"When the Studio Gate Swings Shut"
I don't know if it still happens. I don't know if it ever really happened. I just know it feels true.
The "it": The Hollywood tale of the child star who heads to work one morning only to be told at the studio gate that there is no more work -- that her TV show has been canceled, that she can turn around and go home, and, hey, thanks for playing.
In my mind's eye, this happened to Lauren Chapin, who played the youngest child, Kitten, on Father Knows Best.
Chapin, who turns 63 on Friday, grew up to be an evangelist and an honorary mayor. She also put together one of the most eye-popping of former child star resumes, having dabbled in prostitution, LSD and meat cleavers. (Regarding the meat cleavers, Chapin has said she tried to chop off a hand, hers, with one. Just so you know she wasn't on Iron Chef or anything.)
I can't say that Chapin's incident at the studio gate led her down the tortured road of a Jacqueline Susann character. In fact, I should say it didn't, seeing as how Chapin also has said she tried to hang herself when she was 10 and still employable in Hollywood.
What I will say is that I do hope the studio guard, or equivalent, who told David Archuleta last night that he didn't win American Idol, and, hey, thanks for playing, did so with a smidgen more tact than Chapin's old gatekeeper at CBS.
I know conventional wisdom is that Archuleta will be fine -- he's young, he's marketable, he's on his way to being snatched up by a major label, etc. But that is an assumption. What is true is that Archuleta, though still only 17, is now a former child star, perhaps starrier than Gary Coleman, but no more possessed of a primetime vehicle.
Archuleta used to be on American Idol, now he's not. He used to be the wunderkind, now he's not. He used to be the frontrunner, now he's the kid who lost by 12 million votes.
Certainly, every American Idol contestant, even a relatively aged mid-twentysomething like newly crowned winner David Cook, essentially becomes a former child star. But Archuleta was the franchise's quintessential child star, and therefore its quintessential former child star.
Former child stars go onto become lawyers, vets, teachers and sometimes superstars. The label is a label, not a death sentence.
But it helps just the same if the studio gate doesn't swing closed so hard in your face.
(Originally published by Joal Ryan on May 22, 2008.)
c. Joal Ryan