On the classic sitcom “Married … With Children,” Al Bundy is a 40-year-old shoe salesman. He reached his peak of popularity and success at age 18 when he was a high school football star.
It is funny and sad when he repeatedly tells the story of when he once rushed for four touchdowns in one game. As if anyone still cares.
Imagine if a person reached his peak at age 8 instead of 18. That’s not funny; it is just sad.
There’s no shortage of former child stars who grew up to become drug addicts and sociopaths. Yet, for some reason, it is still legal for greedy parents to push their young children into showbusiness.
It is strictly forbidden for a 10-year-old to work a productive factory job. But it is perfectly legal for her to be a pop star. Who is making our child welfare legislation: the House and Senate? Or Michael Lohan and Jamie Spears?
Sixty years ago, Hollywood gave us the ultimate warning about the horrors of child stardom: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
Life begins poorly for Baby Jane. It’s 1918 and she is a child star with her own line of Baby Jane dolls. Early fame has made her spoiled and jaded. And it’s all downhill from there.
Fast-forward 44 years. Jane (Bette Davis) is a long-forgotten has-been. And she’s insane.
Jane does not have an adoring public anymore. All she has is her housebound paraplegic sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). Jane’s main purpose in life is to make Blanche as miserable as she is.
It begins with fairly standard abusive behavior: Jane isolates Blanche from the outside world. She writes checks against Blanche’s account.
It gets so much worse.
This is an all-time great performance by Bette Davis. Jane is frightening, sadistic, and relentless. But she’s also sympathetic.
Davis shows us that Jane never grew up. In her sick mind, she’s still that famous, entitled child. Premature fame stunted her emotional growth and ruined her life.
“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a solid thriller. But more importantly, it is a lesson that we have yet to heed.
It is high time that we completely ban parents from introducing their underage children to showbusiness. If you are compelled to produce a movie or a TV show with young characters, just make a cartoon and have adults do the voices, like “South Park” and “Family Guy.”