Old Hollywood is known for its glitz and glamour, but behind the scenes, many child actors were treated terribly. The birth of the “star system” in the 1920s and 1930s created a culture where studios controlled every aspect of an actor’s life, including their personal lives and appearance.
Child actors, in particular, were treated like garbage. They were often overworked, with long hours on set and little time for school or play. Many were also subjected to physical and emotional abuse by studio executives and their own parents.
MGM, in particular, had a reputation for feeding its child stars a steady supply of drugs. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, who both began their careers as child actors at MGM, were given pills to keep them awake during long filming days and help them sleep at night. This practice ultimately contributed to Garland’s addiction issues later in life.
Natalie Wood, who starred in films such as “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story,” was sexually assaulted by a famous movie star when she was just a teenager. The incident left a lasting impact on Wood, who struggled with anxiety and depression for much of her life.
Shirley Temple, one of the most popular child actors of the 1930s, was nearly assaulted when she was just 12 years old. A producer tried to make advances towards her, but she was able to escape before anything happened.
Tommy Kirk, who starred in several Disney films in the 1950s and 1960s, was fired after he was outed as being gay. Despite his success on screen, Kirk was ostracized by the industry and struggled to find work after being let go.
Judy Garland, who starred as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” was also a victim of sexual assault on the set of the film. The young actress was repeatedly harassed by an older male co-star, but the studio did nothing to stop it.
Bobby Driscoll, who appeared in films such as “Song of the South” and “Treasure Island,” was given the ax by Disney after he developed severe acne. The studio deemed him no longer marketable and he struggled to find work in the industry after being let go.
These stories shed light on the dark side of Hollywood and the treatment of child actors during the Golden Age of Hollywood. While the industry has made strides towards improving the treatment of young performers, it’s clear that there is still work to be done to ensure that all actors, regardless of age, are treated with dignity and respect on set.