the video Jones makes clear his desire to part company with Two and a Half Men --“You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that” -- it must have belatedly occurred to him that his words may doom the livelihood of many co-workers. That’s why he has issued a statement avowing his highest regard “for all of the wonderful people . . . with whom I have worked over the past 10 years, and who have become an extension of my family.” If that’s how he treats his family, you have to wonder . . .

Two and a Half Men has been good to Angus T. Jones. It’s given him awards aplenty, along with the highest salary of any child on television. It’s helped him satisfy his do-gooder instincts by engaging in significant charity work. Of course, it’s not wrong to discover your moral convictions and decide to act on them. But I personally suspect that there’s something about being a kid star on a long-running TV series that can turn your brain to mush.

Take Rusty Hamer, who in 1953 (at age six) was cast as the son of Danny Thomas on a hugely popular sitcom, Make Room for Daddy. Rusty was a cute kid, but those on the set all knew that he was out of control. He thrived on the power he wielded, terrorizing crew members and inflicting bodily harm on his older “sister,” actress Sherry Jackson, for the simple reason that he could get away with it. When the show’s long run finally ended in 1964, Rusty was a lost soul. At 17, he was out of work. Two years later, he nearly died after shooting himself in the stomach, in what police termed “a freak accident.” Then in January 1990, at the age of forty-two, he killed himself with a blast from a .357 magnum shotgun.

Child stardom doesn’t have to be lethal, though. In 1960, the brain trust behind Make Room for Daddy launched a new series about a small-town Southern sheriff. When The Andy Griffith Show made its debut, audiences fell in love with six-year-old Ronny Howard. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1968, later saying, “It was very embarrassing to be fourteen years old and crying at the wrap party.” But Ronny Howard had at least one big advantage over Rusty Hamer. His parents had always made sure he had his feet on the ground.

On Make Room for Daddy, Rusty Hamer specialized in wisecracks and put-downs. Rance Howard, Ronny’s father, shared with Andy Griffith and his producers his bold idea that humor could also be found in a father-son relationship based on mutual respect, one in which the father imparts life-lessons and imposes discipline when needed. Years later, Griffith himself acknowledged that the bond between Sheriff Taylor and Opie mirrored Rance and Ronny’s powerful real-life connection.


  1. Great article, Beverly. I used to be a big fan of Two and a Half Men, though no more. Still, I see it as a win-win situation. Angus' remarks about "filth" should help drive up the ratings; meanwhile, he can start mapping out his plan for running for President in 2032.

  2. Maybe it's all strategic, then? Part of Jones' (and/or Lorre's) complex plan for media and political domination in the future? I watched the famous YouTube video, and I'm convinced that scenario doesn't seem likely. But stay tuned . . . stranger things have happened. (Sonny Bono in congress, Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California? Who'da thunk?)

  3. A great post - I've heard of Rusty Hamer and I've seen some reruns of the show - but I wasn't aware he was such a little jackwagon behind the scenes. But hearing that story just makes me want to shake the Howards' hands and thank them for doing a better job with Ronny and Clint.

    Weird side note (vaguely related) - I just watched a 2008 romantic comedy called Play the Game. A young man (Paul Campbell) known as a player spends time with his grandfather (Andy Griffith) at his retirement home, and advises the old man on how to be a hit with the ladies. Then, as Gramps starts pursuing Doris Roberts and Liz Sheridan, the younger man meets Marla Sokoloff and calms down - in effect, the men have traded places - Campbell settling down chasing the one woman, and Griffith now a randy old Viagra popping "chick magnet." Nothing too surprising happens, but it's pleasantly played by all, and Andy Griffith (in his last role) gives Betty White a run for her money with his saucy talk of octogenerian sex. The reason I bring it up is both Campbell and Griffith are estranged from the gentleman in between them - Campbell's father and Griffith's son. I'm guessing they must have actually approached this one obvious choice to play the smallish role - and when he declined - they got his brother instead. Yep, Clint Howard finally gets his shot at playing Andy Griffith's son - though they share no scenes together - it's still a weirdly satisfying bit of stunt casting. I do recommend the movie as well, if it sounds good to you.